As Summer was winding down, I decided to take a trip to the Thousand Islands. The Thousand Islands has a rich history that helped shape both the United states and Canada. It was a factor in the War of 1812, was popular with Presidents in the late 1800s, and many millionaires built summer retreats here in the 1930s. The area is still a very popular summer getaway.
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For those not in the know, The Thousand Islands is in the area where the Saint Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario. The Saint Lawrence River is the passage allowing the Great Lakes to empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The first fifty miles or so has many islands. While the area is known as the Thousand Islands, the official count is 1,864 islands. To be considered an island, the land must have at least one square meter of surface always above water. It also most have at least one tree and additional vegetation.
The Saint Lawrence River also forms the border between the US and Canada. So some islands are in Canada and some in the United States. The border is not a straight line nor does it follow the center of the river. A treaty at the end of the War of 1812 divided the islands so that each country received the same land mass. However, Canada received more islands. The division impacted the border.
The largest island is Wolfe. This island is about 29 kilometers (ca. 18 miles) long, with its width varying from around 9 kilometers (5.59 miles) to a few hundred meters at some points; its area is about 124 square kilometers (48 square miles). The smallest island is Tom Thumb.
Just Enough Room Island /Mother-in-Law House
Just Room Enough Island, also known as Hub Island is the smallest inhabited island in the world. The island is about the size of a tennis court. Purchased by the Sizeland family in the 1950s, the island has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach. Local tour guides often misrepresent this house as being built by Bolt for his mother-in-law. Heart Island home of the Bolt Castle is the closest island to Just Room Enough Island.
Heart Island and Bolt’s Castle
Bolt Castle is a 120 room mansion that was never completed. There are many stories about it. I am going to borrow some text about it from wikipedia
“George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, and his family enjoyed an earlier frame cottage on Hart Island (the island’s original name) for several summers, which they greatly expanded. In 1900, George Boldt launched an ambitious construction campaign to build a huge masonry structure, one of the largest private homes in the United States. He engaged the architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt and hundreds of workers for a six-story “castle” as a present to his wife. In addition, four other masonry structures on the island are architecturally notable. Equally distinctive is a huge yacht house on neighboring Wellesley Island, where the Boldts had another summer home and a vast estate, incorporating farms, canals, a golf course, tennis courts, stables, and a polo field.
The construction of Boldt Castle ceased abruptly in early 1904 after the death of Boldt’s wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Boldt never returned to Heart Island, leaving this structure as a monument of his love. For 73 years, the castle and other stone structures were left exposed to the harsh winter weather and occasional vandals. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Heart Island and the nearby yacht house in 1977, for one dollar, under the agreement that all revenues obtained from the castle operation would be applied towards restoration, so that the island would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. In the two decades after acquiring the property, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority spent some $15 million for restoration and improvements here, and work continues annually. The initial goal of the restoration of Heart Island was not to finish what had not been completed, but to restore the island to the state it was in when construction was halted.”
The Shortest International Bridge Hoax
I remember 30 years ago taking a boat tour of the Thousand Islands and the tour guide pointing out the “shortest International Bridge in the world”. On the tour I went on, they also pointed out the bridge and added a story about the owner having to pay taxes in two countries. However, maps from both the US and Canadian governments show that both islands belong to Canada. Still, it a nice story and great photo op.
There are boat rides from both side of the border that will take you around the islands. Uncle Sam Tours from Alexander Bay is the one I used and highly rate it. The boat stops at Heart Island before returning to Alexander Bay. You can get off here and pay the entrance fee to visit the island and the castle. To return to the mainland you can take the next tour boat or a shuttle.