Claudia, Janice and I were off again on the 2nd of our one-day-get-a-ways riding the Metro North Railroad’s Poughkeepsie line straight up to Beacon, NY. Once in Beacon we walked a short distance to the water’s edge and boarded a ferry which took us up the Hudson River towards Pollelpel Island better known as Bannerman’s Island and the amazing but crumbling Bannerman Castle.
Disembarking, we all gathered on the landing at the base of the island taking photos and excitedly chatting to each other as our guides introduced themselves. We were then herded up a winding wooden staircase to the top of the island where, the aged castle greeted us upon metal crutches in regal but, fragile state. We had very dramatic sky the whole day and when a ray of light beamed down through a dark cloud it lit the castle like a celestial spot light. Although worn and weathered the castle still retained its pink brick color which was emphasized by Autumn’s beautiful warm hues that surrounded this emblem of a 19th century Scottish-American entrepreneur.
This was not your run-of-the-mill castle, in fact, it was built to house tons of explosives, ammunition and other accouterments of war, by Francis Bannerman VI. He and his father built up a military surplus business near the Brooklyn Navy Yards after the American Civil War, which made them gilded age millionaires. The good people of Brooklyn, fearing that some day they might get blown to smithereens, ask Mr. Bannerman to find another home for his possibly unstable stores. And so he did. He purchased Pollelpel Island in 1900 and in 1901 built his Scottish Castle. He obviously didn’t live in the castle but, he did build a smaller castle like mansion further up and back on the island where, he and his wife raised a family and his military salvage business continued to prospered until his death in 1918.
I found the place absolutely fascinating and just lost myself in the ruins over grown with weeds and flowers from the once loved and cultivated gardens of Mrs. Bannerman. Since the Civil War was responsible, in a way, for the Bannerman’s success there is a noticeable cannon ball motif found in the design of both the castle and the mansion. I stumbled upon concrete cannon balls everywhere I walked peeking out from under thick layers of colorful vegetation. On one side of the mansion a piece of the facade had fallen off exposing the inner wall which was rimmed by brick and surrounded by laurel leaves carved into the surface. Above this design is a tiny tattered confederate flag held in the fingers of an uniformed arm and above that, you guessed it, a cannon ball.
The foliage in this part of Duchess County was more colorful than down in NYC and the lighting as I mentioned earlier was even more dramatic as the sky was now grey and filtering the suns rays diffusing the light and enhancing nature’s colors making them just pop! There were oak, walnut and horse-chestnut trees that freely littered the ground with their reddish brown nuts. Walking around in the damp cool air, I really felt like fall was here.
The afternoon was beginning to wane and the clouds sprinkled us with drops of rain, a signal for us, along with growling stomachs, to head back down to the ferry and back to Beacon where we chowed down at Poppy’s Burgers & Fries. Oh, those wonderful salty crisp fries! With full bellies we wandered around Beacon for an hour before heading back to the train station where we sat on the water front platform, shivering in the chilly evening air while waiting for our 6:12 train which was going to be 25 minutes late! Mother Nature though, sensing our discomfort sent forth a fiery sunset to warm our hearts.
Enjoy this unique bit of New York history.