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Old August 1st, 2006, 06:46 AM   #1
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The Islands and Castles of the St. Lawrence

Islands and castles draw tourists to St. Lawrence River region
31 July 2006

ALEXANDRIA BAY, N.Y. (AP) - Even the name of the Thousand Islands region in the St. Lawrence River between New York and Canada is an understatement.

Once a playground for the rich who built castles as monuments to themselves and their loved ones, the region is dotted by hundreds more islands than its name would tell.

Some say the number is more like 1,700, while Paul Malo, who has written extensively about the region, says the number is 1,860 "or thereabouts."

Others believe it depends on how islands are defined. "They generally have to have a tree on them," said Malo, a retired professor of architecture at Syracuse University in central New York.

Like oversized skipping stones, all manner of islands sprinkle the St. Lawrence River. The rocky upheavals covered by pine trees are large or small, some with sizable communities, others with no more than a tree and a house.

Some are home to striking castles dating to an era of conspicuous wealth, grand hotels or whimsical and Victorian-style homes.

Islands named Howe and Carleton, Grenadier and Bostwick, and even assemblages of islands such as the Admiralty Group of 64 islands give visitors great views of the river and other islands and plenty of opportunities to hike or boat.

The islands also provide an obstacle course for endlessly moving river channels and passageways with names such as Fiddler's Elbow, Lover's Lane and Molly's Gut that eventually make their way to Lake Ontario.

The region has gone through many transformations. It was a draw for French fur trappers in the 17th century and served as a battleground during the War of 1812. That story is told at Sackets Harbor Battlefield, which was the center of U.S. naval operations on Lake Ontario.

Less than 100 years later, the Thousand Islands region became a destination for New York City residents who traveled by overnight train to nearby Clayton. "They'd go from a train to a yacht," Malo said.

The area was attractive to the wealthy during the Gilded Age following the Civil War when industry grew rapidly and financiers and industrialists became vastly rich. The Thousands Islands, due to its proximity to Canada, also was used by bootleggers during Prohibition.

The region now draws tourists to view the handiwork of the long-gone superrich. Visitors, for example, line up for a quick ferry ride to Heart Island and a tour of Boldt Castle, a spare-no-expense palace built at the turn of the 20th century by George Boldt. Boldt, the proprietor of the original Waldorf Hotel in New York, is credited for introducing the idea of elite hotels.

According to one local legend, Thousand Islands salad dressing was created by Boldt's steward while sailing on Boldt's yacht one day. The mayonnaise-based dressing has long been served at the Waldorf.

Boldt's six-story, 120-room Italian Renaissance-style manse includes tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens and a drawbridge. The sudden death of Boldt's wife in 1904 prompted him to order a halt to construction, four years after work began.

Dark Island is home to Singer Castle, named for Singer Sewing Machine Co., the employer of Frederick Gilbert Bourne who built the estate for his family.

The 28-room castle includes a medieval entranceway with knights of armor standing guard beside a marble fireplace, a marble stairway, a walnut-paneled library with a secret panel connecting to passages in the walls and grates to spy on guests built into the walls.

Not all the homes are so grand. Many are modest dwellings that simply provided residents with easy waterfront access and natural beauty.

Thousand Island Park on Wellesley Island is known for its spacious clapboard homes, many with large front porches. The first generation of Americans to have second homes settled on Wellesley Island early in the 20th century and many homes have gone through preservation efforts, contributing to a renaissance of the park, Malo said.

Turreted homes and gingerbread-style cabins replaced Methodist campsites at Butternut Bay, one of several sites in the region organized as a religious camp in the 19th century.

Nature has provided its own shelter in the region's aquatic environment. Lush, grassy reed beds along shorelines protect pike, bass and carp while cattail marshes serve as nurseries for fish, waterfowl, reptiles and amphibians.

Public recreation places and nature preserves have been established in Canada and New York. The St. Lawrence Islands National Park includes 21 sites on more than 20 islands and in Canada. On the other side of the St. Lawrence River are 14 New York state parks, several on islands accessible to boaters, but most others that can be reached by car.

The Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, the largest nature center in the region, offers three miles of shoreline and a 600-acre preserve at the Wellesley Island State Park.

The nature center, which is accessible by car, includes a natural history museum, 8 miles of hiking and skiing trails and a canoe program.

Because of its distance from New York the region is not well-known, Malo said. But to residents and those who have spent decades of summers on the islands, the attraction to the region is no mystery.

"We think there's something special about it," he said.


If You [email protected]

THOUSAND ISLANDS: Thousand Islands International Tourism Council, http://www.visit1000islands.com or 800-847-5263. Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce, http://www.alexbay.org or 800-541-2110.

GETTING THERE: From Interstate 81, take exits 50 or 51. Alexandria Bay is a main entry point. Located about 200 miles from Toronto, 150 miles from Montreal, 100 miles from Ottawa, 350 miles from New York City, 220 miles from Burlington, Vt., and 180 miles from Rochester, N.Y.


--Parks include Wellesley Island and DeWolf Point state parks on Wellesley Island, which is reachable by bridge from I-81 and offers swimming, camping, cottages, boat launches, and hotels. St. Lawrence Islands National Park includes 21 sites on more than 20 islands in Canada; http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/on/lawren/index--e.asp or 613-923-5261. There's also a public swimming beach in Alexandria Bay, along with boat tours, fishing and golfing.

--Boat tours: From Alexandria Bay, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, http://www.usboattours.com , 877-253-9229. From Clayton, Clayton Island Tours, http://www.claytonislandtours.com , 315-686-4217. From the Canadian side, at Brockville and Rockport, 1000 Islands Seaway Cruises and Heritage 1000 Islands Cruises, http://www.1000islandscruises.com , 800-353-3157; and from Ivy Lea and Gananoque, Ontario, the Gananoque Boat Line, http://www.ganboatline.com , 888-717-4837.

--Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island, reachable by boat -- http://www.boldtcastle.com/ or 800-847-5263 -- is open May 13-Oct. 9, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Adults, $5.75; children 6-12, $3.50. Open daily 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. through August; 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. until Oct. 9; and 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Oct. 10-15 and 21-22.

--Singer Castle, located on Dark Island, reachable by boat -- http://www.singercastle.com/ . Open until Sept. 4, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $12; children 6-12, $6.

BORDER CROSSING: If you cross to the Canadian side, the U.S. State Department Web site says proof of citizenship (passport or birth certificate) is required to re-enter the U.S., in addition to a driver's license or other photo identification.

THOUSAND ISLANDS SALAD DRESSING: Recipes typically include a cup of mayonnaise, 1/4 cup chili sauce or ketchup, and chopped hard-boiled egg, pickles, onions and parsley.
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