An abandoned castle on an island in the Hudson River was once a weapon-filled fortress. Here's what it's like to visit its crumbling remains.
National Archives and Records Administration/Joey Hadden/Business Insider
- The abandoned Bannerman Castle sits on Pollepel Island in New York's Hudson River.
- Once a fortress for weapons, the castle is only accessible by private boat.
- The castle was built by Francis Bannerman, a 20th-century Scottish arms trader, but was abandoned in the 1950s.
- In the early 1990s, the Bannerman Castle Trust led efforts to restore the castle and island to make it safe for the public to visit. It's been accessible since 2004.
- Today, the facility hosts tours and as used as a theater venue. Here's what it looks like.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Bannerman Castle is on Pollepel Island, which is about 60 miles north of New York City.
The abandoned castle is visible from Metro-North Railroad's Hudson train line.Advertisement
To get to the castle, I took a Lyft from the Manitou train station to Donahue Memorial park in the town of Cornwall, New York.
The park sits on the west side of the Hudson River. There, I met up with guides from the Bannerman Castle Trust, the group that oversees the preservation and maintenance of the castle.Advertisement
A boat waited at the park's public dock.
I crammed into the boat with two guides and a handful of volunteer gardeners who do landscaping work on Pollepel Island.Advertisement
It took less than 20 minutes to get to the castle. From the dock, its beautiful, sturdy-looking walls made the building appear almost functional.
But my guide told me that I absolutely could not go inside.Advertisement
From the dock, we climbed 72 stairs to reach the island.
Closer up, I understood why it's not safe to enter the castle. My guide explained that the towers of the castle require external beams for support.Advertisement
The braces are made of steel. Each individual section weighs 250 pounds.
But even with this support, there's still a risk that the walls could fall.Advertisement
So all visitors must stay at least 100 feet away from the castle. "Observation decks" are set up around the castle at picturesque vantage points.
A history of accidental explosions and weather damage at Bannerman Castle have left it in this decrepit state.Advertisement
Francis Bannerman VI, an arms dealer who lived in Brooklyn, bought Pollepel Island in 1900. He wanted a place outside the city to store an arsenal of munitions, according to the New York Times, so he built the fortress and an accompanying harbor.
Bannerman's sons took over the business when he died in 1918. But in 1920, a room full of gun powder exploded, shattering some of the windows.Advertisement
Forty-seven years later, the Bannerman family sold the island to New York State, according to the New York Times. It eventually became part of the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve.
In 1969, a fire destroyed much of the castle, leaving it unusable.Advertisement
After that, Pollepel Island was deemed unsafe and declared off-limits by the State of New York.
But in 1992, Neil Caplan, a resident of nearby Beacon, New York, formed the Bannerman Castle Trust. The group raised money to restore the island; Caplan is now its executive director.Advertisement
The Trust teamed up with New York's Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to open the island to the public in 2004.
Today, it serves as a theater, museum, and historical site.Advertisement
Although the main castle is inaccessible ...
... the Trust has stabilized the structure that served as the Bannerman family residence. That's now the island's visitor center.Advertisement
The facade of the building also serves as the backdrop for the theater's stage.
Inside, visitors can find information about the island's past.Advertisement
Modest exhibits explain the site's history before Bannerman built the castle there ...
... and describe the castle's construction.Advertisement
Drawings and documents about the castle and the Bannerman family are framed on the building's distressed walls.
Visitors can also see preserved fixtures from the castle, like this bathtub.Advertisement
Props for plays at the island's theater venue get stored inside the residence as well.
In September, the theater was showing "Dracula" ...Advertisement
... so the furniture and decor in the visitor center had a spooky theme.
The center also has a gift shop that sells art and t-shirts.Advertisement
Although the trust has restored parts of the castle since the '90s ...
... weather has still taken a toll on the structure in recent decades.Advertisement
Much of the castle's shell collapsed one night in December 2009.
Then more walls fell just a month later, during a January storm in 2010.Advertisement
Wear and tear from the elements is visible on the walls that still stand.
On the way back from the castle, the boat took a spin around the island's perimeter.Advertisement
From the water, we caught glimpses of other pieces of the abandoned fortress ...
... including its deteriorated harbor.Advertisement
From afar, it was especially clear that nature has already taken over many parts of this mysterious piece of history on the Hudson River.
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