Inspired by the grandeur of Old World castles, American royalty — for the most part, self-made captains of industry — built monuments to their success a century ago, complete with drawbridges, secret passageways and turrets. Pull up by yacht and explore six of these castles from the Thousand Islands to Honolulu.
1. Singer Castle
In bringing to life his fanciful vision of Singer Castle, Frederick Bourne spared no expense. The self-made millionaire, the fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company and once Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, built his private home on Dark Island in the Thousand Islands region between the northeast U.S. and Canada. He hired Italian stonecutters to shape tons of granite quarried from nearby Oak Island into stones for the 28-room castle, complete with clock tower, turrets, terracotta-tiled roofs, boathouses, elaborate marble fireplaces, secret passageways, dungeons, grass tennis court and then-state-of-the-art early 20th-century electric and plumbing systems.
“The design was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s novel about Woodstock Castle in Scotland. Bourne commissioned American Beaux-Arts-style architect Ernest Flagg to design a hunting-style lodge as a surprise for his wife and their nine children,” says Thomas Weldon, president of Dark Island Tours.
Originally called “The Towers,” the castle soon became a hot spot for Bourne’s business contemporaries and celebrity visitors, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and Vincent Astor. After Bourne passed away in 1919, his daughter Marjorie added a wing with a sports therapy room, plus a squash court and other amenities, and spent more than 30 summers on the property with her husband, Alexander Dallas Thayer.
Today, visitors can arrive by boat to the castle. “The water depth is thirty-five feet, and we have over six hundred feet of docks (in total) on both sides of the island. We can take just about any vessel,” says Weldon.
From the South Boathouse dock, walk up the brick bridle path to a massive wooden door with a polished brass lion knocker. Entering the Great Hall, several suits of armor stand guard over medieval weaponry, a granite fireplace and a variety of antiques, including some of the many historic Singer sewing machines that decorate the castle.
Guides lead visitors on a 45-minute informative tour through four floors of original furnishings and artifacts, revealing secret passageways and pointing out quirky innovations such as a wind dial in the ceiling that is connected to a weather vane atop the building. From the wine cellar, with more than 600 terracotta slots for bottles, to the fourth-floor female staff dormitory, guests can learn about life as both servant and business entrepreneur in the Gilded Age.
Guests who stay overnight in the two-bedroom Royal Suite can call the seven-acre island home. “We want visitors to feel as if Frederick Bourne had personally invited them,” says Weldon. Play table tennis or shoot hoops in the maple-lined squash courts, wander through the rooms and savor a catered dinner and continental breakfast anywhere, including in the tearoom, dining room, drawing room, loggia or front terrace.
Overnight guests are also privy to a private tour that includes a visit to the inner workings of the five-story clock tower (where Westminster Chimes toll every 15 minutes), secret stairwells, dungeons, squash court, the North Boathouse’s male servant quarters and 125-foot boat slip with giant chimney funnel for Bourne’s 100-foot steam yacht Delaware, and the original powerhouse with coal boiler, generator and battery room.
“We like to think we’re a living, breathing castle. Why keep it as a stuffy museum?” says Weldon.
Don’t miss: On the mantle in the formal dining room, look for a replica of the Bronco Buster sculpture on loan from the Frederic Remington Art Museum in nearby Ogdensburg, New York. The original resides in the Oval Office.
How to visit by yacht: Singer Castle on Dark Island can accommodate any size yacht with 600 feet of docks and 35 feet of depth. Call ahead at (877) 327-5475 or hail them on channel 16.
Words by Necee Regis/ Picture courtesy of Singer Castle