If you’re kayaking on the Hudson River about 50 miles north of New York City and you spot the ruins of an opulent castle in the distance, your eyes are not deceiving you. In the early 1900s, an affluent Brooklyn-based military surplus dealer of Scottish descent named Francis Bannerman decided to purchase a small island called Pollepel. Bannerman constructed a castle to store live munitions that were literally too explosive to be kept in New York City.
Francis Bannerman channeled his Scottish heritage to build a sprawling estate that featured a castle/arsenal that housed guns and canons and a charming summer home where Bannerman and his wife retreated during the warmer months. Bannerman’s wife Helen Boyce was an avid gardener who planted a luscious garden that still blooms annually,
After Francis Bannerman died in 1918, Bannerman Castle and Pollepel Island experienced a period of decline and uncertainty. A series of explosions and fires seriously damaged every structure on the island. New York State purchased Pollepel Island in 1967, but the remnants of Bannerman Castle remained derelict until the 1990s, when a group called the Bannerman Castle Trust worked to restore the island.
The ruins of Bannerman Castle are an increasingly popular tourist destination. Visitors can canoe, kayak, or ride on a boat to gain access to Pollepel Island. The façade of Bannerman Castle is too unstable to view up close, but visitors can view the remains of the castle from a safe distance. Visitors can also tour the first floor of the Bannerman residence, which has recently been renovated.
Walking tours teach visitors about the history of Pollepel Island, including Native American myths about the island being haunted by restless spirits. The name Pollepel originates from a local myth about a girl named Polly who was rescued from the the icy waters of the Hudson River by a gallant rescuer who Polly promptly married on the island’s shores.
The Bannerman Castle Trust hosts dinners, art openings, and live theater and movie nights on Pollepol Island. Visitors can watch a stage production of Dracula with the ruins of Bannerman Castle in the background or make a reservation to eat an 11-course meal that was inspired by the dining service aboard the Titanic.
If you have a special love for castles, the ruins of Bannerman Castle are certainly worth a visit. The stately façade of the Hudson River’s lone Scottish castle has inspired countless painters.