Talk about a Magical Mystery Tour...Singer Castle, originally known as "The Towers" sits on a 7.5 acre island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River bordered to the west by Canada and the east by New York. It is one of the tallest islands in the Seaway, and was built from 1900-1905, by Ernest Flagg for Frederick Gilbert Bourne and his Family. Singer Castle is also known as Dark Island and was used by native American Indians as a summer fishing and hunting camp. It's a magical place, with spectacular Canadian sunsets! Lovely for weddings and parties or just a simple getaway from the modern era.
Bourne liked Castles. This mogul oversaw the construction of the famous "Dakota Apartments" (1880-1884) for the Clark Family, and would later serve as the President of their company, The Singer Manufacturing Company (1882-1905). He retired from the active operations of Singer and started many companies including; The Long Island railroad, Long Island Motorway, Aeolian Organ Company, Bourne & Sons Limited. Another one was Atlas Portland Cement Company (still in existence today) with George Fisher Baker (Founder of First National City Bank, now CitiGroup), and Atlas got the contract to pour the basin of the Panama Canal from his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt. That was a major construction project, the largest of it's day.
Bourne was also an adventurer, who co-founded The Explorer's Club, which funded Admiral Robert E. Peary's Expedition to The North Pole in 1909. He was a secretative man as well...
Frederick Bourne never told his wife Emma or the kids that he was building them a Castle, only referring to it as a a 'hunting lodge', a place for them to fish and shoot ducks. I'm sure Emma wondered why it took so long to build this place, and when they finally moved in during the summer of 1905, they trained-up from New York City to Albany, and connected to Hammond, NY, where the Bournes caught a ferry. They arrived at sunset and as you can imagine the view was pure fantasy. Emma was certainly surprised by the sight of this midevil Castle in the River, in the forefront of a Canadian Sunset, and Frederick Gilbert Bourne simply admired it and her and said, "Honey, I built this for you!" How's that for a romantic gesture? Frederick and Emma had married at a young age and would ultimately have twelve children together.
Singer Castle was a major undertaking, and tons and tons of granite were needed to be quarried on nearby Oak Island and brought to Dark Island to build The Towers. Soil from Canada was also lifted and replanted on the island, some stories circulated at the time that Bourne was stealing some of Canada to add to the United States!
Bourne planted corn on a neighboring island that he owned called Corn Island, which was in Canadian waters, and was criticized for not paying import taxes on the produce! He also owned Wheat Island, and Ice Island, etc., and you can only assume that Bourne named them for what they produced. Yet, in truth, Bourne was an incredibly honest and honorable man, having grown-up serving the Church. Bourne's father was a minister and he sang in the Choir. The Towers had a Chapel and Bourne would often send his ferry boats to pick-up locals that wanted to attend mass on Sundays.
The Towers were renamed Singer Castle in 2002, when an investor named Farhad Vladi purchased the estate. He has made it the ultimate destination in the St. Lawrence. Three ferry companies deliver guests from May - November, two from the US and one from Canada. Private boaters are also welcome to tie-up their crafts on the wharf at the South Boathouse. The Castle is now a museum with gift shop and numerous Singer Sewing Machines throughout. There's also a small theatre that tells guest the story of Bourne and his Towers using black and white footage from 1905, when the family moved in. Guests may just tour for the day, or actually stay over in The Royal Suite for a princely sum, and this beautiful island / castle becomes theirs for the night, until the next morning's visitors arrive. Tours are conducted from 10am-5pm and include all the buildings on the island.
There are two boat houses, and mechanical house, an Ice House, Guest House, a gymnasium, a rock beach, the gardens, the Castle and Clocktower with Westminister Chimes that still works! Mysterious tunnels connect the buildings and secret passageways connect and wander through the house, accessed from several rooms. And, of course, you must see the dungeon with chained skeleton as well. Perfect place for a Halloween Party! Probably a little spooky for the wonderful caretaker Scott Garis, who lives there year round with his dog. My son and I watched "The Shining" when we stayed, an appropriate choice for the evening's entertainment.
One noteworthy site to see while you're at Singer Castle is The Frederick Remington Museum on the mainland in Ogdensburg, New York. Remington 'summered' on the island next to Bourne's estate. During construction of Dark Island, Remington wasn't happy about the disturbances to his peace and quiet. He was there to paint and sculpt images of the wild west, which inspired his creativity. Bourne had heard of Remington's displeasure, and once "The Towers" opened Remington was one of Bourne's first dinner guests, and they became great friends, often talking about the West and Art, over dinner. Other 'Gilded Age' titans who visited the Bournes included: Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Joseph Pulitzer, JP Morgan and WK Vanderbilt.
At the turn of the century, an annual Tennis Tournament at The Thousand Islands Yacht Club was held, as well as The Gold Cup Speedboat Races on the River, which Marjorie Bourne (which Frederick's daughter won in 1909 in her Garwood names 'Moike'), and today her boat and other Bourne boats can be seen at The Clayton Antique Boat Museum about 20 miles upriver of the Castle. It is yet another 'must see' stop on your vacation and only twenty minutes south of the Castle at Alexandria Bay, the entrance to Lake Ontario. If you're into visiting an exquisite setting that was one of the many playgrounds of the moguls of "The Gilded Age", visiting Singer Castle is highly recommended.
By Jeffrey H. Sado