Put this on your trip bucket list – The crumbling Scottish marvel on the Pollepel Island 50 miles north of New York

By Paul Pinkerton
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Put this on your trip bucket list – The crumbling Scottish marvel on the Pollepel Island 50 miles north of New York

Paul Pinkerton
 
 
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Pollepel Island has been called many different names, including Pollopel Island, Pollopel’s Island, Bannerman’s Island, and Bannermans’ Island.The name wikt:pollepel is a Dutch word meaning “(wooden) ladle,” but the Bannerman Castle Trust organization ascribes the name to a folk tale about a young girl named Polly Pell, having been stranded on the island.

The island is about 50 miles (80 km) north of New York City and about 1,000 feet (300 m) from the Hudson River’s eastern bank. It contains about 6.5 acres (26,000 m2), most of it rock.

Pollepel Island was discovered during the first navigation of the Hudson River by early Dutch settlers in New York, at the “Northern Gate” of the Hudson Highlands. During the Revolutionary War, patriots attempted to prevent the British from passing upriver by emplacing 106 chevaux de frise (upright logs tipped with iron points) between the island and Plum Point across the river (see Hudson River Chains).

Caissons from several chevaux de frise still rest at the river bottom. Still, these obstructions did not stop a British flotilla from burning Kingston in 1777. General George Washington later signed a plan to use the island as a military prison; however, there is no evidence that a prison was ever built there.

 

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Pollepel Island Bannerman’s Castle Ruins. Photo credit

 

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Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island from the left bank of the Hudson River  Photo credit

Pollepel Island was discovered during the first navigation of the Hudson River by early Dutch settlers in New York, at the “Northern Gate” of the Hudson Highlands.

During the Revolutionary War, patriots attempted to prevent the British from passing upriver by emplacing 106 chevaux de frise (upright logs tipped with iron points) between the island and Plum Point across the river (see Hudson River Chains).

 

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Bannerman castle viewed from water Photo Credit 

 

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The collapsed wall viewed from shore. Photo credit 

Francis Bannerman VI, the castle’s namesake, was born on March 24, 1851, in Dundee, Scotland, immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1854. The family moved to Brooklyn in 1858 and began a military surplus business near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1865 purchasing surplus military equipment at the end of the American Civil War.

In 1867, the business occupied a ship chandlery on Atlantic Avenue engaged in the purchase of worn rope for papermaking. The store on the 500-block of Broadway opened in 1897 to outfit volunteers for the Spanish–American War.

The business bought weapons directly from the Spanish government before it evacuated Cuba; and then purchased over 90 percent of the Spanish guns, ammunition, and equipment captured by the United States military and auctioned off by the United States government. Bannerman’s illustrated mail order catalog expanded to 300 pages and it became a reference for collectors of antique military equipment.

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Bannerman’s Island, NY – Bannerman’s Castle Photo credit

Bannerman purchased the island in November 1900, for use as a storage facility for his growing surplus business.Because his storeroom in New York City was not large enough to provide a safe location to store thirty million surplus munitions cartridges, in the spring of 1901 he began to build an arsenal on Pollepel.

Bannerman designed the buildings himself and let the constructors interpret the designs on their own. Most of the building being devoted to the stores of army surplus, but Bannerman built another castle on a smaller scale on top of the island near the main structure as a residence, often using items from his surplus collection for decorative touches.

The castle, clearly visible from the shore of the river, served as a giant advertisement for his business. On the side of the castle facing the western bank of the Hudson, Bannerman cast the legend “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” into the wall.

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Bannerman’s Island, NY. Photo credit

Construction ceased at Bannerman’s death in 1918. In August 1920, 200 tons of shells and powder exploded in an ancillary structure, destroying a portion of the complex. Bannerman’s sales of military weapons to civilians declined during the early 20th century, as a result of state and federal legislation.

After the sinking of the ferryboat Pollepel, which had served the island, in a storm in 1950, the Arsenal and island were essentially left vacant.The island and buildings were bought by New York State in 1967 after the old military merchandise had been removed, and tours of the island were given in 1968.

However, on August 8, 1969, fire devastated the Arsenal, and the roofs and floors were destroyed.The island was placed off-limits to the public.

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Bannerman’s Island, NY. Photo credit

The castle is currently the property of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and is mostly in ruins. While the exterior walls still stand, all the internal floors and non-structural walls have since burned down. The island has been the victim of vandalism, trespass, neglect, and decay.

Several old bulkheads and causeways that submerge at high tide present a serious navigational hazard. On-island guided hard hat tours, were recently made available through the Bannerman’s Castle Trust.

The castle is easily visible to riders of the Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line and the Amtrak Empire Service. One side of the castle, which carries the words “Bannermans’ Island Arsenal,” is also visible to southbound riders.

 
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