Remains of the day...

by - Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Both sides are beautifully green but uneventful as the vista scrolls above brackish water. Strong currents in shallow parts of the Hudson hurry our ferry along from Beacon. We are going to Pollepel, an island near the eastern bank of the Hudson River. But it isn’t the lush, rocky, wild island itself that attracts us. There are castle ruins and history to explore. As the ferry slows to the dock, florid brick and concrete remains rise stoically to our left - Bannerman’s Castle.

City folk and rural dwellers have always found solace just north of New York in the Hudson River Valley. Pollepel Island belongs to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation since 1967. Since 1994, the nonprofit Bannerman Castle Trust has worked in conjunction with the Parks Department to maintain the castle and lush gardens. Though our visit was a tour and abbreviated hike on Labor Day Monday, we are sure to plan a return visit for one of the many movie nights, theater performances, or live concerts hosted on the island another day sometime from May through October.

What was the purpose of this fortress-like structure? Though fantastical an appearance on the 6.5-acre island, it was built for the mundane purpose to warehouse inventory. Mind you, it was an impressive inventory including thirty-million rounds of live ammunition from the Spanish-American War and even weapons from ancient Zulu warriors and the Bronze Age. At a mere ten years of age, Bannerman started his fledgling business of refurbishing military wares he dredged out of the Hudson River, selling them back to the sailors who had thrown them overboard in the first place. He was a shrewd businessman and basically a collector. You can still make out the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” cast in concrete on one of the remaining walls.

In a nod to his Scottish heritage, Bannerman decided that his warehouse would resemble a castle and hand-sketched the ideas. It had everything you would expect of a proper castle, including terraced gardens, a dry moat full of thistle plants, a drawbridge, a portcullis, and a promenade around the island’s perimeter made from sunken barges. While the main castle functioned strictly as a warehouse, the family constructed a smaller structure nearby in 1908 to use as a summer home for themselves and special guests.

Today, the summer home has been restored to function as a small museum, visitor center, and gift shop. Bannerman loved details and added military motifs into the structures everywhere he could. Shamrocks and thistles are homages to Scotland, and each fireplace was handcrafted to include a different Biblical saying. Bannerman believed that “any man who owns an island and a castle should have a crest,” so he designed his own, including symbols depicting his family’s heritage and his business interests.


In 1962, Bannerman’s grandson, Charles, wrote, “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.”

This end of summer discovery became our own remains of the day... xoxo-Sonya

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