Castle of the Month: Bannerman’s Castle

February 6, 2010

Bannerman’s Castle

Sitting on a small island called Pollepel in the Hudson River between Cold Spring and Beacon, across from Storm King Mountain, are the impressive ruins of a castle, one of the very few ever built in the US.

The complex of buildings was constructed as an arsenal between 1900, when the island was purchased by military surplus dealer Frank Bannerman, and 1918, when Bannerman died. Bannerman had purchased most of the Army surplus materiel from the Spanish-American War, including tons of ammunition, and he needed a safe place to store it. In the eastern facade of its imposing superstructure (the Tower), Bannerman cast the legend: Bannerman’s Island Arsenal. A smaller castle was built on the western shore of the island as a residence.

In 1920, 200 tons of munitions exploded in one of the large buildings, causing significant damage to the complex. The island was essentially abandoned after 1950 with the sinking in a storm of the ferryboat Pollepel that had served the island. The island and its buildings were bought by New York State in 1967, and tours were conducted in 1968. The following year the roof and floors of the castle were destroyed in a fire, and no further visits were permitted until they were resumed recently by The Bannerman Castle Trust.

During Christmas week of 2009, a large section of the north and east Tower walls collapsed, and the Trust is seeking donations to stabilize the structure before it is totally lost.

A kayak is the ideal way to approach the castle over stonework obstacles in the shallows of the island. But the castle poses serious risks to visitors: the island boasts generous growths of poison ivy, and the structure itself is demonstrably insecure. Nevertheless, Bannerman’s has been a popular destination for kayakers. The European-type castle is fascinating, and, with due care (and some luck), the island can be a good spot to break for lunch.

Photo by Jerry White of The Staging Prince.

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