This ‘Ghostly’ 19th-Century Castle on the Hudson River Was Once a Massive Arsenal Storehouse: PHOTOS

This ‘Ghostly’ 19th-Century Castle on the Hudson River Was Once a Massive Arsenal Storehouse: PHOTOS
(LittlenySTOCK/shutterstock); INSET: (Lev radin/shutterstock)
Anna Mason
10/11/2023
Updated:
10/11/2023
0:00

There’s something of the Great Gatsby about Bannerman Castle, located on an uninhabited island in New York’s Hudson River. Except far from being a fictional character, the man who created it was a real-life empire builder.

Found around 50 miles north of the city, the abandoned castle sits decaying atop the small island of Pollepel. Francis Bannerman, better known as Frank, was a resourceful and innovative Scotsman. After immigrating to the United States with his family from Dundee in 1854 at the age of 3, the young Mr. Bannerman, still in school, spotted a business opportunity.
(lev radin/Shutterstock)
(lev radin/Shutterstock)
(littlenySTOCK/shutterstock)
(littlenySTOCK/shutterstock)
(Meagan Marchant/Shutterstock)
(Meagan Marchant/Shutterstock)
(lev radin/Shutterstock)
(lev radin/Shutterstock)
By the mid-19th century, New York Harbor had grown to become one of the world’s important seaports, according to Brooklyn Waterfront History. Mr. Bannerman, now living in Brooklyn, was exhilarated by the parade of merchant ships heading to California and China; packet ships taking cotton to England; schooners and steamboats; ferries and fishing boats. Such a brilliant array of vessels also meant something else: scrap.

The budding entrepreneur would collect discarded remnants and sell them for a profit. At the close of the American Civil War, the 14-year-old schoolboy began buying up surplus military equipment and his company, Bannerman’s, was born. He didn’t stop there.

The Scotsman went on to acquire ever more material, including guns, cannons, ammunition, crates of uniforms—even entire ships. Huge premises were of course required to store such a haul; the company’s New York storerooms were neither large nor safe enough, and Mr. Bannerman needed a solution.

(<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_-_Bannerman%27s_Island_Arsenal_-_NARA_-_68145009.jpg">Public Domain</a>)
(Public Domain)
(<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bannerman_small.jpg#/media/File:Bannerman_small.jpg">Friedo</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
(Friedo/CC BY-SA 3.0)
It was while out one day canoeing on the Hudson River that his son David saw Pollepel Island. Mr. Bannerman bought it from existing owners, the Taft family, with the intention of using it as “a safe storage site,” according to BannermanCastle.org.

The larger-than-life Mr. Bannerman immediately drew up designs for a mock Scottish castle and a year later, in 1901, work got underway.

Eschewing professionals like architects and engineers, Mr. Bannerman simply gave his plans to builders and let them get on with the job as they saw fit. Besides the elaborate castle, which displays the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” cast into one wall visible from the shore, the island was home to a simpler residence where Mr. Bannerman, his wife, Helen, and their three sons would retreat to spend their summers.

(PinnacleDroneServices20/Shutterstock)
(PinnacleDroneServices20/Shutterstock)
(<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BannermanCastle3685.jpg#/media/File:BannermanCastle3685.jpg">Public Domain</a>)
(Public Domain)
According to Bannerman’s granddaughter-in-law Jane Bannerman, the avid munitions dealer “described himself as a man of peace.” As well as founding the Caledonian Hospital (which eventually merged with the Brooklyn Hospital in 1982), Mr. Bannerman donated cannons, uniforms, and blankets to the U.S. government during World War I.
Mr. Bannerman passed away in 1918, aged 67. Perhaps inevitably, two years later an enormous powder house explosion went off, destroying a section of the castle, and triggering the start of the island’s decline, according to RecordOnline.com. The island was sold to New York State in 1967.

Disaster didn’t stop there, however. For three days in 1969, a raging fire completely gutted the castle’s interior; its resulting haunting appearance only added to the slew of ghost tales surrounding it.

(Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
(Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
(Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
(Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
(niesgirl/Shutterstock)
(niesgirl/Shutterstock)

For the next two decades, vandalism and trespassing continued to add to the castle’s ruin. According to the castle website, in the early ‘90s, Neil Caplan, the executive director and founder of The Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc., began a campaign to “Save Bannerman Castle.” Previously, the New York State Parks Department had informed him that the island was “off limits” and “forever wild.”

“People thought I was nuts and the castle could not be saved,” he wrote. “I really don’t like to take no for an answer.”

Now, the Trust works to preserve the Scottish immigrant’s legacy and runs tours which include a boat ride on the Hudson with a step back in time, into the remnants of an empire.

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Anna Mason is a writer based in England. She majored in literature and specializes in human interest, travel, lifestyle and content marketing. Anna enjoys storytelling, adventures, the Balearic sunshine and the Yorkshire rain.