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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.