Friday, July 19, 2024

Island Issues

The Fight to Save Bannerman Island’s Castle

New York residents have started to get passionate about saving the crumbling castle on Bannerman Island. This Hudson River landmark is on its last legs –unless swift action is taken.


It’s a vision that wouldn’t look out of place in a remote Scottish mountain – battered by storms, an ancient-looking castle has crumbled into ruin, leaving just a hollow shell of decaying walls amid piles of rubble. Most people tend to associate such a scene with romantic European travels, but this exotic sight is seen every day by commuters on the New York Amtrak. Few people are aware that America, too, is home to fascinating castles of its own – and some are seriously at risk.

The castle on Bannerman Island – also known as Pollepel Island – is under the domain of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The primary public action group is the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness of the castle’s plight and stabilizing the structure itself – which has decayed more and more with every winter on the stormy Hudson. It will take a lot of work to bring the castle back to its former glory – but at this point, the Trust would be happy with just keeping its hollow remains standing.

(Image Sourced from

An island with a long and storied history dating back to the American Revolution, the castle was initially begun in 1901 by Francis Bannerman VI, a military surplus magnate with a taste for extravagance. Inspired by a variety of European designs, he gave his architects a loose hand in interpreting his castle, and it became a massive Scottish-style structure used to store 30 million excess munitions cartridges. Serving as an unforgettable advertisement for his business, he had “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” carved across the exterior wall.  In the end, somewhat predictably, the castle’s intended use would be its downfall.

Bannerman died in 1918, causing construction of the mostly-finished castle to come to a halt. Just a year and a half later, 200 tons of munitions and gunpowder exploded in an ancillary structure, devastating part of the complex. This would be one of many tragedies to befall the castle. After passing into State control in the 1960’s, a large fire swept through the island, destroying the floors and roofs and leaving mainly the impressive structural walls intact. It was then left to decay, closed off from public visitors and shunned as a condemned building. With each storm season, a little more of the exterior would crumble, culminating in an epic collapse of the south and east walls in 2009. In 2010, part of the north wall followed.                                                               

Bannerman Facade
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

  Despite the castle’s almost total neglect, it remains a fond landmark for many New York residents. With the exterior finally showing real signs of collapse, a movement has been spurred to stabilize the remains and keep the castle, such as it is, standing for decades to come. The Bannerman Castle Trust has undergone a lobbying campaign to bring the castle to the attention of local politicians, hoping to raise funds for preservation. Picturesque boat tours around the island are becoming popular, and the Trust offers “hard-hat” tours of the ruins with all proceeds going towards restoration.  However, serious help will have to come swiftly if the castle has a hope of survival. To read more or participate, please visit the Trust’s website below.

Visit the Bannerman Castle Preservation Trust at:

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