The Boats of George C. Boldt  (1851-1916) By Peter Mellon Photos Courtesy of Shane Sanford

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As the manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and the owner of the Bellvue-Stratford Hotel, George C. Boldt had, like many, fallen in love with the 1000 Island region. After purchasing a five-acre island in 1893, he commenced an enormous project that went far beyond the development of a “summer home” (seen above) to something that would change the 1000 Islands forever.

At the turn of the century Mr. Boldt immersed himself into his development of Heart Island. Various projects related to its progress included an 18-hole golf course, the building of a colony of cottages, the building of farms, raising crops, livestock, harvesting of ice and the construction of mammoth barns and yacht houses.

With over 100 men working on the Heart Island all year round, there was a constant need for workmen to have the use of boats which would transport them, their tools and personal belongings to and from the mainland. The working fleet consisted of a dredge called the “Squab”, dump scows, flat scows, all with their own names such as “Ark”, “Mary”, “Ellen”, “Turtle”, “Derrick #1” and “Derrick #2”. In addition to the workmen, there was an extremely large number of permanent staff members, as well as the Boldt family members and friends. The sheer numbers made transportation a huge undertaking. Reportedly, there were 57 boats in Boldt’s fleet of vessels ranging in size from a small St. Lawrence skiff to an enormous steam yacht almost 123 feet in length. Boldt’s fleet included the steam yachts; “Louise”, “Crescent”, “Clover” and a steam tug called “the Queen”. There was a sailing yacht named “Cocoa” and “LaDuchesse”, a magnificent houseboat. Motor boats consisted of the “Scout”, “Troubler”, “No 3”, “No 13”, “Senior”, “Tia Juana”, “Frost King”, “Frost King II”, “Golf”, “Tozer”, “Crickett”, “Snow Queen”, “Pixie”, “Presto”, “PDQ” and the following “PDQ” numbered boats, “II”, “III”, “IV”, “V”, “VI”, “Ethel Dale”, “Country Club”, “Dairy Maid”, “This” and “That”. (See Jan-Feb, 2003 ACBM) As well, there were also 19 skiffs, 7 punts and a canoe. This was natural for the yacht-oriented life for both Boldt and his wealthy friends. It was fitting that nothing should be lacking in the way of boats.

The steam yacht “Louise” (1893) was 102 feet in length (84 feet at the water line) and had a beam of 14 feet, a depth of 8 and a half feet, and a draft of 4 feet. She was constructed of wood and weighed in at 49 tons. “Louise” was designed and built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company of Bristol, Rhode Island. Her steam powerplant was also built by Herreshoff and was a 3 cylinder triple expansion engine. After Boldt’s death in 1916, the “Louise” was valued at $5,000.00 by an appraiser and sold to a couple in California in the early 1920’s.

“Crescent” was built around 1892 of wood at a length of 50 feet and had a 9’-6” beam. She was originally powered by steam but was later converted to a 60 horse Sterling gas engine. With this powerplant she could glide through the water at a speed of 13 miles per hour. “Crescent” was used at the Thousand Island Yacht Club as the “Club Boat” where Mr. Boldt was a member as well as serving as Vice-Commodore in 1908.

In 1910 George Boldt purchased an 81 foot 1901 Nathaniel Herreshoff design/built steam yacht called “Dawn” from a gentleman in Detroit. Boldt changed the name of the yacht to “Clover” after his daughter, Louise Clover. She was an elegant flush deck yacht with no aft cockpit. An awning covered the trunk cabin from the smokestack to the stern, and had extensive accommodations for cruising. In 1910 her Herreshoff steam plant was changed to a Seabury Water Tube Boiler. She cruised at about 20 mph.

George Boldt’s private boat was “Senior”, a 1912-13 Fred Adams “pleasure semi-cruiser” 45 feet long with an 8-1/2’ beam. “Senior” was powered by a 90 hp Trebert engine and ran about 18 mph. It had all the comforts, a full canopy covering the entire cockpit, an aft cabin with toilet, electric lights and rear cockpit with a leather bench seat. At Boldt’s death in “Senior” appraised at $3,500.00.

This leaves us with “LaDuchesse” Boldt’s magnificent houseboat. Non-powered, “LaDuchesse” was towed by the tug “the Queen” to whatever destination the Boldt’s desired. The Boldt Yacht House was constructed to house “LaDuchesse” and the steam yacht “Louise” in 1905. Tams, LaMoine and Crane of New York City designed “LaDuchesse” to George Boldt’s specifications. She was built in sections, shipped by rail to Clayton New York; the sections were then placed on scows and ferried to Wellesley Island where she was assembled. Originally she was to be built in New York City and towed to Alexandria Bay through the Erie Barge Canal, but a staff member at the architectural firm realized that she would not pass under the bridges crossing the canal. The original construction costs were $175,000.00 (1903 remember), she was (is) 104 feet long and 21 feet wide. She had ten bedrooms, five bathrooms, a dining room and servants quarters. The parlor was 18’ by 18’, featured a stained glass skylight over the Steinway piano, gold-leaf filigree work on the ceiling, and paneled walls of curly maple and Honduran mahogany in the staterooms. A lounge/dance floor on the second floor of the houseboat was 18 feet by 50 feet. Complete with two fireplaces, oriental rugs, exquisite crystal, fine china and silver service and beautiful linens, “LaDuchesse” was unequalled in the 1000 Island region.

George C. Boldt died on December 5, 1916. His total estate was valued at $15,000,000.00. James Hutchinson of Alexanderia Bay who determined that the value of Boldt’s 57 boats was approximately $35,000.00 at that time did an appraisal on all of Mr. Boldt’s boats. One can only imagine the historic value and worth of Boldt’s boats in today’s market.

After Boldt’s death “LaDuchesse” was sold as part of the Boldt Estate to Mr. Edward J. Noble in 1925. “LaDuchesse” was stored in the Boldt Yacht House in the 1930’s and began to decline from neglect. Unbelievably she sank in her slip simply because her bilges were not being pumped out which led to the plumbing system outlet slipping below the water line. As she took on more and more water, two unseen pilings below her pierced her hull and she sank. Mr. Noble, “exasperated”, did not make an effort to raise her.

“LaDuchesse” was sold in 1943 for $1.00 to Mr. Andrew McNally III (of Rand-McNally fame) of Evanston Illinois. Mr. McNally raised the partially submerged houseboat, had a diver patch the hull and plumbing system, and had her towed to Kingston Ontario Canada for repairs. Mr. McNally had the mahogany hull replaced with a steel hull. In 1986 Mr. McNally generously donated “LaDuchesse” to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton New York. Today, one hundred years, later “LaDuchesse” is at rest beside Boldt’s Yacht House where she is being cared for in the manner to which she has been accustomed.

Editor’s Note: For more information on the boats of George C. Boldt, Boldt Castle and the Waldorf Hotel, three very detailed books is available by Roger Lucas entitled “Boldt’s Boats Alexandria Bay, New York and the Thousand Islands”, “Boldt Castle, Heart Island” and “The Waldorf Hotel” respectively, call our office for information. We would like to thank Roger for his help with some of the details. We would also like to express our sincere appreciation to Mr. Shane Sanford, Promotional Director for the 1000 Island Bridge Authority and General Manager of Boldt Castle who supplied the archival photos in this article. May we highly recommend a tour of Boldt Castle; Boldt’s Yacht House, the Antique Boat Museum and Corbin’s River Heritage Gallery if you visit the Thousand Islands region.