Boldt’s Wellesley Island Properties Included The Birches And Swiss Chalet
According to the New York Times, George C. Boldt’s Swiss Chalet was originally built as a guest house in 1895. In the late 1800s, Boldt began developing properties in addition to his Wellesley House and farm on Wellesley Island as a “colony” of cottages. With a number of properties in the region and Boldt Castle still commanding its fair share of attention in the press, the Swiss Chalet and the Birches were somewhat lost in the shuffle with regard to historical coverage in the press.
It was on July 7, 1909, that the Watertown Re-Union printed the news about Boldt’s plan for a colony on Wellesley Island—
Alexandria Bay, July 6 — An announcement of interest to the entire Thousand Island region was made Saturday by a representative of Geo. C. Boldt, the millionaire hotel owner. Mr. Boldt contemplates forming a high-toned cottage colony opposite this place and to that end he has built one cottage of the Swiss chalet type and is remodeling the old Jarvis homestead at the expense of $20,000 to meet with his ideas. On islands, shoals and along the shores Mr. Boldt intends to construct several more cottages, all probably of the Swiss type. These he will rent to those desiring an ideal home on the St. Lawrence River.
Several years after Boldt’d death in 1916, the Swiss chalet, designed by architect Edward Shepard Hewitt, was part of the 1922 estate sale. The approximately 20-room chalet was said to be unequaled among the show places in the Thousand Islands, as the Watertown Daily Times reported—
Alexandria Bay, June 26 — The beautiful Swiss Chalet, adjoining the Thousand Islands cottage of Mr. and Mrs. A. Graham Miles, on Wellesley Island, which is being used this season as an annex to the Thousand Islands Country Club, is one of the most handsome villas at this resort. It is unusually handsomely furnished. The furnishings are very costly, and were placed in the cottage when it was designed for a home. The decorations on the walls of the broad living room, and the different bed rooms are artistic and out of the ordinary. They were done by one of the famous decorators of New York and a fabulous price was paid for the work.
It is the plan of the Thousand Islands Estates Company, for the Chalet to be (this part of the article made no sense whatsoever), which means that it will be a club that is unequalled. The Willcox at Aiken, S. C., is famous throughout the country for its exclusiveness where the club members, and their house guests and friends find a sojourning place that is equalled in few private homes and where there is a cuisine equal to that of any in New York.
Reservations for the rooms at the Swiss Chalet were taken only for members of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, the Country Club, or persons who were friends of the members of these clubs. The Thousand Islands Estates Co. was headed by A. Graham Miles and Edward J. Noble.
The Birches was the former summer home of George C. Boldt, Jr. and was later rented out to some well-known people. As described in a 1916 edition of “The Spur”—
“The Birches,” another charming cottage available for summer rental, is also located on Wellesley Island, its situation being directly opposite Welcome Island, the home of the Yacht Club, which is the center of social activity during the season. The cottage has thirteen bedrooms, six bathrooms, open fireplaces, furnace heat, electric light and telephone connections, including long distance. It is completely furnished.
The Boat House in connection with the cottage has, besides the lighting plant and ice-house, two slips and a long dock. There is in addition a landing and shelter for small motor-boats directly in front of the main piazza. The services of a gardener and the use of a motor-boat are included in the rental. The Country Club, with golf links, tennis courts and a bowling green, is about a five-minute walk from this highly attractive cottage.
Prior to building Pine Tree Point, J. B. Taylor had a summer home at St. Lawrence Park but also spent the 1913 summer renting The Birches on Wellesley Island, two years before George Boldt remodeled it in 1915. In December of that same year, two brothers employed by George Boldt on his farm died a mere 40 – 50 feet from The Birches when an old skiff they had borrowed was pierced by sharp ice.
The brothers, Roy and Homer Parmeter, were returning from Alexandria Bay and headed for The Birches when the accident happened and were unable to swim the distance on account of the ice and the heavy clothing they were bundled up in. The brothers had made the trek across the river to see a basketball game and purchase groceries for the upcoming week.
In 1939, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas vacationed there after meeting E. J. Noble, who was then Undersecretary of Commerce. The Watertown Daily Times reported—
Justice Douglas said that he had often heard about the Thousand Islands, but that it was only after meeting Edward J. Noble, undersecretary of commerce, that the idea of spending his vacation here suggested itself.
He said it was hard to compare this region with any other section.
“It reminds me somewhat of the Puget Sound section of the state of Washington, bust still it is different some from that, too,” he said.
Some time prior to this, the Birches appears to have undergone major renovations in which the top floors were removed. The photo above was included in the Times article making it hardly recognizable (unless, of course, it was mislabeled.)
In December 1944, E. J. Noble sold a large portion of the property to the Canada Steamship Lines. The Watertown Daily Times, in a July 3, 1988 article, noted—
The transaction, termed in 1945 reports as “one of the largest ever in the real estate annals of the Thousand Islands,” was viewed as promising “to restore the Thousand Islands as one of the greatest summer regions in the world.”
In March of 1950, E. J. Noble purchased much of the property back from Canada Steamship Lines, Ltd., while Noble was in his ABC offices in New York. The Watertown Daily Times reported—
This marks the beginning of the second period of ownership by Mr. Noble, Gouverneur native who is chairman of the board of the American Broadcasting Company and of Life Savers, Inc. Canadian Steamship Lines acquired the property from him in December 1944.
In addition to the palatial, 50-room Thousand Islands Club, the transaction involves the nearby 18-hole golf course, the golf clubhouse and a number of cottage properties including the Birches, the Chalet, Blutop and Bricktop. In all there are about 175 acres of land and 1,000 feet of waterfront on the south shore of the island. Estimated value is in excess of $500,000.
A date could not be found for when the Birches ceased to exist and the 1950 mention of it in the estate sale was the last bit of press located on it. The Swiss Chalet, however, still stands today and has been subdivided into condominiums. An article printed in the August 24, 2007 edition of the New York Times reported on the then-new owners of one of its condos while reflecting on the challenges many decades later of finding a property on the river–
In 2006 Tracy Gensler and her husband, Howard, bought a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium in the remodeled Swiss Chalet, originally a guesthouse built on Wellesley Island by George Boldt in 1895. The Genslers, whose main home is in Chevy Chase, Md., had been looking in Bethany Beach, Del., but “everything was two and three million, or a teardown and a rebuild, and there was no view,” Mrs. Gensler said. They paid $285,000 for their 1,300-square-foot unit right on the St. Lawrence. A string of fishing-lure party lights now adorns their kitchen cabinets, and framed vintage sepia-toned photographs of the Chalet hang on the walls.