Written by Kim Lunman
posted on October 14, 2008 20:01
DARK ISLAND N.Y.: Scott Garris gets to be king for a night almost every night of the year at Singer Castle.
The 46-year-old Canton, N.Y., man is the caretaker of the century-old 28-room castle on Dark Island near Chippewa Bay that can be seen from Canada along the Thousand Islands parkway near Mallorytown Landing.
Caretaker Scott Garris is king of Singer Castle almost every night of the year. He has a suite in the castle and stays throughout the winter, leaving the island only occasionally by airboat to stock up on supplies in Ogdensburg, NY.
Garris, the American island's caretaker since its doors opened to tourists five years ago, lives in a wing of the castle by himself even through winter's worst storms.
"It's a piece of heaven," he said in an interview outside his quarters overlooking the estate's heritage rose gardens.
"It's so quiet and peaceful," he said, adding with a laugh, "And I'm not leaving."
An acquaintance suggested him for the position when it first became available and Garris couldn't believe his good fortune when he moved into the palatial digs listed with Sotheby's International Realty for an asking price of nearly US $25 million.
"Who could ask for more? I live in a castle and I get paid to live here."
Garris provides lawn care, maintenance and takes overnight guests staying in the castle's Royal Suite through the estate and its maze of secret passageways and tunnels.
The castle, originally called The Towers, was built by self-made millionaire Frederick Bourne as a hunting lodge in 1904. The fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company in New York City, Bourne modeled his summer getaway on the English castle described in Sir Walter Scott's Woodstock.
Garris spends many nights alone on the island throughout the year and is familiar with all the castle's hidden passageways.
"It's just a big house," he said. "I'm probably the only one who could walk around all the passageways without a flashlight."
He said so many people have asked him about the movie The Shining, in which Jack Nicholson's writer character goes mad while caretaking at an isolated hotel, that he bought the DVD as a joke to give to overnight visitors requesting movies in the room. Garris also placed a miniature model of a skeleton nicknamed "Little Fred" left over from a Halloween event in the castle's turret "dungeon" in one of the passages.
Garris said he's not at all spooked by the castle, despite one unexpected visitor he believes could have been of the paranormal kind. He said he was in the kitchen two years ago in August when he saw a dark-haired man in a crisp white shirt walk by the window outside in the courtyard in what used to be the estate's former tennis court.
"I went outside to say good morning and he was gone and there was an awful smell," said Garris.
Garris, whose 14-year-old son Ryan sometimes visits, doesn't mind the solitude when the castle is closed to the public in the fall. He can spend weeks alone at times during the harsh winter months but is able to get off the island occasionally on an airboat to stock up on supplies in Ogdensburg.
"Snowstorms are great," he said. "I feel like I'm the last person on earth."
Kim Lunman KimLunman@ThousandIslandsLife.com
Kim Lunman is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Reader's Digest, The Calgary Herald and other newspapers. She has returned to her hometown of Brockville, "City of the 1000 Islands," where she is a staff writer and photographer for the Recorder and Times. Kim recently included this article in a series on the Thousand Islands called “Island Treasures” published by Recorder and Times as a souvenir magazine in September 2008.