Located in the beautiful Thousand Islands region of New York State, Bonnie Castle Resort has a history that stretches back more than a century.
The legacy of Bonnie Castle was begun in 1877, when Dr. Josiah Holland built his grand estate, “one of the most picturesque and attractive cottages on the river.”¹ Holland, a novelist and poet, was one of the founders and editors of Scribner’s Monthly. He named the beautiful property after his 1874 novel, Arthur Bonnicastle. Following Holland’s death in 1881, the property passed to his wife and children.
In 1906, the Holland family sold Bonnie Castle to Gilbert T. Rafferty, a Pittsburgh coke and coal millionaire. Two years later, Rafferty made front-page news when he decided to turn the property into an island: “Mr. Rafferty is making an island out of Bonnie Castle….Twenty-five men are at work digging a canal twelve feet wide and four feet deep through 1,000 feet of land. This will be a great improvement to the point.”² Rafferty also renovated and added on to the Holland mansion; during his ownership, the house featured nine bedrooms, five servants’ rooms, and seven bathrooms.
Bonnie Castle remained in the Rafferty family until 1941, when it was willed to St. Cyril’s Catholic Church on Walton Street in Alexandria Bay. One year later, the church transferred ownership to the White Fathers of Africa, who used the property as a seminary for training young men for Catholic missionary service in Africa.
In 1965, the property was purchased by a Canadian company. It was sold again in 1974 to buyers from Ontario and Quebec, who developed the marina. Four years later, Bonnie Castle was purchased by Donald Cole, whose family founded the Cole Muffler retail chain. Cole converted the manor into a resort with a restaurant, lounge and nightclub. He expanded the resort’s facilities over the years, adding the St. Lawrence building in 1984.
The current owners—from Rochester, New York and Alexandria Bay, New York—bought the property from Don Cole in May 2012. They are proud to run a family-owned business and hope that their plans for renovation will do justice to Bonnie Castle’s rich history.
For a glimpse into Bonnie Castle’s past, be sure to visit the Manor House Restaurant’s reception area, which occupies the entry hall of the original Bonnie Castle mansion.
¹ New York Times, August 10, 1891
² Oswego Daily Times, February 19, 1908