La Duchesse is a fine old dame with quite a story to tell. This two-story, 106-foot houseboat was first built for millionaire hotelier George Boldt in 1903, right on the glowing end of the Gilded Age. WWNYTV reports that she was safely towed back to her home at the museum last Thursday after her hull was inspected and repaired in Kinston, Ontario. We’re impressed she’s still a seaworthy vessel through all the years! So what exactly are the details of her history?
According to WordPress’s Boldt Castle Visual Tour, this lovely vessel changed hands to Edward J. Nobel after Boldt’s death where she roosted until 1943, when a broken pipe filled the hull with water. A few months later as she settled gently in the silt at the bottom of her slip at Wellesley Island, money once more changed hands and Le Duchesse was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Andrew McNally III. Generally people don’t buy houseboats that have sunk, but the deal could have been worse—La Duchesse was purchased for $100 and a diver prepared her for the towing to the McNally’s estate.
After extensive repairs from replacing the plumbing and wiring to swapping out her wooden hull with a strong steel one, Andrew McNally bequeathed her to the Clayton Antique Boat Museum and the houseboat once more changed hands after his passing in 2003. The museum opened La Duchesse to the public for guided tours of a beautiful and unique relic of a bygone time.
Is she still popular with the common folk? You bet! In the last two years, WordPress enthuses that over 20,000 people have walked under her stained-glass skylight and through the formal dining room and restored open deck.
Emmett Smith from the Clayton Antique Boat Museum told WWNYTV that the hull inspection is voluntary. “This is a part of our proper stewardship of the hull,” he adds.
Wise words, as they know her past history. Volunteers also worked hard to replace everything that was removed during her repair so that all would be in place for her display this past Monday.
"People are pretty impressed with the lifestyle, and, as luxurious as they think they have it on their yacht, this is a mansion," Linda Schmitt told WWNYTV. "This is a little gilded-age mansion on a barge."
Though La Duchesse has no engine, she does have a mahogany Steinway piano dating back to her birthday 112 years ago, as well as signs of her first owner such as the doorknobs with George Boldt’s emblem. Her old beauty charm draws in all who appreciate the longstanding history of houseboating.
"It's one of the few symbols we have left of the real gilded age," Smith said to WWNYTV. "The period when people first started coming up here was a period of great, great opulence, and we had things like Boldt Castle built, steam yachts everywhere, and great houseboats like this.”
Photos credited to the WordPress Boldt Castle Visual Tour.