They Are Among Us

You expect to find castles in Europe. Here, a local author introduces us to five majestic castles right in the Valley



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Bannerman CastlePhotograph by Lauren Golde

Bannerman Castle

While others may come in more artful and inventive variations, no castle in the Hudson Valley possesses the mystique of that on Bannerman Island. Located on a Hudson River islet three miles south of Beacon, the structure has ignited the curiosity of many a passing Route 9D driver and Metro-North rider. Fortunately, the castle’s back story is as interesting as its unorthodox location.

In 1900, a military-surplus dealer named Francis Bannerman bought the island with the intention of using it as a storage site for his business. Previously, Native Americans had believed the island to be haunted by goblins. But that didn’t stop Bannerman, a man with intense pride of his Scottish heritage, from designing and constructing a castle inspired by the fortresses of his native country.

What we know as “Bannerman’s Castle” is actually a series of buildings constructed by Bannerman over 20 years. The first structure built, the “first warehouse,” was quite simple, with the only elements of note being the crenellations atop the three-story brick walls. Subsequent buildings, such as the armory with the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” molded into the masonry and the six-story stuccoed brick-and-fieldstone tower, assumed an increasingly castle-like appearance. The compound even includes a moat, complete with an arched gate and drawbridge to allow entry.

Bannerman died in 1918; his family sold the island to the State of New York in 1967. Two years later, a fire of unknown origin (spirits, perhaps?) severely damaged the castle and other buildings on the property. For decades, the island remained accessible only to adventurous boaters. Then, in 2004, the Bannerman Island Trust and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation began offering boating and walking tours of the site. The buildings are still unsafe to enter, but the trust is attempting to raise $350,000 to restore five of the island’s seven structures and return Bannerman Island to its former glory — if the goblins allow it, that is.

Boat and hard-hat walking tours of Bannerman Island are available through Hudson River Adventures. For schedule information and reservations, call 845-220-2120.

Next stop: Wing’s Castle

 

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