The 106′ houseboat La Duchesse brings the gracious River lifestyle of one hundred years ago to life. Built in 1903 for millionaire hotelier George Boldt, manager of New York City’s famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel, the houseboat has been in continuous use as an elegant summer residence ever since.
Built in 1903 exclusively for George C. Boldt, she is 106 feet long with a beam of 22 feet, and was built without an engine. A tug was used to move her when needed.
She remained in the Boldt family until after George Boldt’ death, when she was sold along with much of his estate to Edward. J. Nobel, owner of the Beechnut Fruit Company and inventor of the Lifesaver candy. Nobel rented out various properties that he had purchased from Boldt’s estate throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, but ‘La Duchesse’ spent most of the time in her slip in the boathouse on Wellesley Island. Tragedy struck in 1943 when she sank in her slip after a broken pipe allowed her hull to fill with water. When she finally settled on the bottom, she had punched a hole in the deck on a submerged pile and her entire lower deck was filled with water.
A few months after the sinking, Nobel agreed to sell the boat to Mr. and Mrs. Andrew McNally III (of Rand-McNally), for a nominal sum of $100 and the agreement that the they would remove the boat from the boathouse. A bill of sale was drawn up on September 15, 1943, and after a diver went down to repair the hole in the hull, ‘La Duchesse’ was towed to her new home on the McNally estate. Fortunately, she did not have to go far – as their estate was also located on Wellesley Island.
The McNallys commenced repairs a few years later including bleaching the woodwork on the lower level to remove the water stains, replacing all of the plumbing and wiring, and replacing the wooden hull with a new and stronger steel one. In the late 1980’s Andrew McNally bequeathed the houseboat to the Clayton Antique Boat Museum, which passed to them a few years after his death in 2003. The houseboat was finally brought to the museum in May of 2005, and they were able to open it up for guided tours to the public in July of that year.
In the last two years more than 20,000 visitors have enjoyed seeing her luxurious interior and original furnishings while hearing the story of this unique summer home, built for a unique business man.
La Duchesse, may not be very pretty from the outside, but she is quite a grand lady once you step inside. The upper deck has a beautiful paneled salon with gold-leaf stenciling on the canvas ceiling. Perhaps one of the most striking elements in the upstairs living area is the stained-glass skylight.