Saturday, July 30, 2011

Singer Castle: Through the Eyes of a Tour Guide

Pictured: Griff Stark-Ennis, author of this post.
(Click on photo to see it larger.)

This past Monday, as I rode the staff boat across the St. Lawrence River from Chippewa Bay to Dark Island, I glanced up as I drew nearer to my work destination. There Singer Castle sat gloomy and enigmatic against the distant Canadian landscape, draped in a summer’s heavy rain. I found myself wondering how I came to be a tour guide there. How is it that this historical and mysterious castle became my summer job and what exactly makes it special to me?

Last summer after attending college orientation in Boston I received a call from Singer Castle on Dark Island Tours explaining that they were seeking to fill a position at the castle. Like any other soon-to-be college kid, I was in great need of spending money so needless to say I accepted the position. I soon found myself memorizing hundreds of historical facts and stories preparing for my first tour, one that every “newbie” dreads. Now, I can proudly say that I have a well-structured, informative and – in my opinion – fun tour, one that took many days of practice and embarrassment to perfect.

One may think that giving tours day after day would get monotonous, but the truth is I find myself learning new things every day. Whether our historian finds something new for us to include in our tours, or if I, myself, come across some small but important castle detail, I am constantly learning, discovering and adding. But what about Singer Castle inspired me?

Singer Castle in itself represents something that every young American, like me, is striving to achieve: the “American Dream.” Frederick Bourne, the original owner of the castle, worked his way up from choirboy to president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company making him one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time. The castle stands as both historical and modern proof of what persistence mixed with big dreaming can bring one in life.

I consider myself very lucky for two reasons, the first being that I am fortunate enough to have a summer job in a time when many teenagers in the United States are left seasonably unemployed. The second reason is also the greatest reason I look forward in coming to Singer Castle every morning…and that’s the fact that I actually enjoy my work! I am on a beautiful river all day inside an equally as beautiful castle, working with students – both high school and college – who share many of the same aspirations as I.

Behind the walls of Singer Castle lies an eclectic and diverse sort of family, who together aim to educate people from all over the world about the great history that these very walls have witnessed. History is very much intertwined with the present, however, and I myself am becoming a part of Singer Castle’s historic greatness every day I am there. Like Mr. Bourne, the castle employees and I are seeking to better ourselves through teaching others and working hard. Stepping back into history to change the future? Sounds like an all right summer job to me.

This post received direct from Dark Island. Authored by the talented tour guide: Griff Stark-Ennis.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hammond Historical Society Display at Singer Castle

Thanks to the generosity of the Hammond Historical Society (near Black Lake in NY State), Singer Castle on Dark Island has a new display for visitors to view in the Great Hall.  Visitors will be able to see a beautifully designed evening dress in early 1900s style displayed on a turn of the century dress form.  The bodice of the dress laces in the back and is made of black velvet that is decorated with designs in black jet beading. The bustled skirt is constructed of a fine striped silk in a pale gold color.  It is difficult to imagine the efforts that the ladies of that era would make to fit into a garment with such a tiny waist. On the hat rack a gentleman’s black beaver felt top hat, a ladies hat and a hand woven coverlet are on display.

The above dispatch and picture are direct from Dark Island. Click on the photo to see it larger.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Business After Hours at Singer Castle

The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Business After Hours event at Singer Castle on Thursday, July 21st.  One Hundred Eighty-two chamber members from businesses all over the Watertown-North Country area cruised downriver from Alexandria Bay on Uncle Sam Boat Tours “Island Dutchess.” While enjoying their cruise to Dark Island, Singer Castle Historian Judy Keeler shared some of the castle’s history and they were treated to a delicious supper catered by RJs Catering from Adams Center. 

Upon arrival at Singer Castle one half of the group joined castle staff members for a tour while the other half was treated to dessert and coffee on the South Dock.  After the first group of guests completed their tours and returned to the main dock for dessert, the remaining guests had their chance to tour the castle.  In spite of the high temperatures all of those involved enjoyed the experience.
The After Hours Event was cooperatively sponsored by Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours, Watertown Sam’s Club, River Bank Gallery and Blue Heron Coffee, RJs Catering and Singer Castle. Uncle Sam’s provided transportation. Bottled water, set ups and desserts were provided by the Watertown Sam’s Club.  Coffee was provided by the Riverbank Gallery and Blue Heron Coffee, RJs catering provided the evening meal and Singer Castle provided the destination.

Above dispatch and picture received direct from Dark Island.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Woodstock is not in the 1000 Islands... Or is it?

While not the famed Woodstock Music & Art Fair of 1969, noted architect Ernest Flagg’s rendition of Woodstock Palace as described by Sir Walter Scott in his 1826 novel – Woodstock - The Cavalier: A Tale of the Year Sixteen Hundred and Fifty-one was built on Dark Island in the 1000 Islands in 1903.

Virtually forgotten today, the original Woodstock went through many incarnations between 1007 and 1720. It is first mentioned in connection with the early English Kings Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready who lived 978-1016. In 1129 King Henry I had seven miles of wall built to enclose Woodstock Park for hunting. Around 1160 King Henry II turned the hunting lodge into a palace and much to the displeasure of his wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, used it to house his mistress Rosamund de Clifford. This was where he had his first clash with Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was then murdered by forces loyal to the King. King Richard the Lionheart and his brother King John I of “Robin Hood” fame were frequent visitors and King Edward III brought his entire court to Woodstock in 1330. In the late 1400s, Tudor King Henry VII, who restored stability to the monarchy after the War of the Roses, undertook major renovations of the palace at Woodstock. It is recorded that King Henry VIII frequently came to stay and hunt there in the early years of his reign. By the mid-16th Century, Woodstock, which had sunk into disrepair, was used to imprison Princess Elizabeth for nearly a year before she became Queen Elizabeth I of England. During the English Civil War (1642-49) the palace was used as a royalist garrison and was briefly visited by King Charles I. King Charles II used it during the conflict with Cromwell’s armies, who heavily damaged the property. From that point on the palace sank into ruin and was eventually torn down.

In the early 1900s Frederick G. Bourne of New York City hired the renowned architect Ernest Flagg to design a “small” hunting lodge that was unlike any other castle in existence. Flagg, who had just read the novel Woodstock, would use Scott’s description of Woodstock Palace as an inspiration for the new castle because the original was demolished in 1720 at the direction of the Duchess of Marlborough, who was overseeing the construction of Blenheim Palace near the original Woodstock’s location.

Today, Bourne and Flagg’s version of the Woodstock Palace, now known as Singer Castle, has become a popular destination for tours, overnight stays and weddings in the 1000 Islands region. (Blenheim Palace situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England is a tourist attraction as well as the family residence for the Dukes of Marlborough).

The above dispatch and pictures were received directly from Dark Island.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hot off the digital press: Thousand Islands Life article on Singer Castle

Kim Lunman
, owner and publisher of the quality Island Life Magazine, just had an article about Singer Castle on Dark Island published in the wonderful online digital magazine Thousand Islands Life.

Click here: (Thousand Islands Life) to go directly to the article. Enjoy the rest of this excellent magazine too!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy July 4th weekend!

Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

It has been said that the price of freedom is not free. Throughout the years it has required a lot of work and sacrifice to maintain our freedoms.

Below is a picture of the making of parachute harnesses in July 1942 with a Singer Sewing machine (during World War 2). Location: Manchester, Conn. USA.

Next we have our allies on the British Western front in France using Singer Sewing machines to repair army boots during WW2.