Jewel among the Thousand Islands
Wellesley Island is the second largest island in the Thousand Islands. Actually, there are many more than 1,000 islands in the St. Lawrence River. The area was once the playground of the rich and famous but now everyone can play. It is a great destination of its own with a wide variety of things to see and do. The first stop should be the Thousand Island Welcome Center where there are a plethora of brochures plus staff to answer questions. Check Visit1000islands.com or call 800-847-5263 for more information.
1. Boldt’s Castle. The easiest way to visit Boldt’s Castle, an unfinished castle that was the dream of the owner of NYC’s Waldorf Astoria, is from his Yacht House. There is direct access to the Yacht House from Wellesley Island and then a free shuttle to the castle. The first floor of Boldt’s Castle has been restored according to Boldt’s plans. There are six buildings to explore, exhibits and a video with a glimpse into the days of the “Robber Barons.”
2. Wellesley Island State Park. The state park is the largest camping area in the Thousand Island region, offering a variety of options from tenting to cottages. They have a full service marina, four boat launches, a sandy beach and their own nine-hole golf course.
3. Hart House Inn. This is a lovely, historic inn that was once on Boldt’s Heart Island and was moved across the ice to Wellesley Island. There are individually appointed rooms, lovely gardens, and expansive views of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
4. Thousand Island Country Club. At one time it cost $100,000 to join the club but now anyone can stay and play. The club has two-bedroom villas, a pro shop, a marina and Hacker’s Pub & Grill plus two 18-hole courses. The historic Old Course was opened in 1894 and expanded to 18 holes in 1924 by famed golf architect, Seth Raynor.
5. Thousand Island Park. The park is actually a lovely Victorian village that was founded in 1875 as a Methodist campground and thrived as a family retreat in the spirit of a Chautauqua. Today it is still a family retreat, with a Norman Rockwell ambiance. There are many “Painted Ladies,” an old-fashioned ice cream parlor called “The Guzzle,” an unmanned post office with quaint mailboxes, a museum, several shops and the Tabernacle where non-denominational services and special events are held. Truly a step back into an earlier time.
6. Cross Island Farms. The farm raises certified organic vegetables, meat and eggs. They grow over 200 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits. Along with farm tours they also offer primitive camping. During the growing season they have an on-your-honor farm stand.
7. The Minna Anthony Common Nature Center. The nature center is a year-round facility that overlooks Eel Bay. There are eight miles of hiking and cross country ski trails crisscrossing its 600 acres. Inside the museum there are displays and dioramas depicting the various animals and habitats found on the island. The center has a variety of educational opportunities for all ages, including a Discovery Room with games, books and hands-on learning activities.
8. Boating. Bring your own boat, rent a houseboat, or take a tour of the 1000 Islands with Uncle Sam’s Boat tours or on the Gananoque Boat Line. Both tell the tales of the area from the rich and famous to the smugglers. Some of the tours include a stop at Boldt’s and Singer Castles.
9. Nearby. Using Wellesley Island as a base it is easy to visit the fully furnished Singer Castle on Dark Island, once the summer getaway for the wealthy Bourne family. In nearby Clayton visit the Antique Boat Museum. The small towns of Alexandria Bay (USA) and Gananoque (Canada) offer dining and shopping options.
10. Crossing the border. Wellesley Island is in the U.S. but Canada is just a short drive across the International Bridge. In most cases Americans visiting Canada need to have a valid U.S. passport in order to return to the U.S.