Most people don't think of castles when they think of Upstate New York, and they're especially not associated with the Hudson Valley region. In the middle of the Hudson River, though, there exists a castle that's not so much of a regal palace as it a fortress. The ruins in question were once used to house an arsenal of weapons, not as a threat but as a surplus warehouse of sorts.

What was once closed to the public is now open for tours, and this is one experience that visitors to Beacon, New York, are not going to want to miss out on.

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The History Of One Of New York's Most Fascinating Ruins

In order to reach the shoreline that gives way to Bannerman Castle, one must first board a ferry to Pollepel Island. Even New Yorkers are unaware that this small island exists in the middle of the river that runs through the city, and it's only when the castle ruins are looming in the distance that the vision becomes clear.

The ferry ride only takes about 30 minutes and once the island is in sight so, too, is Bannerman Castle - with its fortified walls and heavy concrete construction. Visitors to the island are likely to see Hudson River kayakers on a nice day, as well as hikers who are getting a closer look at this incredible structure that, somehow, is still standing.

Bannerman's Island Arsenal

Francis 'Frank' Bannerman VI was born in Northern Island but came from a family of Scottish descent. His grandfather hailed from Dundee, and it was only at the age of three that his grandson came to America in 1851. While Bannerman's father was fighting in the Civil War, the family was settling into Brooklyn, New York, which is where he began a refurbishing business at only the age of ten.

The business involved fishing various parts out of the Hudson River before fixing or polishing them and then selling them back to sailors in an amusing vicious cycle. It was this same passion for collecting that led Bannerman to open up a surplus store in the city, for which the saying became, 'Bannerman’s could outfit an army in a week—10,000 rifles, 10,000 saddles no problem.'

The Crazed Idea Of A Castle-Like Fortress For Arms

It's no secret that building a castle on a small, minuscule island hosts a slew of problems, one of which is the foundation on which the whole thing sits. In search of a new place to house his armored surplus, Bannerman was out with his wife, Helen Boyce, one day, and caught sight of Pollepel Island.

His wife echoed the thoughts of many when she was quoted as calling Bannerman 'crazy' for the idea. The craziest thing about the idea ended up being that it actually worked.

  • The property was purchased for $1,600 which seems small now but was the equivalent to $50,000 back then.
  • Bannerman began work in 1901, blasting out an area to create flat land for the foundation that would soon become his surplus fortress.
  • The design and architecture for the warehouse weren't random - it was a strong nod to the Scottish roots of the businessman, thus resembling that of a castle in the Scottish Highlands. Except, in this case, it was in the Hudson Highlands.
  • The design for the castle was sketched on a piece of paper by Bannerman himself, making the construction - and the finished structure - 100% his own.

The Brilliant - And Beautiful - Features Of Bannerman Castle

Those who have had the chance to see Bannerman Castle up close also have the chance to see genuine features that would have been indicative of a Scottish Castle centuries ago. Garden terraces, a drawbridge, and a gate featuring solid, metal spikes were all part of its design. As a further nod to Scotland, thistles were also planted in the castle's dry moat, serving as a warning to whoever tried to escape their brambles.

On the same property, the Bannerman's had a summer home which was completed seven years later in 1908. With a brilliant construction move, Bannerman had the exterior of the castle lined with sunken barges to create even more of a castle-like landscape.

The Downfall Of Bannerman Castle

Sadly, the castle did not last more than two decades, although it was through no fault of Bannerman or the construction of it. In 1920, some live artillery shells exploded within the castle, and, according to Road Trippers, the blast was heard up to 50 miles away. Those who lived on either side of the Hudson were rumored to have their windows break, as well, but luckily Helen - who was inside the summer home at the time - was unharmed, nor was anyone else harmed by the blast. The roof of the castle was never repaired, and today its ruins remain open as a museum for visitors to explore.

Castle Cruise & Walking Tours

  • Cost: $40 for adults, $25 for children under 11
  • Ages: All ages
  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Details: Guests will go on a 30-minute boat tour of the island on the Estuary Stewart before going on a 1.5 guided walking tour of the ruins and gardens around the castle. A self-guided tour option is also available on the third Sunday of every month, complete with live music entertainment on the island.

Kayak Tour

  • Cost: $40
  • Ages: All ages
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Details: Tour-goers must provide their own canoes and kayaks to follow the guided tour around Bannerman Island.

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