Fueled by our earlier experiences in Dutchess County in late October, on Halloween weekend we felt encouraged to try yet another one-day getaway: a visit to Bannermann’s Island (actually called Pollepel), a location in the middle of the Hudson River where the ruins of a castle built in the late 19th Century stand. The structure – or what remains of it – is a familiar site that can be seen from the MTA commuter train.
The castle was built by Francis Bannerman, who purchased the island in order to create a safe warehouse for his business, which was located on 501 Broadway in Manhattan. Since he sold war surplus material, gunpowder and other hazardous materials, he needed somewhere that would be far away from more populated areas, so this location was ideal at the time. Inspired by the European structures he saw during his many travels, Bannerman designed the warehouse as a castle, and later made himself a residence.
After Bannerman’s passing, his heirs sold the land to the state government, which is still its legal owner. A fire gutted the castle and the house in 1969, and what remains is an empty shell that is in severe disrepair. A non-profit organization http://bannermancastle.org/ has been caring for the island, but the lack of funds has made it impossible to rebuild the castle, which is exposed to the elements and slowly deteriorating.
So we took a late-morning train to the charming village of Beacon, where we took a slow-moving ferry to the island. There were greeted by our tour guide, a retired history teacher. There we were instructed to put on construction helmets due to the bad state of the structures on the island and proceeded on a walking tour that took us around the property and the remains of Bannerman’s residence. The castle is off-limits, but we were able to see it from various angles.
There are great views to be seen from the island. The Hudson was gleaming on that sunny morning, and the leaves were changing from green and red to a beautiful yellow hue. The paths were a little rough, but nothing undoable. After about two hours, we took the boat back to Beacon, where we stumbled into Chill Wine Bar http://www.myspace.com/chillwinebar , a cool and moderately priced spot where we enjoyed some cheese and a few glasses of wine, which was a great way to end the day.
The Bannerman Castle Trust has been doing much work there planting gardens, cleaning the pathways while raising funds for repair. According to our guide, fifty percent of the tour price ($ 30) is destined to the fund to save the structures, while the rest goes to the company that provides the ferry ride.
It is really sad to see such a beautiful structure in such disrepair, which makes us think about how many historical locations have disappeared over the decades. I could not help but think of the resilience of the people of Warsaw, who rebuilt their city from scratch after World War II. Maybe we could follow their lead and restore this and many other endangered historical buildings across the country that are currently at risk of disappearing forever either from lack of funds or pure developers’ greed – the kind that razed the old Penn Station in New York City.