7 of America's best castles to visit by luxury yacht

Hammond Castle

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 seven of these castles from the Thousand Islands to Honolulu.

1. Hammond Castle

Hammond Castle was built between 1926 and 1929 by Dr John Hay Hammond Jr. to act as a home for both himself and his collection of historical pieces. It was a wedding gift for his wife, Irene Fenton Hammond, but also housed the Hammond Research Corporation. Hammond was one of America’s most prolific inventors and produced more than 800 patents for different inventions — exceeding any other practitioner other than Thomas Edison, who was a lifelong friend of Hammond.

Sometimes known as “the father of remote control”, he invented a number of radio-guided vessels and vehicles as well as some of the earliest forms of FM broadcasting. Nowadays, his castle is used solely as a museum, which features Hammond’s extensive collection of Roman, medieval and Renaissance artefacts.

The castle took three years to build, cost approximately $500,000 and is a nod to Hammond’s eccentric nature and wild imagination. Outside the design is extremely gothic, featuring stone gargoyles, a number of gravestones acquired from Europe and a drawbridge main entrance to the castle.

The drawbridge leads into the Great Hall, which was designed to look like a 13th century French cathedral and acted as a main living area for Hammond and his guests. It also hosted a vast pipe organ that stretches up eight storeys. Hammond exhibited his sense of humour in the guest bedrooms by creating ‘vashining doors’ — they are covered in matching wallpaper to the rest of the room and have no handles, causing visitors confusion when trying to leave their room.

One of the most impressive feats of Hammond’s design is the indoor courtyard, which has a deep swimming pool that has a specific flooring design to create the illusion of a shallow end that moves location depending on where you stand. Additionally, this room had a system installed overhead that allowed Hammond to create sunshine on a cloudy day or moonlight on a dark night. The courtyard also features long pipes across the glass ceiling which produced rainfall.

Don’t miss: In the Great Hall lies one of Hammond’s most prized artefacts, a skull that is believed to have belonged to one of Christopher Columbus' crewmen.

How to visit on a superyacht: Anyone discovering New England by superyacht should head to the Boston Yacht Haven Marina where vessels up to 92 metres can moor in one of 15 berths, then take a private car to Hammond Castle.

Picture courtesy of Instagram.com / @frank_c_grace

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

of America's best castles to visit by luxury yacht

The story of Boldt Castle is a tragic tale of love and loss. In 1900, millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, broke ground on a six-story, 120-room summer dream home as a tribute to his beloved wife, Louise. Boldt employed 300 workers to execute his vision to create a Rhineland-style castle on Heart Island in the center of the Saint Lawrence River’s Thousand Islands region.

“Boldt even had the island reshaped into a heart, rounded at the top with a point at the bottom,” says Shane K. Sanford, director of operations and maintenance. The monumental structures on the seven-acre island, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, children’s playhouse and dovecote, were never completed. In 1904, Louise unexpectedly passed away, and a heartbroken Boldt telegraphed the island and demanded all construction be stopped. He never returned.

The property sat vacant for more than 70 years, ravaged by weather and vandals, until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority — which now owns and operates Boldt Castle and the nearby Boldt Yacht House — began a painstaking rehabilitation and restoration project. About 50 percent of the castle is open to the public, including the library, dining room, master bedroom suites and the newly finished first-floor kitchen, as work continues one room at a time.

“The Boldt story is more than just the castle. He was very much into boats and boating,” says Sanford. The Boldt Castle Yacht House, built in 1903 on nearby Wellesley Island, is a quick shuttle boat ride across the river. The 64-foot-high shingle-style structure features towers, spires, steep-pitched gables and 128-foot covered slips that once housed the family’s yachts and enormous 106-foot houseboat La Duchesse (on display in the Antique Boat Museum in nearby Clayton, New York). Visitors today can view some boats from the original Boldt fleet such as P.D.Q. (Pretty Damn Quick), a 1904 raceboat with original 24-hp Barber Brothers Engine.

Don’t miss: Representing boats of George Boldt’s era is the 63-foot 1892 steam yacht Kestrel, which was donated to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority and now resides at Boldt Castle’s Yacht House.

How to visit on a superyacht: With advance notice, Boldt Castle’s dock can accommodate vessels up to 75 feet. Larger vessels can anchor nearby and tender in. Heart Island is a U.S. Customs Port of Entry.

Bishop’s Palace

Bishop’s Palace, the ornate Victorian-style wonder built for lawyer, railroad entrepreneur and politician Colonel Walter Gresham in the late 19th century, is celebrated as a historic landmark in Galveston, Texas. Located in the East End Historic District, the palace — also known as Gresham’s Castle — is easy to spot.

Designed by architect Nicholas Clayton, the gray sandstone and granite building is straight out of Hollywood-fantasy central casting. Soaring three stories high with four round turrets, Romanesque and depressed Tudor arches, wrought-iron railings, carvings of real and imaginary creatures, steep roofs and numerous sculptural chimneys, the museum is now managed by the Galveston Historical Foundation.

Completed in 1892 for Gresham, his wife, Josephine, and their nine children, the 50-plus-room castle offers an intimate glimpse of upper crust life in the Victorian era. Tours of the historic interior, offered daily, include first-floor rooms with 14-foot coffered ceilings, marble columns from Sienna, ornamental fireplaces from around the world, elaborate carved wood architectural elements, plus period paintings and furnishings.

Don't miss: The 40-foot-tall octagonal mahogany staircase is framed on five sides by stained glass panels and illuminated by an octagonal skylight.

How to visit on a superyacht: Minutes from the Gulf of Mexico and right off the Galveston Ship Channel, the Galveston Yacht Basin is two miles from Bishop’s Palace and can take large yachts.

If you prefer palaces with a regal heritage don’t miss our guide of the best royal palaces to visit from a luxury yacht.

Picture courtesy of  Fotoluminate Llc/Shutterstock.com

Iolani Palace

Just steps from downtown Honolulu, royal blue and gold painted-iron gates open to a world of opulence and grandeur at Iolani Palace, the official residence of Hawaii’s last monarchs and a National Historic Landmark. King Kalakaua built his majestic residence on sacred ancient worship grounds in 1882. Today, the public may tour its meticulously restored grand halls, throne room, state dining room and private suites, including the bedroom where Queen Liliuokalani was held under house arrest following the overthrow of her government in the late 19th century.

The full glory of Polynesian history and Hawaii’s royal heritage are on display in every crystal chandelier, gilt-edged chair and crimson carpet. Furnishings and objects, sold after the monarchy was overthrown, have been recovered from 36 states and four foreign countries. Visitors can see original Gothic-Revival, Asian and European furnishings, polished Hawaiian wood staircases, vases and statuary from England, India and France, and framed paintings of the island’s royalty including King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani by noted American portraitist William Cogswell.

Don't miss: On the palace grounds, the ornate Coronation Pavilion looks like a fanciful crown.

How to visit on a superyacht: Close by is the largest yacht harbor in the state of Hawaii, Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, 2.3 miles from the Iolani Palace; it takes vessels up to 85 feet. alawaiharbor.com. Larger yachts can head to the Ko Olina Marina, 25 miles away with slips up to 200 feet.

Picture courtesy of Jeff Whyte

Castle Farms

Tucked into the bucolic landscape of northern Michigan, Castle Farms offers old-world charm crossed with modern-day delights. The French Renaissance-style stone castle, complete with fairy-tale turrets and formal gardens, was the brainchild of Albert Loeb, the acting president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Built in 1918 as a model dairy farm, with architecture inspired by castles and barns in Normandy, France, the property once housed more than 200 head of Holstein-Friesian cows and 13 pair of Belgian draft horses, and was the largest employer in the county.

After stints as an art gallery, summer theater venue and rock concert venue — hosting The Doobie Brothers, The Beach Boys, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, Aerosmith and more — the farm was purchased in 2001 and restored to its earlier glory. On self-guided tours, guests can visit the extensive gardens and forest paths, play a game of giant chess, feed native rainbow trout in the pond, enjoy a picnic lunch at Birch Lake (food available for purchase on site), wander through cobblestone courtyards and visit the 1918 Museum, exhibiting memorabilia from the Great War era. Don’t be surprised to see bridal parties posing for portraits at this celebrated wedding venue.

Don't miss: The Model Railroad, the largest in the state of Michigan, features more than 70 G-scale trains operating on more than 2,500 feet of track

How to visit on a superyacht: The Charlevoix City Marina, just a mile-and-a-half from Castle Farms, enjoys a very protected harbor and has accommodated yachts up to 175 feet.

Picture courtesy of Hello Aerial Rt

Hearst Castle

When William Randolph Hearst inherited more than 250,000 acres of ranchland overlooking the Pacific Ocean, he dreamed of a magnificent estate to showcase his art collection. The year was 1919, and he called his whimsical vision “La Cuesta Encantada,” Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.” By 1947, his 165-room hilltop aerie, designed by architect Julia Morgan above the village of San Simeon, was complete.

Sprawling across 127 acres of lush terraced gardens that bloom year round, the Mediterranean Revival-style complex of ornate guesthouses and the twin-towered Casa Grande are filled with European treasures passionately collected by the newspaper magnate and politician. Hearst’s eclectic collections included Flemish tapestries, Persian rugs, Tiffany lamps, 18th Dynasty Egyptian sculpture, antique French furniture, 400-year old Italian and Spanish ceilings, fragments of Roman temples, Renaissance paintings and other historic works of art.

Visitors can see all of this and more on several distinct guided tours of the estate, now a museum, and imagine what it must have been like to hobnob with the crème de la crème of Hollywood elite and other influential guests who flocked there in its heyday, including Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Winston Churchill and President Calvin Coolidge.

Don’t miss: The Neptune Pool’s beautiful serpentine tiles and marble colonnades overlooking the sea.

How to visit by luxury yacht: The Morro Bay Yacht Club, 30 miles to the south, has six mooring balls and a 150-foot dock for visiting yachts. A visit to Castle Farms could be incorporated as part of  luxury yacht charter from San Francisco.

Picture courtesy of Aresium Art/Shutterstock.com