I recently visited Bannerman Island (Pollepel Island) just outside of Beacon, New York on a cool cloudy day and I highly recommend the twenty minute boat trip to this mysterious and scenic island. The only way to visit the island is by boat or kayak and the ride is very quick depending on the weather and the waves on the Hudson River.
Once you get to the island, you are greeted by the tour guide and then have to walk up 74 steps from the harbor to the ridge of the island so this is NOT ADA compliant. At the top of the stairs starts the path around the island. Our tour guide that lead the tour had been there since the tours started in 2004 and gave us many insights on the history of the island and its purpose to the Bannerman family.
Our first stop was the Bannerman Munitions Storage facilities that were in the form of a castle that can be seen from the rail system up to Poughkeepsie, NY. For years I thought (as most people do) that this was a home but it was the Bannerman Munitions Warehouse for all the Army surplus items that Mr. Bannerman had brought up here from New York City. All the Military items were stored up here and the orders were fulfilled from this island.
The company has not been in business since the early 60’s and when the children of the founder closed the company after the laws in the Federal Government changed to where private citizens could not sell explosive, it put a damper into operations. In 1967, the storage buildings were destroyed by fire and the compound was a shell of the former factory. The home was also abandoned at the top of the ridge when the family sold the island.
The Bannerman Island Munitions Storage Facility
Once you leave the former storage facility which is now being held up by stilts because the structure is so weak, you will proceed up the path past the formal gardens that are planted along the trail. The local garden clubs now come to the island to replant Mrs. Bannerman’s formal gardens and beautify the island.
At the top of the point, there is the former home of the Bannerman family that is currently under renovation. It houses a quick tour of the family and there is a small gift shop inside. The porch area has the most amazing views of the Hudson River and the surrounding mountains. Here the Friends of Bannerman Island show movies in the warmer months and hold plays just outside the home. The last movie had been “Abbott and Costello Meet the Frankenstein”, which had been sold out according to the tour guide.
The Bannerman House and Gardens
As you exit the tour, you will be heading down another flight of stairs to go back to the harbor. Please watch out for poison ivy! It is all over the place. Then it is back on the boat to the Beacon harbor. The tour guide gives you plenty of time to take pictures.
The tours are finished at the end of October and will reopen again in the Spring. You must book on line for the tours through the State website and the boats only hold 44 people so be sure to book in advance of when you want to go.
I had lucked out in that three people did not show up for the 2:00pm tour and I was able to pay cash for the trip.
For the views alone it is well worth the trip.
History of Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island:
Bannerman Castle was built from 1901-1918 by Frank Bannerman IV as a warehouse to store his collection of antique military equipment from the Spanish American and Civil Wars. Bannerman was the father of the Army Navy Store. His world famous catalogue of military equipment became the “go to” source for collectors.
The island housed seven structures that formed the Scottish baronial castle, including workers apartments, a summer residence and beautiful trails and gardens.
A great fire in 1969 destroyed the interiors and left the shells you see today. Bannerman island opened for tours in 2004.
History of Francis Bannerman VI:
Francis Bannerman VI was born on March 24th, 1851 in Northern Ireland and emigrated to the United States in 1854. The family moved to Brooklyn, NY and began a military surplus business by the Brooklyn Navy Yard purchasing army surplus after the Civil War. The family continued to grow the business by buying weapons directly from the Spanish Government before it evacuated Cuba and then purchased 90% of the munitions auctioned off by the Federal Government that had been capture by American forces at the close of the Spanish-American War.
The family bought the island in 1900 to store the surplus items to their growing business. The warehouse in New York was too small and too dangerous to keep in the City anymore and they could keep their inventory isolated on the island.
The castle was visible from the water and had a giant advertisement sign right on the arsenal “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” created into the wall of the building. With the change in federal and state laws on selling military weapons and the sinking of the ferryboat that served the island by 1950, the island was abandoned. The island and its buildings were bought by New York State in 1967 and is now run by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
(This information is a combination from Wiki and the island pamphlet)