Boldt Castle: A story of love & heartbreak

Boldt Castle: A story of love & heartbreak
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 6:00 AM EDT
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HEART ISLAND, New York (WWNY) - Boating around the St. Lawrence River, it’s hard to miss Heart Island. Its manicured grounds and massive castle are like something out of a fairytale -- and George Boldt is the rags-to-riches hero of the story.

“So, George Boldt was born in the Isle of Rugen in the Baltic Sea,” Boldt Castle operations manager Keri Jobson said. “At the age of 13 his father sent him to the U.S. knowing there was little opportunity where they were.”

Barely a teen in 1864, Boldt landed in New York City and worked as a dishwasher, and later as a waiter’s assistant. Still the poor Prussian immigrant, his life turned around when he moved to Philadelphia in 1876 and started working under social club steward William Kehrer.

“William Kehrer had one daughter, Louise Augusta Kehrer,” Jobson said, “and they fell in love.”

The two got married, had two children, and ran a hotel, the ‘Little Bellevue,’ together.

One night, a man came in with some sick children. Having had kids themselves, George and Louise knew how difficult it is to deal with ill children,” Jobson said. “At the time there were no rooms, they had nowhere to stay. So, they gave up their room for this family, their own private quarters. Little did they know, it was a cousin of William Astor, of the Waldorf Astoria.

Astor was wowed by Boldt’s hospitality. He’s credited with creating the concept of room service, and the phrase “the customer is always right.” Astor made him proprietor of the Waldorf and manager of the Waldorf Astoria.

Boldt was rubbing elbows with the wealthiest and most important people of the gilded age and he became one.

“George owned a lot of land on Wellesley Island,” Jobson said. “He set his sights on Hart island, which he bought from Congressman Elizur Hart. He purchased it and changed the name from H-A-R-T to H-E-A-R-T.”

The castle was meant to be a gift for the love of his life, Louise. He asked contractors to hide hundreds of hearts on the island. But before it was completed, Louise died suddenly of a bad heart.

“Construction started in 1900 and her untimely death in 1904 halted all construction on Boldt Castle,” Jobson said. “It’s said that he never set foot on the island again.”

Boldt would die 12 years later of a heart attack. His Heart Island treasure fell into disrepair until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority took ownership in the ‘70s and turned it from a heartbroken shrine into a major tourist attraction.

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