We’re settled for 24 hours in Clayton, NY, situated on the southern side of the St. Lawrence Seaway. With limited time to explore, we chose a two-hour boat excursion with our friends, C and R. As we cruised in both US and Canadian waters we learned about the amazing mansions built on some of the islands, often as summer homes for the very rich and famous of the last century.
But first, what constitutes an island? According to the guide, the body of land must be above the water line at all times. It must be at least four feet square, have one living tree and one living plant on it. Buildings are optional.. And – in case you’re interested – there are actually 1864 islands in the area. Tom Thumb Island is the smallest; Rockport, which has an entire village located on it, is among the largest.
Leaving the pier, we traveled past Millionaire’s Row where each “castle” vies for top place on the opulence list. There’s Casa Blanca which uses gargoyles to keep the curious away. And Pullman Island, site of the first castle built in 1888 by Chicago’s George Pullman of sleeper car fame.
Heart Island brags of a children’s playhouse with a bowling alley, a giant home that rivals Biltmore, and a separate outbuilding to house the plumbing, heating, and filtration systems of 1900, when construction began. The complex was to be a monument to Louise Boldt, the wife of George C. Boldt, owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. But four years later, Louise died unexpectedly; and her husband halted construction immediately. The buildings were never occupied as a personal home and eventually were gifted to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. Today, it is a significant tourist attraction, possibly the most well known of the 1864 islands.
We learned of pirates and bridges and currents and international boundaries. But for me, the most interesting thing was how high the water was. Our Lake Michigan, back home, is at record heights and has made boating and fishing difficult this season. We are not alone. There are half-submerged boat houses on the edge of many islands, meaning the boating season here is also compromised.
Rich and poor, boaters and landlubbers, are subject to Mother Nature’s whims everywhere.