Did the new Cinderella 2015 movie get you craving a castle? Don’t worry, same here. We’ve got some comforting news for you: castles don’t only exist in fairy tales, in fact, there are quite a few scattered around the state of New York.
One of our favorites is located right near the home of ASPIRE Metro in the Hudson Valley. On the tiny 6.5 acre Pollopel Island in the middle of the Hudson River sits Bannerman Castle- or at least, what remains of it.
The construction of the castle spanned from 1901-1918, comissioned by a Scottish immigrant, businessman, and arms dealer, named Francis Bannerman IV. Having amassed a surplus of military equipment at the end of the Civil War, Bannerman purchased the island to safely store his growing stock of ammunition. He designed the castle himself, leaving the engineers and builders to figure out how to achieve his requests.
A savvy business man, Bannerman used the castle as a giant advertisement for his business- “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” is prominently displayed on the east-facing side of the structure, visible to anyone on the eastern shore of the Hudson River. Artifacts from the American Revolutionary Period were also collected by Bannerman on his island- in fact, Bannerman once wrote that he hoped his collection of arms would be known one day as the “Museum of Lost Arts.”
He also built a secondary, smaller castle on top of the island (dangerously close to the main arsenal) to use as a family summer residence. Some of the original gardening, shrubbery, and paths made by his wife Helen can still be seen today.
The height of Bannerman’s busniess was during World War I, contributing heavily to the US war effort. After Bannerman’s death in 1918, construction ceased, and the castle and the island began their decline. In August of 1920, 200 tons of shells and powder exploded in an ancillary structure, partially destroying the complex . By 1967, the island and castle had been abandoned and was purchased by the State of New York and Taconic Park Commission.
The island does continue to live on today through the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. – their goal to preserve the history of the island and castle. After a fire in 1969 that destroyed most of the buildings, the island was completely off limits to the public, and for the most part still is. Luckily, certain kayak tours and Bannerman Island cruises can skirt close to the island and get a view of the ruins. Some guided tours even allow you a limited exploration of the island itself, though some areas require hard hats to be worn because of the instability of the castle’s structure.
The most recent collapse of the castle, which was seen by many passsers-by on the nearby Hudson Line Metro North train, was in December 2009. The photo above captures the castle at sunset prior to the partial collapse and was taken by Neil Caplan.
“No one can tell what associations and incidents will involve the island in the future. Time, the elements, and maybe even the goblins of the island will take their toll of some of the turrets and towers, and perhaps eventually the castle itself, but the little island will always have its place in history and in legend and will be forever a jewel in its Hudson Highland setting.” – Charles Bannerman (Grandson of Frank Bannerman VI)
What could be more luxurious than a Castle as a home, with a private island as your front and back yards, and the Hudson River as your castle’s moat? You would be surprised at the amount of castles that surround us all throughout the state of New York and the United States. Hopefully you will find one in a bit better condition!