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Frederick G. Bourne and "The Things That Matter Most"


His name has become quite familiar in the Thousand Islands in recent years even though he hasn't been there in almost a century. Frederick G. Bourne (1851-1919) was the original owner of Singer Castle on Dark Island. Until recently, only a handful of people in the area would have recognized the name. In fact, even though my husband and I had helped with the Sunday worship services at what was then called Jorstadt Castle for over 15 years, we didn’t know much about him either except that he was a very wealthy man who was President of the Singer Sewing Machine company and built a castle for himself in the Thousand Islands. But what we have since learned about the man behind the mansion on Dark Island has been a true inspiration to us.

Shortly after Jorstadt Castle was sold to Dark Island Tours, Inc, we began to work on our documentary DVD. That was when we first discovered Frederick G. Bourne (FGB) was much more than a wealthy man who liked castles. He was a very devoted family man. He enjoyed all kinds of hobbies, sports, and outside interests. He was also an extremely generous man giving large sums of money to numerous charities. But we only recently also discovered what mattered most to Frederick G. Bourne.

A Man of Great Wealth

Unlike many millionaires born into wealthy families, Frederick G. Bourne came from the humble background of being a minister’s son. He was born on December 20, 1851, to Rev. George Washington Bourne and Harriet Gilbert Bourne. The Bournes were New Englanders of very modest means. While he was still young the family moved to New York City where he and his brother were educated in the public school. Since he didn’t have enough money to go to college he entered the business world in 1865. In his spare time, FGB enjoyed singing in his church choir at Old Trinity.

 

It was there that FGB made his initial contact that got him a job at the Singer Company. Starting as a stenographer he quickly began climbing the corporate ladder and at 32, Frederick G. Bourne became President of the Singer Manufacturing Company. Under his talented leadership the company grew and prospered, and FGB, himself, became one of the wealthiest men in the world.

FGB also had interests in several other companies including Knickerbocker Safe Deposit Co, The Long Island Rail Road, Manhattan Company, Bourne & Co, Ltd of New Jersey City and Suburban Homes Company, Babcock & Wilcox Company, Atlas Portland Cement Company, the Aeolian Piano and Pianola Company, and the Long Island Motor Parkway.

A Man with Many Properties

FGB owned several thousand acres in New York and had a massive 110-room summer mansion, Indian Neck Hall, built for himself and his family in Oakdale. Oakdale has been described as "a scion of America's gilded age of a century ago, where powerful men of incredible wealth built South Shore gold coast mansions and dwelt in manorial splendor." FGB also owned the entire first floor of the New York City’s legendary Dakota building. He became a member of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club in Georgia where he purchased his own apartment. He was the president, from 1914 through 1919. And then, there was that humble "hunting lodge" he had built on Dark Island which he fondly referred to as "The Towers".

A Man with Many Hobbies and Interests

FGB was the consummate sportsman. He was an avid yachtsman, a skilled boxer and billiards player and also enjoyed fishing, hunting and bowling. He enjoyed racquet and tennis. In his younger days, FGB excelled at boxing. He also spent a great deal of time and money raising horses. By the end of the 1890’s FGB brought home many ribbons from the national horse shows in New York. He was also the first in the area to own an automobile and was a skillful driver. He imported a number of expensive European Cars including a $10,000 Mercedes. FGB loved music and sang in several different choirs throughout his life. He was known to have a lovely baritone voice. He also loved the organ. In his home at Oakdale he had an Aeolian pipe organ installed that was one of the finest and largest pipe organs in the country.

FGB was an avid boater and owned boats of all types and sizes, from small speedboats to large steam yachts. Among his better known yachts were the Delaware, the Colonia, the Alberta, and the Artemis. He was a member of several yacht clubs in the area, including the New York Yacht Club and the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club. In 1903 he was named Commodore of the NYYC, a position he would hold until 1905. His steam yacht Delaware was the flagship of the yacht Club during most of his term as its commodore. This yacht was 350 feet long and had a crew of over 100 men.

A Devoted Family Man

But his business life and hobbies were still only a small part of who FGB was. On February 9, 1875 Frederick Bourne married Emma Sparks Keeler of New York. Their first child, Frederick was born on January 1, 1876 and eleven more children would follow: Arthur, Louise, May, Marion, Alfred, Helen, Florence, George, Marjorie, Kenneth, and Howard.  Four of the children, Frederick, Louisa, Helen, and Kenneth died in early childhood (before the castle was built). But most of the others eventually married and had children, giving FGB a number of grandchildren who he dearly loved.  FGB was a loyal and devoted husband, father, and grandfather throughout his life.

An Extremely Generous Man

Frederick G. Bourne was also well known for his generosity. For all of his adult life and even after his death he gave large amounts of money to many charitable organizations including children’s homes, fire departments and religious charities.

In 1907 he presented Nassau Hospital in Mineola with $3,000 after the explosion of the Colonia and the care they gave to his crewmen.

When the Dutch Reformed Church in W. Sayville was raising funds for a new church, he gave them $1,000. When the railroad station in Oakdale needed improvements he contributed half the money needed to make them. In 1913 to help the South Side Hospital out of its debt he contributed $1,000. FGB gave $500,000 to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1914 as an endowment fund for its choir school. During WWI, Bourne contributed $125,000 to the Red Cross. He also gave $40,000.00 to Hope Farm, a rehabilitation home for children.

When the house of an elderly blind couple in West Sayville was destroyed by fire in 1905 FGB gave them the eastern gate house of his own estate and had it moved to their property at his expense. When he died in 1919, he left over $350,000 (almost $5,000,000 today) to various churches and charitable organizations. In addition, each of his many employees received $500 (almost $7000 today) plus $50 for each year over 10 they had worked for him.

A Highly Respected Man

FGB’s social circle included many of the most wealthy and influential people of his day. He was friends with business men such as J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and William Rockefeller who are all known worldwide for their wealth. FGB was known by all to be a highly ethical, moral, and principled leader who never veered from the ideals ingrained in him since childhood. An obituary written about him by the Long Island Railroad Company stated: "...combining fidelity and trust with a rare business ability he commanded respect, while his lovable personality gained for him the genuine affection of all with whom he came into close contact".

An article entitled, "Another Great Philanthropist” written after his generous gift to St. John the Divine described the "...purely esthetic and spiritual value of the Bourne endowment" and stated that "None familiar with the engaging complexities of his nature, his genius for business and his unaffected piety, his geniality in his clubs and his domesticity in his home, his interest in the art, in letters and in sports, wondered that his full, rich and abundant sympathies found one form of expression in this characteristic munificence."

A Man of Faith

With all FGB did, was, owned, and loved, it would seem nearly impossible to determine what, of everything his rich life afforded, mattered most to him. But a few years ago I had the opportunity to confirm what our research had already suggested, and the confirmation came from FGB's own hand. The Singer Castle library is filled with hundreds of books spanning the 100 year history of the castle. Many have the original bookplates revealing who they belonged to.

I discovered several books by J.H. Jowett that had FGB's handwritten name on them and his personal markings. J.H. Jowett was a popular British pastor who accepted a position at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1911. It is quite possible FGB could have heard him speak in person. One particular book caught my attention: The Things That Matter Most. FGB had put his signature and date in the front of the book. He also made check marks in the Table of Contents. Several of the pages had been dog-eared. In the first chapter, "The Illimitable Love of God", FGB folded down the last page which spoke of God's everlasting love. The chapter on "Capital and Interest", also marked by FGB spoke of investing "in all high and holy things, all our mind and soul, heart and strength".

 

Frederick G. Bourne’s faith was evidenced throughout his life. Having been a pastor’s son, it is not a surprise that he was a regular churchgoer or sang in several different church choirs. It was noted that he would arrive each Sunday at the town dock in one of his speedboats. Upon his arrival at the dock, there would usually be a number of boys from the area waiting for him. He would ask the boys if they had gone to Sunday School, then tell his driver to take them out for a spin in the boat while he went on to church.

FGB also contributed to the construction of a church on Jekyll Island. The famous Faith Chapel was constructed and dedicated in 1904. Shortly after his death, an exquisite Tiffany stained glass window portraying the theme "David Set Singers Before the Lord" was dedicated in FGB’s memory. The theme alluded to both his position as president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company and to his involvement in the chapel where he was a regular member of the Faith Chapel church choir. However, FGB’s faith was not just some theoretical belief system, but a practical faith that was evidenced in every other area of his life through his kindness and generosity.

Frederick G. Bourne – An Inspiring Man

Frederick G. Bourne was one of the wealthiest men in the world, owned all kinds of properties and material possessions, enjoyed many hobbies and outside interests, and remained a devoted husband, father, and grandfather throughout his life. He was also an extremely generous man whose charitable giving left indelible marks on the lives and organizations that benefited from his kindness. At the root of it all and perhaps as his greatest motivation in all he did was his deep faith in God. That should not be surprising knowing that he was the son of a pastor, and chose to spend all of his adult life going to church, singing in church choirs, and giving generously to so many faith-based causes and organizations. While Frederick G. Bourne would probably have shunned the attention since much of his giving was done quietly, we are delighted that one small reminder of who he was, and what mattered most to him remains in the library at Singer Castle.

For more on Frederick G. Bourne and Singer Castle visit the Singer Castle Blog at http://singercastle.blogspot.com

Photos of Frederick G. Bourne © courtesy of Kenneth B. Hard, Grandson of Frederick G. Bourne.

By Patty Mondore

Patty and her husband, Bob, are summer residents of the Thousand Islands. Patty is a published author and a singer/song writer.  Her books include River Reflections: a 90-Day Devotional for People Who Love the Water, River-Lations: Inspirational stories and photos from the Thousand Islands, To Love, Honor and OH BOY, A Good Paddling, Proclaim His Praise in the Islands, and Perennial Faith.  She and Bob, co-authored Singer Castle, and Singer Castle Revisitedpublished by Arcadia Publishing, and co-produced Dark Island's Castle of Mysteries documentary DVD. Patty is a contributing writer for the Thousand Islands Sun. Her column, "River-Lations", appears in the Vacationer throughout the summer months. The Mondores are online at www.gold-mountain.com.

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Comments

Dan Denney
Comment by: Dan Denney ( )
Left at: 1:09 AM Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Ms. Mondore's article was a great addition to my knowledge of FGB. His castle on Dark Island has long been a fascination of mine including two visits since 2003 and an exciting photo excursion in February 2010. I was also involved in the production of a Jefferson County tourism video about the 1000 Islands in the 90s. That's when I became aware of The Towers.
Having lived in NYC while my father attended General Theological Seminary in the early 60s, I was a choirboy at the Church of the Transfiguration (The Little Church Around the Corner) on East 29th St. I also recognize Trinity as the first Anglican church in New York in what has become the Wall St. district. Thank you.
rev, harvey b. jones
Comment by: rev, harvey b. jones ( )
Left at: 9:09 PM Wednesday, January 16, 2013
This is the most interesting reading I have done in a long while... of course haveing been a pastor at Jorstadt castle you can understand why I love this story of Comordore Bourne..It really means a great deal to me...
Lucien Williams
Comment by: Lucien Williams ( )
Left at: 9:25 AM Thursday, January 17, 2013
My current home is the former home of Frederick's son Alfred Bourne. Alfred was very influential in the intial stages of the Augusta National Golf Club and used this home in Augusta as a winter home from 1919 until 1950. The history of the Bourne family is an intertesting one.
I hope to visit the Singer Castle someday.
Peter Charron
Comment by: Peter Charron ( )
Left at: 4:40 AM Sunday, January 20, 2013
The Bourne family also built an estate in 1925 on Lake Tahoe. Frederick's grandson, Stephen, sold it in 2001 for 33 million dollars to the founder of Tommy Hillfinger who built a new home for 100 million!
Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine
Left at: 11:52 AM Friday, February 1, 2013
Patty, thank you for all your diligent sleuthing to bring to life one of the River's most successful and interesting residents. As Paul Malo once observed, those who came here during the Gilded Age were not the inheritors of great wealth, but the creators of it. Their castles and mansions may have an ostentatious aspect, but these people who achieved remarkable success were the business superstars of their day and rightfully proud of their accomplishments. Bourne (Singer sewing machines), Packer (Lehigh Valley Railroad), Emery (American Tobacco Company), Pullman (railroad cars), Wyckoff (Remington typewriters), Strauss (Macy's Department Store), Boldt (Waldorf Astoria),Benson (Benson's Starch), Noble (Life Savers) and so many more. Little detail of their fascinating success stories is commonly known, so sincere thanks to you for revealing so much of Frederick Bourne's.
Merv Tims
Comment by: Merv Tims ( )
Left at: 5:33 PM Friday, June 21, 2013
Thank you Patty for this fascinating research on such an interesting man. Great work. I came across it while searching information on the Steam Yacht Alberta that was owned by FGB as seen in your article. My Grandfather went from England to New York in March 1915 to join the SY Alberta as a chef. I wonder if FGB was then the owner of the SY Alberta at this time. It would be interesting to know if records are available that can verify this.
Patty Mondore
Comment by: Patty Mondore ( )
Left at: 10:04 PM Sunday, June 23, 2013
Hi Merv,
Thank you so much for this note! Yes, I can confirm that FGB was, indeed, the owner of the Alberta from 1915 through 1917. This can be verified from the American Yacht Registries. How amazing to think that your Grandfather was a chef on the Alberta and most likely had met FGB. Thanks so much for sharing this fun fact with us! - Patty
Arthur K Bourne Iv
Comment by: Arthur K Bourne Iv
Left at: 3:32 PM Thursday, August 28, 2014
Thank you so much for the interesting work done on my fathers side of the family. I don't know too much about them and i am trying to learn as much as i can. My great-great- great-grandfather sounds like a wonderful, loving man who cherished his family very much.. I'm glad to have located this site.

Thank you,

Arthur K. Bourne IV
Pam Copeland (St. Simons Island, GA)
Comment by: Pam Copeland (St. Simons Island, GA)
Left at: 1:52 PM Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Hi Patty,

Thanks for this information. Your article came back in my search results for "Tiffany stained glass in faith chapel jekyll island." I live on the Island just north of Jekyll, and my husband and I spent the night at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Sunday evening and decided to take advantage of the tours of the Historic Club area and the hotel. I was particularly fascinated by the Tiffany window in the small chapel. We were told by the tour guide that out of nearly 25,000 stained glass works of art made by Mr. Tiffany, only five were signed. The window in Faith Chapel is one of them. What a treasure we have here in the Golden Isles. I really appreciate your writing here. You have brought to life the man for whom Mr. Tiffany came out of retirement, at the age of 73, to honor with such a beautiful, original work of art. Thank you! ~ Pam
Philip V Brennan 111
Comment by: Philip V Brennan 111
Left at: 6:18 PM Sunday, November 9, 2014
Hi Patty...we spoke a few years ago...Mom was FGB's great grandaughter...I saw the post by Art bourne....Have him contact me if you can and I will introduce him to this side of the clan...Hope to get together in 2015 with you at Dark Island....Philip
Richard Byne
Comment by: Richard Byne
Left at: 12:44 PM Sunday, April 10, 2016
Great reading! My Great Grandfather George Metzler worked for FGB at the Singer Building before being moved to Oakdale to become his Chief Mechanic and driver.
Kenneth Brandenburg Hard
Comment by: Kenneth Brandenburg Hard
Left at: 2:47 PM Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I am the son of Frederick Hard, Jr. and Gretchen Brandenburg Hard. My Great Great Grandfather was Frederick G. Bourne. I'm looking to get in touch with any extended family to share stories and artifacts, etc. My cell phone number is (510)610-1600. I live in Rocklin, CA at the moment. I have a wife and two children. I'm 44 years-old and am the youngest of four siblings. My brother and two sisters have always been fascinated by FGB.

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