It’s that time of year again. Spring has sprung – well, leaped, actually, directly into summer. School’s nearly out and the weather is perfect for spending the day outdoors. From New York City, there are thousands of destinations just a train ride away. Come with me for a sneak peek at Bannerman Castle and then get yourself there for theater, movies, music, history, and more . . . and, yes, there is a castle.
Trains are great for day trips. You don’t have to do anything but show up and let the engineer do his thing while you sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. You can sightsee as you go, too. I took the Metro North from Harlem to Beacon (it originates at Grand Central, but I live uptown) – just an hour and a half on the train – and was treated to some beautiful scenery along the way, including the majestic United States Military Academy at West Point.
Imagine chugging along on a train up the Hudson when, all of a sudden, there’s a an island and, rearing up on the northeast bank, are the ruins of what must surely have been a mighty lord’s castle. What a romantic sight! It really fires the imagination.
That is what remains of Bannerman Castle. Contrary to speculation (mine), it did not belong to a mighty lord, at least, not in the aristocratic sense. Frank Bannerman VI was the world’s largest dealer of military surplus (including arms, powder, shot, etc.) and needed to get his stock out of Brooklyn, where he was located until the 20th century. He bought Pollepel Island and started building warehouses. Not just any old warehouses, though. The designs for his warehouses were inspired by European castles (mostly Scottish). As he expanded his business and increased his stock purchases (Civil War and Spanish-American War surplus), he built additional warehouses, until there were four standing, abutted to each other, looking like a castle that had been expanded on through the centuries, rather than decades.
At the base of these, you can see the brick walls of the caretaker’s home. Imagine living with an arsenal on the other side of the wall.
You don’t have to imagine it, though. Our tour guide, Wesley Gottlock, has written a children’s book about Eleanor, who grew up in that house and shares her stories, in a fun and unique way, about her life on Bannerman’s Island: My Name is Eleanor. Wes was an excellent tour guide and has written several books about the region, including two about Bannerman’s Castle, which are both available in the Visitor Center.
Speaking of the Visitor Center, it’s housed in the former summer residence of the Bannerman family. It’s currently undergoing construction, but is open during construction. There are artifacts, sketches, maps, and more in the Visitor Center.
Once you see the incredible views from the house, it’s easy to understand why Bannerman decided to build the house near his arsenal. The view south is stunning.
The view from the north porch is equally stunning.
The gentleman in the picture is Neil Caplan, the Executive Director and Founder of the Bannerman Castle Trust. He has turned Bannerman’s Castle from a ruin to a lively place to spend a day. In addition to the grounds and gardens, there are concerts, plays, exhibits, and even movies. Check the schedule and try to arrange your trip (or trips – you’ll want to go back) around one of the many special events. I’m especially intrigued by the Chef’s Farm Fresh Dinner (September 8th) and the showing of “Island of Lost Souls” (September 7th), not to mention Theatre on the Road’s presentation of Dracula, the first play performed at night on the island.
Conservationists and, especially, butterfly lovers will be pleased to know that Pollepel Island has been designated a Monarch butterfly waystation, thanks to the careful plantings of the Bannerman Castle Trust groundskeepers and volunteers. You can volunteer to help with the gardens and other projects by filling out this form. The entire property is now owned by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and operates as a 501(c)(3).
I’m trying not to give away too many spoilers, but one of the fascinating facts I learned was that Bannerman used the sides of his warehouse castles as advertisements to passing boats and trains! This first picture shows how it was meant to look:
If you look closely at this second picture, you can see the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal.”
Metro North has a Bannerman’s Island Cruise Getaway package that includes the train to Beacon, the boat ride to Pollepel Island, and a walking tour of Bannerman’s properties, including the gardens, which I didn’t get to see, so you might see me back up there this summer. Hiking the island takes some stamina. Please note that there are 72 steps to the Visitor Center and many unpaved trails, so people with mobility difficulties won’t be able to access most of the island. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagram, twitterand “like” our facebook page too.