Bannerman Castle is a small treasure set in the Hudson Highlands. It's situated in the Hudson River on the six and a half acre Pollepel Island, now also known Bannerman Island, in New York. The island was once uninhabited and only accessible by boat. Some Native American tribes believed that Pollepel Island was haunted, making the site a safe haven for people seeking an escape from them. The main sight on the island is Bannerman Castle, a remnant of a Scotsman's fortress that was once an arsenal for a collection of military surplus.

The island's name, Pollepel, comes from a story about a young woman named (Polly) Pell. The legend is that she was romantically saved from river ice that had broken and landed on the shore of the island. She was married on the shore to her rescuer, who had saved her and her companion. Hence, the island was named Pollepel.

The island also is connected to the American Revolution, during which it attempted to defend the Hudson Highlands in 1777 from the threat of the British fleet using the well-known “chevaux de frise”. Objects made of wooden cases, fill with pointed logs with metal-tips, were sunk into the river. These devices were created to prevent ships from passing the island while trying to sail up river by impairing their hulls. This method of defense was unsuccessful, however, due to the British using flat bottom boats and avoiding the chevaux de frise.

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1.Owners of Bannerman Island

Owners of Bannerman Island
© Bannerman Castle

Bannerman Island has only had five owners since the time of the American Revolution: William Van Wyck, Mary G. Taft, Francis Bannerman, New York, and The Jackson Hole Preserve (Rockefeller Foundation). The Jackson Hole Preserve donated what is now known as Bannerman Island to New York State. Francis, or Frank, Bannerman move with his family from Scotland to the United States at three years of age. His father sold goods at Navy auctions shortly after, and while in school, Frank began collecting scrap from ships at the harbor. Francis Bannerman did so well with this that it soon turned into a business. After the Civil War, his inventory increased by purchasing surplus stock at government auctions, continuing to do so even following the Spanish American War.

Despite the fact that Bannerman sold munitions, he considered himself to be a man of peace. He had written that he hoped one day his arms collection would be known as "The Museum of the Lost Arts" in his catalogues. Frank Bannerman was also a member of the St. Andrews Society, a devoted church goers, and founder of the Caledonian Hospital. He donated blankets, uniforms, and cannons during World War I to the United States government.

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© Bannerman Castle

Francis Bannerman's business became famously known as "Bannerman's, which was established in Brooklyn in 1865. As the business acquired more materials, it changed locations sevmany times due to the need for more space. The business eventually found its home in Manhattan at 501 Broadway in 1897. The store outfitted volunteers for the Spanish-American War.

After the Spanish War, Bannerman's bought more than ninety percent of the Spanish equipment, guns, and ammunition that was captured by the U.S. military and then auctioned off by the government. So much ammunition and equipment was acquired that the business had to seek out storage outside of the city limits due to New York City's laws. The storeroom at the business didn't have enough space to safely store 30 million surplus munitions cartridges.

David Bannerman, Frank's son, happened to note Pollepel Island while canoeing along the Hudson River. The Bannerman family bought the island in 1900 from the Taft family to be used as a site for safe storage. Frank Bannerman started construction in 1901 on a simple residence and Scottish-style castle. Every kind of equipment and ammunition were sent to the island to be stored in the arsenal until sold. The majority of the building was used to store army surplus, however, Bannerman constructed an additional smaller castle as a residence near the main structure on the island. He often used items from his surplus supply for decorative touches in his residence.

Bannerman's Castle is clearly visible from the river's shore and acted as a massive advertisement for the Bannerman's business. Frank Bannerman cast the words "Bannerman's Island Arsenal" into the wall of the castle facing the Hudson River's western bank. Construction stopped in 1918 after his death. A portion Bannerman Castle was destroyed when 200 tons of powder and shells in an ancillary structure exploded in 1920.

Pollepel Island and the Arsenal were left basically vacant after the ferryboat that had served the island, Pollepel, sank. After the military merchandise was removed, the State of New York bought the island and buildings in 1967, and tours of the island began in 1968.

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3.Bannerman Island Gallery

Bannerman Island Gallery
© Bannerman Castle

The Bannerman Island Gallery is located in Beacon, New York at 150 Main Street. The gallery is focused on artwork inspired by Bannerman's Castle and Bannerman Island. Featured in the Bannerman Island Gallery are a wide range of paintings, photographs, and prints of the Hudson River, Bannerman's Castle, and Bannerman Island. There are also several kinds of media and memorabilia representing Bannerman Island on display. Many of the works on display in the gallery are unique and available for purchase.

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Bannerman Island Tours

Tours of Bannerman Island are available from May until October. These tours of Pollepel Island and Bannerman Castle, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, are provided by The Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. The tours include a guided walking tour of Bannerman Island, accessing the island as part of a guided kayak excursion or by passenger boat. Tours by passenger boat leave from Beacon and Newburgh. Kayak excursions depart from Cold Spring, Beacon, and Cornwall-on-Hudson.

Visitors on the guided tours should wear comfortable shoes and be advised that strollers are not able to be accommodated. Reservations are also required for all tours. The tour begins from the dock after a 72-step climb, however, along the way is a place to stop and rest. By passenger boat, The Estuary Steward offers a 2.5 hour excursion that includes a walking tour of the island.

Constellation Tours

The Constellation, a public art piece by Melissa McGill, a Beacon-based artist, debuted around an on the ruins of Bannerman Castle in 2015. The work of art contains seventeen LEDs mounted on metal poles of different heights. The LEDS look similar to a constellation when lit for two hours every night. In the evening, starry lights emerge with the stars at night, one by one as the sun sets. The sculptural art piece creates a constellation that connects the past and the present castle. These lighted points hover around the perimeter of Bannerman Castle, referring to the structure's features that still remain today and those that no longer exist.

Bannerman Island tours and Constellation viewing are offered by the Bannerman Castle Trust aboard the Estuary Steward, the official tour boat for Constellation and the motor vessel for the Bannerman Castle Trust. The Constellation Tour is offered from July until October, with evening tours on Fridays and Saturday. Tours leave from the Beacon waterfront at the dock of the Beacon Institute. Tour times change with the seasons due to the tours being based on the sunset. Constellation Tours consists of a short guided island tour and viewing of Constellation from the boat. There is also an audio guide and oral presentation about Constellation.

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5.Visit Bannerman Island via Metro-North Railroad

Visit Bannerman Island via Metro-North Railroad
© Bannerman Castle

Those wanting to see Bannerman Island from the Beacon launch dock from New York City's Grand Central Station can do so on the Metro-North Railroad. The dock can also be reached from any Metro-North Railroad Station north of New York City. Beacon Station is located on the Hudson LIne.

Current Status of Bannerman Island

Currently, Bannerman Castle is mostly in ruins and owned by the State of New York's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The castle's exterior walls are still standing, however, the non-structural walls and internal floors have since burned down. The island is not open to the public, but is still accessible by a guided tour. Those riding on the Amtrak Empire Service or Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line can easily see Bannerman Castle from the train. Southbound riders can also view the words "Bannerman's Island Arsenal" on the side wall of the castle.

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6.Bannerman Castle Trust

Bannerman Castle Trust
© Bannerman Castle

Bannerman Castle is now under the care of the Bannerman Castle Trust. The organization, which can be found at the National Maritime Historical Society at Peekskill's Charles Point, dedicates itself to stabilizing the ruins of the castle. The goal is to open Bannerman Island back up to the public. The Bannerman Castle Trust has won the right from Albany to study the possibility of reopening the island to the public through their persistence. It is believed that five out of the island's seven building can be stabilized.

Glenham, NY 12527-0843, Phone: 855-256-4007

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Things to Do in New York: Bannerman Castle