Saturday, August 9, 2014

America's Castles - Part III: Singer Castle on Dark Island

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
9 Aug 2014N21481SDC (Sodus, NY) - ART (Watertown, NY) - SDC2.81310.5

"A Three (and a Half) Hour Tour..."

Back on the mainland, we had just enough time to seek something cold to drink before boarding another Uncle Sam's boat for the cruise downriver to Dark Island. The Bear convinced Kristy that a Slushie was a good idea and then insisted I try it. I did. It tasted blue.

We set sail from the marina again. This time, the portion of river nearest Alexandria Bay was packed with boats. We were not sure what was happening, but I was reminded of the Fourth of July in Lake Orion, MI where there are so many boats on the water that it appears one could walk from one side of the lake to other by stepping from boat to boat.

In a tradition extending back to the earliest days of seafaring, the steely-eyed captain sipped her Slushie thoughtfully while considering the course ahead.

As we passed the modestly sized Alexandria Bay Lighthouse, our tour guide started his cruise patter about the Thousand Islands, Boldt Castle, Singer Castle, and the people who figured prominently into the region's history.

We crossed paths with several freighters bound for the Great Lakes while en route to Dark Island.

The Three Sisters Island Lighthouse is aptly named; the island is comprised of three small islands connected by man-made causeways.

I thought it looked familiar and, upon reviewing the aerial footage I acquired that morning, I realized that we had indeed encountered it before.

Our tour guide explained that Salties could be differentiated from Lakers by their sharper prows. The bows of most Lakers are blunter, like the Manitoba (several photos above). I was impressed to see the massive swell of water pushed ahead of the ship as it powered westward.


Singer and Boldt Castles are contemporaries.  Singer Castle was built at the behest of Frederick Gilbert Bourne between 1902 and 1905. In fact, it was completed ahead of schedule owing to the availability of skilled labor after the work stoppage on Boldt Castle in 1904.  Like George Boldt, Bourne was a self-made millionaire who rose through the ranks of the Singer Sewing Machine Company to become its Director and President. He built the castle as a "hunting lodge" and originally called it "The Towers". His architect based the design on descriptions of Scottish castles in Sir Walter Scott's novel, "Woodstock". Inspired by the novel, secret passages run throughout the structure and into most of the rooms, providing a means for servants to move about unseen.

Bourne and his family lived in the castle until his death in 1919, after which his daughter, Marjorie Thayer took ownership. The castle changed hands a few times, but never suffered the decades of abandonment that afflicted Boldt Castle. As a result, Singer Castle (so named by the current owners, Dark Island Tours, Inc.) feels more homey than Boldt because it was actually lived in for many years.

A Castle of Secrets

Unlike Boldt Castle, tours on Dark Island are guided and structured. Our tour lasted approximately one hour of the overall 3.5 hour cruise.

The upper levels of this cylindrical tower housed restrooms, but the lower floors are reputedly for the dungeon. After all, the castle in "Woodstock" had a dungeon, so Singer Castle required one as well. The Bournes had several children and I imagine they needed to be sent somewhere when they became cheeky at dinner.

This open yard once featured tennis courts, but is now a popular location for weddings.

Inside, many of the furnishings from the Bournes / Thayers are still present along with a lot of vintage Singer sewing machines. When Bourne took leadership of the company, it was struggling to overcome its own high quality. Singer sewing machines were so robust that, once owned by those who could afford them, the market all but disappeared. Bourne's claim to fame was selling machines for $1/week, which enabled many more people to afford them (if only temporarily) and placed more machines in more homes than Singer had been able to do previously.

In the main hall was what appeared to be an authentic Sensenich propeller, made by the same company that fabricated Warrior 481's propeller.

From the terrace, we had a great view of our tour boat. Do not let the paddle wheel fool you, it's all for show.

This is an example of the secret passages accessed from the family's bedroom closets. The steps of this stone spiral staircase are quite small. When Marjorie owned the castle, she built an addition for her bedroom that was free of call buttons and secret passages because she was disturbed by the notion of servants lurking about unseen.

Our favorite find on the tour was this item in the Sports Medicine Room: a Battle Creek Electric Light Bath Cabinet designed by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg himself (the older brother of W.K. Kellogg, "The Corn Flakes Guy"). At mention of "Battle Creek", our curiosities were piqued. Evidently, there was a time when incandescent light was believed to possess therapeutic properties. After the fact, I found an article from the Battle Creek Enquirer from January 6, 1916 claiming that such a device had cured the king of England of gout! Say what you will about modern clinical trials, but at least today's therapies require demonstration of efficacy.

A person would sit on this stool with the box closed all about them except for their head. It was basically a sweat box with heat generated as waste from the incandescent lights.

I suspect that Bourne did not have this particular decorative ensemble in mind for his medieval-themed hunting lodge.

Back outside, The Bear asserted that this castle was the best one we saw that day because it had secret passages and hidden places to spy on rooms just like Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland.

The Voyage Home

The Bear got to try her hand at steering the ship on the way home. This went very successfully considering that her actions did not result in our tour boat joining the many wrecks lying at the bottom of the St Lawrence Seaway.

We ate dinner in Watertown on the way back to the airport. After a long day of exploring castles under the hot sun, we all ate enthusiastically. At the FBO, I returned the car keys and paid the fuel bill. One Delta Tango, one of the Williamson Flying Club aircraft, was parked nearby on the ramp. Evidently, we were not the only club members who spent the day in the area.

As we boarded Warrior 481 for the return flight, The Bear cleverly invented this visual yoga pun. I call it "Warrior Squared." The ride home was smooth, presided over by the red orb of the setting sun. We landed at 8:00 pm with the sun perched directly on the horizon, exactly twelve hours after we departed Sodus that morning.

It was a very full day that, once again, reaffirmed that the Empire State has many interesting corners to explore.


  1. Great write up on all the castles. I think this should be added to the list of places to explore with my Bride. Thanks for posting all the great pictures!

  2. Thanks, Gary. It's a beautiful area and worth a visit!