By Laurie Toth
Castle Rest exterior
Castle Rest! The very name evokes images of serenity and restful relaxation! Castle Rest was one of George Mortimer Pullman’s summer homes, located on the St. Lawrence River in Alexandria Bay New York. The area known as the 1000 islands. George M. Pullman was famous for creating the luxurious train cars that made travel more comfortable.
Castle Rest entrance
George Pullman purchased an island originally called Sweet Island for $40.00 in 1863. Renaming it Pullman Island. There he built a modest wooden cottage to entertain his family and friends. It was a wonderful escape from the hot summers of Chicago and New York. George married Harriett Sanger in 1867. His daughter Florence was born in 1868, followed by another daughter Harriett (Hattie) in 1869. His twin sons, George Jr and Walter “Sanger” would be born in 1875.
George, George Jr, Sanger, Harriett Pullman in boat on St. Lawrence River
Family picture at Castle Rest 1888 – George Sr., Florence, George Jr., Hattie, Harriet, Sanger
In 1872 one of the most famous guests to be entertained at Castle Rest was President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. The previous winter, the Pullmans had been guests at the White House. President Grant’s party was accompanied by Civil War hero’s General’s Sherman and Sheridan. It was said that this event put the 1000 islands on the radar to become a much sought after place for a summer home.
President Grant’s visit
The Pullmans were the first islanders to arrive by private railroad cars to Clayton Depot. There, steam yachts waited at the station’s pier to take them to Alexandria Bay and their island.
In the fall of 1887 a new, larger more spacious home was designed by architect Solon S. Beman and constructed by Seth B. Pope. This new summer home was named Castle Rest and dedicated to George’s mother, Emily Caroline Minton Pullman, on her 80th birthday. Castle Rest was four stories high with a basement and a tower. In the tower, an observatory that had a marvelous view of the St Lawrence River. The first room opening from the veranda is the dining room. It could accommodate 30 people. The room was finished in antique Oak as are the other rooms on this floor. Large wood burning fireplaces were in many of the rooms. At the rear of the dining room there were five steps leading up to the reception room, the large staircase and Emily Pullman’s room. The house had 14 bedrooms. The second floor had four large bedrooms, the third and fourth floor each had 5 bedrooms. A unique feature was each bedroom had a bed that folded into the wall to create a sitting room during the day. The floors throughout were Oak and covered with Persian and Turkish rugs. The observatory was 100 feet above the river. The room was sixteen feet square with three sides having projected bay windows and the fourth with a large wood burning fireplace. The house and grounds were lit by electric light. At the time it was the only home to have electricity in the area. There was a powerhouse on the island that encloses a forty-horsepower engine with a sixty-horsepower boiler. The servants were quartered in the second story of the powerhouse.
Castle Rest tower
Emily Caroline Minton Pullman
George dedicated Castle Rest to his mother, Emily Caroline Minton Pullman as a gift for her 80th birthday, August 14, 1888. The dedication was attended by all her children and grandchildren. A copy of the dedication was framed and located in the dining room. It was hers to spend summers with her entire family as she chose during her lifetime. Which sadly was only four more years as she died in 1892. George had three brothers and two sisters, who by 1888 had families of their own. The brothers also owned islands nearby. This made for many happy family reunions each year. The dates were usually July 26th and August 14th. July 26th being the birthday of George’s father, James Lewis Pullman. During the 1894 Pullman workers strike, George and his family retreated to the safety of Castle Rest. Far away from the angry and dangerous mobs. After George’s untimely and sudden death in 1897, Castle Rest was inherited by Florence Pullman Lowden and her husband Frank. The Lowden family continued the tradition of staying at Castle Rest in August of every summer. Florence died in 1937 and her husband Frank in 1942. Frank Lowden was the Governor of Illinois in 1917-1921. He also had several unsuccessful bids for the Presidency. His good friend Franklin D. Roosevelt was once a guest at Castle Rest. Castle Rest remained in the Lowden Estate after their deaths and was managed by their daughter Harriett Lowden Madlender’s husband Albert.
Castle Rest dedication
The end came in 1958 supposedly by the new property taxes New York was imposing. The furniture was donated to the Edward John Noble Hospital who raised $1,472. in sales. The demolition of the Castle began in September 1958. The land remained in the possession of the Pullman family until 1972. It was then purchased by a New York family as their summer retreat. They rebuilt a new three-story tower with a sitting room, library and bedroom. However, their main house is the Servants quarters, which includes a spiral staircase and stone terrace overlooking the river.
The Castle is long gone, but the serenity and peaceful retreat created by the Pullman family continues.
View from a distance
Photos: Chicago History Museum