A few years back, while we were visiting an old friend from high school (Clayton Central, Class of 60), she happened to show us a framed photo of Calumet Castle. Since it is one of my favorite memories, we had an interesting discussion about the origin of the photo. I believe she found it in a flea market, and the lady who was selling it asked her if she knew the history of the photo, or at least the castle depicted in it.
Of course she did, and informed them that she had grown up on the St. Lawrence, and was not only very familiar with its history, but had grown up accompanying her father on fishing trips, many of which took place right under the castle itself when it still stood.. It appeared that the photo had the tower in the wrong place, and I remarked that I thought it was a mirror image, or a photographic reversal of the original post card. We discussed this and many other things "River Rats" would be interested in, and Carol and I left for our home in Arizona shortly afterward.
We have since moved to Georgia, and still travel to the 1000 Islands as often as possible. My wife was born in Rochester, but has no ties to the city anymore, and we actually spent five summers living in Clayton, where I grew up. I have kept in touch with my friend, Carolyn for many years, and we are looking forward to seeing her and other old friends this summer. In the course of discussing that, and the various painting projects I have been working on in the last year, Carolyn became curious about the photo. This generated a series of emails, and has resulted in some interesting research, mostly on her part. She has an extensive collection of Calumet history, and decided to get them out and examine them. To quote the first email:
"I removed the Calumet Castle picture from its frame and (Scanned it). I was able to flip it to reflect what the original postcard looked like. I also played a little bit with the sharpness and color. These photos are labeled Calumet Castle Right and Calumet Castle enhanced. The original photo without the matte is 6 1/2" X 10". I also took photos of the original and you can see the matte. these are a little crisper and show a little more detail of the castle granite structure.
Carolyn's Postcard Photo
I suspect that the castle front steps faced more downriver towards the Bridge. If that is true, it would explain why the Water Tower was on the right in the original post card. However, if the castle faced more to the Village dock in Rotary park, it would seem more normal for those of us who viewed it from there, for the Water Tower to be on the left. I suppose if there was a site map of the origin of the castle to the island itself, it would clarify this theory.
At any rate. you can add these photos to your collection of "castles on the St. Lawrence" for a possible future project. If you would like, I can bring the original to Clayton in June ..."
Well she indeed did more research, and this was the result:
"I am a dog with a bone!!!!! I just spent the last hour, searching for the Rex Ennis book on C.G. Emery that I couldn't find yesterday!!!!! In it is the attached scanned copy of an aerial photo of the ;island with the castle still intact. Considering the orientation of the castle steps, my framed picture is indeed WRONG!!!! The tower IS on the RIGHT!!!!! and the West Wing would have been on the Left! I found a satellite image of the island and the footprint of the castle is visible, with the placement of the front steps pointing directly at the down bound end of the little long island that was probably once a shoal, That angle points the castle orientation directly to the pointed end of Washington Island. All are attached. Mystery solved!!!! "
Well, part of it anyway. I wrote back, saying:
"You indeed are a research tiger! With these I only have one mystery to solve. The only thing that isn't clear is the area over the door. Balcony? White slash is . . . what? I may be able to work that out when I see it again. Also, I might have a sat photo that will shed some light on the orientation.
My memories of the castle are fuzzy, as I rarely saw it complete up close. We fished on the little flower garden island’s lee side (downriver from the castle, about where they launch fireworks from now) and because our boat was not large, and my Dad was careful of the water he was in, we always approached his fishing spot from downbound, heading back upstream and drifting to different spots. Thus our closest view was of the downbound side, which afforded us with a great view of what was to me at the time, a mysterious harbor below the castle, with a tall tower to our right as we looked upbound. In fact, the tower was across the harbor, west of the castle. If you looked at it from Clayton it appeared to be on the same side of the island. It’s not. There may have actually been no connection between the main island and the point on which the tower sits. I don’t know. I think they may have been two separate islands, or close at one time. Maybe they still are, connected by a bridge or causeway. Don’t know. I’d love the chance to walk it and find out! I have not been on the island since I was ten, when my brother and a friend of his took me there.
The harbor is behind this ridge (see arrow 1 in photo below), with tower on the west side of the harbor. Most of the other structures around it were probably built later than this photo. Looking at it from Clayton, it appeared to be to the right (northwest or downriver) of the castle, which is why I felt that your postcard photo was a mirror image. Also, the trees filled in, and have since been removed on the Clayton side. The star down near the water's edge in the photo is, I believe, where the summer flower garden is seen now.
A second arrow points at the “front” of the castle which clearly would have looked like it was facing Clayton, with the larger porch and white stairs. There is a legend that says Mrs. Emory wanted the village fathers to either move all the buildings back from the waterfront or remodel them all to get rid of the porches and other protuberances seen from the river side, spoiling her view. Don’t know how true that is, though. In the black and white photo I have drawn an annotated arrow showing that the “front” of the castle is not the face shown in the photo, but rather the side with the smaller porch (arrow #3 in the color photo)
In the black and white photo I have drawn an annotated arrow showing that the “front” of the castle is not the face shown in the photo, but rather the “smaller” porch on the side (arrow #3 in the color photo). The west wing the author refers to is at the “back” of the castle, with two small turrets. I believe this may have contained the ballroom, but memory is fuzzy. I only saw inside it once, and I was 10.... There is a 3rd, smaller, porch back there along what would be the south wall. I would love to do a painting of this side as well, but here there are ownership/copywrite issues with the photo.
I was never really sure, until you sent me these, of what it looked like whole. The black and white photo is the side from which my Mom, Dad and I approached the fire after rounding the end of Wolfe Island, returning from a fishing trip in Canada. Flames were shooting hundreds of feet in the air, and the wind was blowing the smoke north and east, I believe. Even if they had had the “Last Chance” and a couple of other fireboats on hand, there would have been no hope of saving the structure, It was an inferno, fully involved, as my fireman friends say."
Strange thing is, I remember it most vividly as a ruin being blasted down, with the last thing remaining being this grand porch, like the grin on the Cheshire Cat, as the rest of the ruin disappeared. It took a couple of weeks to get it down, with regular “thud” and “boom” noises coming to us seconds after the puff of dust and smoke from the blasting. I used to sit for hours watching through my Granddad’s high powered military binoculars, making it look close enough to touch. I hear and see that in my mind every time we sit by the river and look at the island. Many of the people sitting around me seemed to think the place would come down like a house of cards with the blasting. It was, after all, a mere burned out shell. Well it was pretty well built for a shell! All of the combustible material was gone, and the iron/steel beams were melted to slag in the ruins, but it didn’t go away easily. Granite castles don’t die easily!
Thanks for all the photos. Ruining the surprise here, but after I finish the Antique Boat Museum piece I am just starting, I’m going to paint this."
And paint it I did. The way I paint is to put on canvas what I see in a photo and from memory. Since this was to be a painting of a picture postcard from the early 20th century, I had little detail (see photo above) to work with since the postcard had so accurately depicted it, but without that fine detail you would get in a modern photo. Thus the painting is not greatly detailed when it comes to leaves and finer points of the castle's exterior woodwork, trees and features of the landscaping. Only the positioning of the card and the proportions were available, and that's what I painted. I been told (by no less an art critic than my wife, who has been very helpful in my earlier works with effective criticism and help with detail) that the painting lacks detail, and looks "unfinished."
So it does, and so it will remain. It is a painting of a postcard, not of reality, as the real thing and "real" photos of it are hard to obtain. I don't intend to change it, and if it remains unsold, it will remain on our wall as a reminder of my youth, and a glorious opportunity missed by the village of Clayton, despite the efforts and desire of Mr. Vincent Dee to see it as a future attraction. It is my belief that Vince's later tireless and successful efforts to kindle interest in refurbishing Boldt Castle were grounded in his earlier wish to see Calumet made into what Boldt lately has become. I wish he had succeeded in as grand a way with Calumet. Imagine the view of this magnificent castle from the grand new hotel that occupies the old Frink site. What an attraction if would have been!