His name has become quite familiar in the Thousand Islands in recent years even though he hasn't been there in almost a century. Frederick G. Bourne (1851-1919) was the original owner of Singer Castle on Dark Island. Until recently, only a handful of people in the area would have recognized the name. In fact, even though my husband and I had helped with the Sunday worship services at what was then called Jorstadt Castle for over 15 years, we didn’t know much about him either except that he was a very wealthy man who was President of the Singer Sewing Machine company and built a castle for himself in the Thousand Islands. But what we have since learned about the man behind the mansion on Dark Island has been a true inspiration to us.
Shortly after Jorstadt Castle was sold to Dark Island Tours, Inc, we began to work on our documentary DVD. That was when we first discovered Frederick G. Bourne (FGB) was much more than a wealthy man who liked castles. He was a very devoted family man. He enjoyed all kinds of hobbies, sports, and outside interests. He was also an extremely generous man giving large sums of money to numerous charities. But we only recently also discovered what mattered most to Frederick G. Bourne.
A Man of Great Wealth
Unlike many millionaires born into wealthy families, Frederick G. Bourne came from the humble background of being a minister’s son. He was born on December 20, 1851, to Rev. George Washington Bourne and Harriet Gilbert Bourne. The Bournes were New Englanders of very modest means. While he was still young the family moved to New York City where he and his brother were educated in the public school. Since he didn’t have enough money to go to college he entered the business world in 1865. In his spare time, FGB enjoyed singing in his church choir at Old Trinity.
It was there that FGB made his initial contact that got him a job at the Singer Company. Starting as a stenographer he quickly began climbing the corporate ladder and at 32, Frederick G. Bourne became President of the Singer Manufacturing Company. Under his talented leadership the company grew and prospered, and FGB, himself, became one of the wealthiest men in the world.
FGB also had interests in several other companies including Knickerbocker Safe Deposit Co, The Long Island Rail Road, Manhattan Company, Bourne & Co, Ltd of New Jersey City and Suburban Homes Company, Babcock & Wilcox Company, Atlas Portland Cement Company, the Aeolian Piano and Pianola Company, and the Long Island Motor Parkway.
A Man with Many Properties
FGB owned several thousand acres in New York and had a massive 110-room summer mansion, Indian Neck Hall, built for himself and his family in Oakdale. Oakdale has been described as "a scion of America's gilded age of a century ago, where powerful men of incredible wealth built South Shore gold coast mansions and dwelt in manorial splendor." FGB also owned the entire first floor of the New York City’s legendary Dakota building. He became a member of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club in Georgia where he purchased his own apartment. He was the president, from 1914 through 1919. And then, there was that humble "hunting lodge" he had built on Dark Island which he fondly referred to as "The Towers".
A Man with Many Hobbies and Interests
FGB was the consummate sportsman. He was an avid yachtsman, a skilled boxer and billiards player and also enjoyed fishing, hunting and bowling. He enjoyed racquet and tennis. In his younger days, FGB excelled at boxing. He also spent a great deal of time and money raising horses. By the end of the 1890’s FGB brought home many ribbons from the national horse shows in New York. He was also the first in the area to own an automobile and was a skillful driver. He imported a number of expensive European Cars including a $10,000 Mercedes. FGB loved music and sang in several different choirs throughout his life. He was known to have a lovely baritone voice. He also loved the organ. In his home at Oakdale he had an Aeolian pipe organ installed that was one of the finest and largest pipe organs in the country.
FGB was an avid boater and owned boats of all types and sizes, from small speedboats to large steam yachts. Among his better known yachts were the Delaware, the Colonia, the Alberta, and the Artemis. He was a member of several yacht clubs in the area, including the New York Yacht Club and the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club. In 1903 he was named Commodore of the NYYC, a position he would hold until 1905. His steam yacht Delaware was the flagship of the yacht Club during most of his term as its commodore. This yacht was 350 feet long and had a crew of over 100 men.
A Devoted Family Man
But his business life and hobbies were still only a small part of who FGB was. On February 9, 1875 Frederick Bourne married Emma Sparks Keeler of New York. Their first child, Frederick was born on January 1, 1876 and eleven more children would follow: Arthur, Louise, May, Marion, Alfred, Helen, Florence, George, Marjorie, Kenneth, and Howard. Four of the children, Frederick, Louisa, Helen, and Kenneth died in early childhood (before the castle was built). But most of the others eventually married and had children, giving FGB a number of grandchildren who he dearly loved. FGB was a loyal and devoted husband, father, and grandfather throughout his life.
An Extremely Generous Man
Frederick G. Bourne was also well known for his generosity. For all of his adult life and even after his death he gave large amounts of money to many charitable organizations including children’s homes, fire departments and religious charities.
In 1907 he presented Nassau Hospital in Mineola with $3,000 after the explosion of the Colonia and the care they gave to his crewmen.
When the Dutch Reformed Church in W. Sayville was raising funds for a new church, he gave them $1,000. When the railroad station in Oakdale needed improvements he contributed half the money needed to make them. In 1913 to help the South Side Hospital out of its debt he contributed $1,000. FGB gave $500,000 to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1914 as an endowment fund for its choir school. During WWI, Bourne contributed $125,000 to the Red Cross. He also gave $40,000.00 to Hope Farm, a rehabilitation home for children.
When the house of an elderly blind couple in West Sayville was destroyed by fire in 1905 FGB gave them the eastern gate house of his own estate and had it moved to their property at his expense. When he died in 1919, he left over $350,000 (almost $5,000,000 today) to various churches and charitable organizations. In addition, each of his many employees received $500 (almost $7000 today) plus $50 for each year over 10 they had worked for him.
A Highly Respected Man
FGB’s social circle included many of the most wealthy and influential people of his day. He was friends with business men such as J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and William Rockefeller who are all known worldwide for their wealth. FGB was known by all to be a highly ethical, moral, and principled leader who never veered from the ideals ingrained in him since childhood. An obituary written about him by the Long Island Railroad Company stated: "...combining fidelity and trust with a rare business ability he commanded respect, while his lovable personality gained for him the genuine affection of all with whom he came into close contact".
An article entitled, "Another Great Philanthropist” written after his generous gift to St. John the Divine described the "...purely esthetic and spiritual value of the Bourne endowment" and stated that "None familiar with the engaging complexities of his nature, his genius for business and his unaffected piety, his geniality in his clubs and his domesticity in his home, his interest in the art, in letters and in sports, wondered that his full, rich and abundant sympathies found one form of expression in this characteristic munificence."
A Man of Faith
With all FGB did, was, owned, and loved, it would seem nearly impossible to determine what, of everything his rich life afforded, mattered most to him. But a few years ago I had the opportunity to confirm what our research had already suggested, and the confirmation came from FGB's own hand. The Singer Castle library is filled with hundreds of books spanning the 100 year history of the castle. Many have the original bookplates revealing who they belonged to.
I discovered several books by J.H. Jowett that had FGB's handwritten name on them and his personal markings. J.H. Jowett was a popular British pastor who accepted a position at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1911. It is quite possible FGB could have heard him speak in person. One particular book caught my attention: The Things That Matter Most. FGB had put his signature and date in the front of the book. He also made check marks in the Table of Contents. Several of the pages had been dog-eared. In the first chapter, "The Illimitable Love of God", FGB folded down the last page which spoke of God's everlasting love. The chapter on "Capital and Interest", also marked by FGB spoke of investing "in all high and holy things, all our mind and soul, heart and strength".
Frederick G. Bourne’s faith was evidenced throughout his life. Having been a pastor’s son, it is not a surprise that he was a regular churchgoer or sang in several different church choirs. It was noted that he would arrive each Sunday at the town dock in one of his speedboats. Upon his arrival at the dock, there would usually be a number of boys from the area waiting for him. He would ask the boys if they had gone to Sunday School, then tell his driver to take them out for a spin in the boat while he went on to church.
FGB also contributed to the construction of a church on Jekyll Island. The famous Faith Chapel was constructed and dedicated in 1904. Shortly after his death, an exquisite Tiffany stained glass window portraying the theme "David Set Singers Before the Lord" was dedicated in FGB’s memory. The theme alluded to both his position as president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company and to his involvement in the chapel where he was a regular member of the Faith Chapel church choir. However, FGB’s faith was not just some theoretical belief system, but a practical faith that was evidenced in every other area of his life through his kindness and generosity.
Frederick G. Bourne – An Inspiring Man
Frederick G. Bourne was one of the wealthiest men in the world, owned all kinds of properties and material possessions, enjoyed many hobbies and outside interests, and remained a devoted husband, father, and grandfather throughout his life. He was also an extremely generous man whose charitable giving left indelible marks on the lives and organizations that benefited from his kindness. At the root of it all and perhaps as his greatest motivation in all he did was his deep faith in God. That should not be surprising knowing that he was the son of a pastor, and chose to spend all of his adult life going to church, singing in church choirs, and giving generously to so many faith-based causes and organizations. While Frederick G. Bourne would probably have shunned the attention since much of his giving was done quietly, we are delighted that one small reminder of who he was, and what mattered most to him remains in the library at Singer Castle.