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Castle Rest, Past and Present


Pullman Island stands for everything that was grand about the Thousand Islands during its gilded era a century ago and all that remains golden about this place still known as Castle Rest today.

One of the most historical Thousand Islands located along Millionaire's Row is known for its striking architecture, namesake owner and its most famous visitor.

U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant was a guest at Pullman Island in 1872 while campaigning for his second term in office at the invitation of its owner, railway magnate George M. Pullman. Pullman was among the first millionaire industrialists to purchase islands here, to build lavish summer retreats and put the Thousand Islands on the resort map.

The Thousand Islands began to be recognized as a cottage colony for business barons in New York City as early as the mid-1800's when some were being sold for as little as $5 each.

Pullman's business, Pullman Palace Car Company, developed the railway sleeping "Pullman" car. He renamed the island near Alexandria Bay - from Sweet Island - to his family name. Grant visited the island's rustic site known then as Camp Charming.

Soon cottages weren't enough for millionaire industrialists and Pullman led the way. They started building castles on their islands instead. In 1888, Pullman built the first 'castle' in the Thousand Islands, known as Castle Rest. Soon William Wyckoff on Carleton Island, Charles Emery on Calumet Island, George C. Boldt on Heart Island and Frederick Bourne on Dark Island would follow suit with castles of their own though Emery's later burned to the ground. Now all that remains is its grand granite staircase and rubble.

Castle Rest and its original boathouse were also tragically lost in the '50s when short-sighted officials refused to relent on property taxes despite post-Depression realities. Their short-sighted policies lost the region its most historic landmark, not to mention the taxes it may still have garnered. It was also the reason TI Life's founder, Paul Malo abandoned the region in disgust in favor of the Adirondacks. His lifelong attachment to the islands eventually drew him back, but the loss of Castle Rest remained one of Malo's deepest regrets.

Pullman's daughter Florence inherited the property - which still has a formal yacht landing - after her father's death in 1897. She spent summers there with husband Frank Lowden, a lawyer, later elected Governor of Illinois. He commissioned a 38-foot Hutchinson launch know as Monitor, now owned by the Calabrese family.

A relatively new three-storey tower was built on the site of the original six-storey castle with a sitting room, library and bedroom inside. Another building, the former billiards room is converted into a dormitory. A skiff house has a second-storey addition with a sitting room. The main house, originally the caretakers' residence, has a spiral staircase and a spectacular stone terrace perched on a cliff overlooking the River.

An avid proponent of the region, Pullman may well have strategized Grant's visit to coincide with a conference of newspaper journalists taking place in nearby Watertown. More than 200 of them took a train to Cape Vincent, boarded steamers for Clayton and Pullman Island with receptions, bands, and steamboat tours. The large party included Civil War heroes Generals Sherman and Sheridan. Grant's entourage of journalists and their dispatches shone an international spotlight on the archipelago which is widely seen as having initiated the resort's popularity.

Pullman shrewdly realized his sleeping rail cars would be needed on trains for commuters to and from New York City if the region caught on, which it did, culminating in the region's gilded age.  Today, Pullman Island - also known as Castle Rest Island - remains a testament to that era.

Richard Calabrese Sr., of Rochester N.Y., first spotted the island during a fishing trip in the Thousand Islands. It took eight years of interest in the property to secure the sale in 1972 from the Pullman heirs. Calabrese Sr. and his wife, Marcia, arrived soon after with five young children in tow to explore the island. Richard  Calabrese Jr. shares happy memories with three brothers and a sister of summers spent at Castle Rest. Now the next generation is enjoying the island.

Previous island residents frequently surface on Pullman, though not in a ghostly way. Calabrese Jr. points to a penned dedication to Pullman's mother by her son, that hangs in the kitchen of the caretaker's lodge today. The owners continue to find pieces of history on the land, reminders of its former owners and visitors. Calabrese Jr. unearthed a piece of metal engraved with Pullman's mother's birthday - Aug 14. 1810. "He really was devoted to his mother," he said, of Pullman.

The main house on the property today (formerly the servants' quarters) features a distinctive towering chimney for the powerplant which provided electricity for the island at a time when it was not yet commonly available on shore. The living history on the island is a source of fascination for Calabrese Jr. and his family while they enjoy their summer retreat.

Like the owners of the grand summer retreat Casa Blanca on neighbouring Cherry Island known for its whimsical waterfront gargoyles, the Calabrese family has graciously allowed public tours on occasion.

Reminders of the Thousand Islands Golden Age are everywhere on Millionaire's Row. Casa Blanca was built in the 1800s by a Cuban sugar planter while another grand Cherry Island estate, Belora, was once owned by Nathan Strauss, a philanthropist who owned Macy's department store. And just a few yards across the water from Pullman Island, is another historic estate: Hopewell Hall, the residence George Boldt built for his daughter, Louise Clover Boldt, on a bluff on Wellesley Island, which she left to her daughter, Clover. A century after these grand estates were built on Millionaire's Row, many still stand. And a renaissance along the River here is evident in Castle Rest and a lavish 'boathouse' recently comprehensively renovated on Cherry Island.

At the helm of his utility boat, Calabrese Jr. heads back towards Wellesley Island where the family has two classic wooden boats in a boathouse that once belonged to Boldt. One of the family's classic boats in addition to Monitor is aptly named in honour of a very special Thousand Islands tourist: Ulysses.

By Kim Lunman, kimlunman@thousandislandslife.com

Kim Lunman is the publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario. Kim is an award-winning journalist and former national correspondent for the Globe and Mail newspaper in Ottawa and Victoria B.C.  Kim is a regular contributor and team member on thousandislandslife.com.  She first wrote about Pullman Island in her 2010 edition of Island Life magazine. The 2011 issue of Island Life magazine will be distributed in eastern Ontario and northern New York as an insert in newspapers in May.  TI Life will give you lots of notice, so you will be sure to obtain a copy.

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Comments

Richard  Lodico  DDS
Comment by: Richard Lodico DDS ( )
Left at: 12:03 AM Sunday, January 16, 2011
I was luckey enough to be one of the volunteer work crew members soon after my friend, Richard Calabrese purchased Pullman Island in 1972. It was exciting to remove brush and debris to uncover much of the detail of the Island. The sidewalks were a big surprise many of which were covered with grass and soil. All had to be uncovered with shovels by hand.
I was so taken by Island life that in 1974 I purchased Battleaxe Island from the last remaining Benson heir,Dorothy Benson. These were three Islands attached to Rabbit Island which held the large tudor summer residence of the Benson family.
We soon renamed the 3 Islands Trois Iles for obvious reasons. The cottage on the Island was smallish and over the years we added to the building in keeping with the original half log style. A bunk house and various decks were added also. We enjoyed entertaining many of our boating American and Canadian friends for many years until we sold in 2002.
I will be the first to admit that I had and still have a love affair with Trois Iles and the Island area in general having first visited the area with my parents when I was 11 years old. In fact I remember crossing the Thousand Island bridge with my parents and looking down at the three Islands I eventually would own which are very visible from the bridge.
Reluctantly we gave up Island living after 9/11/2001 and moved to Clayton ,NY. where we now enjoy the Antique Boat Museum and wonderful small town life in Clayton.
Michael Laprade
Comment by: Michael Laprade ( )
Left at: 1:56 AM Sunday, January 16, 2011
Great article Kim. How do we sign up for a tour?
Michael Shaw
Comment by: Michael Shaw ( )
Left at: 3:36 PM Sunday, January 16, 2011
Richard,
Thanks so much for your story! If I am not mistaken, Trois Ilses is visible on the left as you pass over the Canadian span? What a wonderful location. And I too have had a (distant) love affair with Trois Isles, dreaming that one day I might live there...
Michael
Rich Calabrese, Jr
Comment by: Rich Calabrese, Jr ( )
Left at: 1:28 PM Monday, January 17, 2011
Michael,
The Island in the background is the north side of Castle Rest, just across the bay from Hopewell Hall. The "Workboat", as we affectionately call it, moves at a snail's pace because of its size and getting to Trois Isles would be a trip that would take more than an hour. The River has always been my favorite place to be, no matter the weather or time of year and I hope to be going there until my last days.
Bob Matthews
Comment by: Bob Matthews ( )
Left at: 10:42 AM Thursday, January 20, 2011
Kim,
Love your article! Your writings seem to flow.
Bob
Carol Reesor
Comment by: Carol Reesor ( )
Left at: 4:56 PM Saturday, January 22, 2011
Dear Kim,
What a great and stimulating article. Makes one want to find/make a fortune
just to buy an island.
This summer we must spend more time exploring our amazing river. We count on you to guide us.
From Sanibel Is. off gulf coast of FL. where bikes abound, no neon signs and no McDonalds exist!!!

Cheers, and thank you for the chocolate truffles. Yummers. Brought'em here.
Carol

Pietra Pastore Sylvester
Comment by: Pietra Pastore Sylvester ( )
Left at: 7:09 PM Monday, April 18, 2011
I recently received an email with a link to a slideshow of the Tousand Islands together with a note from my mother, Joce Pastore, reminding me of our vist to the Calabrese island. I just showed my 13 year-old daughter this slide show along with a photo of Richard Calabrese, Jr, me and Richard's younger brother. I remember the visit to the island, the lovely boat, the TI CLub! and the bees (wasps?) that attacked us in the bell tower? Summer 1976, I believe...
Rich Calabrese, Jr
Comment by: Rich Calabrese, Jr ( )
Left at: 8:27 PM Monday, April 18, 2011
Vito Pastore's family? Wow, I remember Vito! Does he still fish? I was just telling someone about the wasp attack that summer day! To this day, I still move slowly and quietly in the tower, always ready to run down the stairs. We've always had a pretty healthy bee population, especially last year when we wiped out four nests in the buildings. I found the best method to remove them was placing long vaccum hose at the opening of the nest. Turn it on and let it do the work for you.
Bob Kendall
Comment by: Bob Kendall ( )
Left at: 5:16 PM Saturday, May 14, 2011
Kim---I enjoyed your article very much. My great-grandfather, Capt. Wilbur Vincent, was caretaker of Pullman Rest at one time. My brother, Dr. David Kendall, who now lives in Pt. Vivian, arranged for a visit to the Island last summer (I now live in St. Cloud, Minnesota.). He has done much more research on the Vincent side of our family than I have, and I'm sure he could fill you in on Capt. Vincent's dates and association with Pullman Rest than I can at the moment. I do remember my mother inheriting a large hall mirror from Pullman Rest, via of her grandmother (my sister in Surprise, Arizona now has it, I believe).
Jo-Ann
Comment by: Jo-Ann ( )
Left at: 8:54 PM Saturday, May 28, 2011
It is with pleasure that I have read this article about Castle Rest. Wonderful story and an additional piece of information that relates to the Pullman Family at their main residence in Chicago. "1729 Prairie Avenue, Chicago"

If you get a chance to read the book written by William H. Tyre, Executive Director of Glessner House Museum, called "Images of America, Chicago's Prairie Avenue, I think you might find it so interesting with the link to Castle Rest.
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 8:10 AM Wednesday, June 22, 2011
http://christmassalesonipad2010.co.cc/castlerest-island-pictures
Amanda Mastrella
Comment by: Amanda Mastrella ( )
Left at: 6:01 PM Thursday, September 6, 2012
Castle Rest & Trois Isles have a huge place in my life. Thank you to the Calabrese family and my grandparents I was able to enjoy these islands and will never forget them. :)
Tad Clark
Comment by: Tad Clark
Left at: 6:19 PM Thursday, January 31, 2013
Informative and well written article, Kim.
dessel pullman
Comment by: dessel pullman
Left at: 8:25 PM Monday, August 24, 2015
I am an ancestor of George pullman. I would have loved to seen this beautiful castle!!
Steve Glazer
Comment by: Steve Glazer
Left at: 4:50 PM Tuesday, June 14, 2016
A historical correction to the article:

The summer of 1872 saw two distinct and important events in the Thousand Islands. The first was the meeting of the Editorial Association, which occurred in the last week of June, with a grand dinner on Pullman Island. The second was the subsequent visit of President Grant and his party in the first week of August, when Grant "camped" on the island. Secondary sources over the years have sometimes conflated the two events.

Furthermore, General Sherman was not among President Grant's party, Sherman being in Europe at the time. However, several other high Civil War officers, including Phil Sheridan, were present for the presidential festivities offered by Pullman on his island that August.

More details about the foregoing, including contemporary accounts, are included in my March 2011 TI Life article about Henry Heath, the New York millionaire who built the first "modern cottage" in the Thousand Islands in 1871, well prior to Pullman building his lavish summer retreat.

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