So there I am sitting around doing nothing, wondering what to do on this Sunday afternoon in mid-July. It’s not like it’s a candidate for the beach or the pool, it’s just too damned cold.
One of the things I have always done on days like today is to simply climb into the car and drive – doesn’t matter where, just let’s see where we end up…No one else wants to come along so it’s a solo trip today I’m afraid.
I end up heading west, along the 1000 Islands Parkway and what a nice relaxing and interesting time I had.
At the outset, it may be worthwhile to have just a momentary geology/geography lesson…
Created when glaciers scraped down the mountain tops during the last great ice age, the Thousand Islands area boasts some of the most unique geography and biological diversity in the world.
The region was named Manatonna, or ‘Garden of the Great Spirit, ’by the Indians, but the more practical French gave the area the name it still bears – les Milles Isles or ‘Thousand Islands’.
Discovered in the late 1800s by railway barons and industrialists as the playground it is now renowned as, the Islands stretch between Kingston and Brockville.
Although the area receives its fair share of storms, poor weather more often tends to track either north or south of the islands. The natural land bridge and geographical proximity between the United States and Canada – in spots just wide enough for a small runabout – has helped carve the history of two great nations.
Dark Island, a prominent feature of the St. Lawrence Seaway, is located in the lower (eastern) Thousand Islands region, near Chippewa Bay. It is a part of the Town of Hammond, in St. Lawrence County, New York.
A historic landmark here, “The Towers” was long known as Dark Island Castle until recently renamed “Singer Castle”. The island itself sits only a few yards south of the Canadian-United States border that runs along the river. Because of its proximity to Canada, it was used for rum-running during prohibition in the United States.
The south side of the island is only about one hundred feet from the shipping channel, and cargo ships frequently pass the island. Because of the depth of the channel on one side, and the relative shallowness on the other, it is very good for sport fishing of Largemouth Bass and Northern Pike.
Most of the architectural work at Dark Island is attributed to the prominent American architect Ernest Flagg.
His client was Frederick Gilbert Bourne, president of the Singer Manufacturing Company (now the Singer Corporation), producer of the Singer Sewing Machine.
His daughter, Marjorie Bourne Thayer, made additions in 1928.
Flagg also designed the skyscraper headquarters for the company in New York City—the tallest building in the world at the time. Flagg is known for many major American projects, such as the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Dark Island Castle was the last of several “castles” built at the 1000 Islands during a brief interval (1888–1905). Bourne undertook the project while larger Boldt Castle was nearing completion nearby. The architect modeled the stone structure, planned in 1903, on Scottish models described in novels of Sir Walter Scott.
Following the 1919 death of Frederick Bourne, daughter Marjorie Mrs. Alexandra D. Thayer took title to the property. Her ownership was contested by a brother, but she retained title.
On her death, the Roman Catholic order Brothers of the Christian Schools, or Christian Brothers acquired Dark Island along with the large Bourne country house, Indian Neck Hall at Oakdale on Long Island, which thereafter became La Salle Military Academy. Having little use for the remote island in the St. Lawrence River, the Christian Brothers in 1965 sold Dark Island for approximately US $30,000, to be used thereafter by charitable organization of religious character, the Harold Martin Evangelistic Association.
Previous tax-exempt status was contested by neighbors after occupancy by the new owner. They contended that Dr. Harold Martin, director of the charity, maintained the tax-exempt property for his own private use as a summer residence. Martin prevailed in court, on the basis that he and his wife, Eloise, offered a religious service on the island every Sunday morning, open to all.
During this Martin interval, the property was called “Jorstadt Castle,” from Dr. Harold Martin’s family surname before immigrating from Norway.
The castle’s name has since been changed to Singer Castle. After more than thirty years of Martin tenure, removal, sometimes due to theft, depleted the original contents.
Due to the high cost of maintenance, a number of original fixtures and artifacts fell into disrepair. Rumors about the true use of the property (its new name not identifying any religious or charitable ownership), together with gradual deterioration of the property and stories about a complex maze of dimly lit secret passageways, complete with a dungeon, all increased the romantic mystique of Dark Island.
During later decades of the Martin period, the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dark Island was listed for sale. Advertisements appeared in high-end real estate magazines such as Unique Homes with suggestions that it be a “private residence, corporate retreat or hunting lodge.”
Interest came from as far as Japan, but the property remained unsold until acquired in 2001 from the Harold Martin Evangelistic Association by Dark Island Tours, Inc., a venture of German businessman Farhad Vladi and two American business partners.
I explored the 1000 Islands parkway, from the east to the 1000 Islands International Bridge at Ivy Lea and back. It was getting late, so I decided to head back to home base. It was an interesting afternoon. Obviously, I didn’t see everything there was to see, I noticed and photographed what caught my attention at the time based on the ‘mood’ I was in. On another trip the photos would likely be totally different…but, we’ll have to wait and see about that.
I want to thank the following for their contributions to this article:
Photos provided by: Fergus JM Ducharme
Other materials and some photos provided by:
- The 1000 Islands International Bridge Authority
- Singer Island
- Boldt Castle