Pollepel Island

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The island and castle viewed from atop Breakneck Ridge

Pollepel Island /pɒlɨˈpɛl/ is an island in the Hudson River. Also known as Pollopel Island, Pollopel's Island, Bannerman's Island,[1] and Bannermans' Island, is the site of Bannermans' Castle.[2][3] Pollepel Island is about 50 miles (80 km) north of New York City[4] and about 1,000 feet (300 m) from the Hudson River's eastern bank.[3] It contains about 6.5 acres (26,000 m2), most of it rock.[3]

The principal feature on the island is Bannermans' Castle, an abandoned military surplus warehouse.[2] One side of the castle carries the words "Bannermans' Island Arsenal".[2][3] It was built in the style of a castle by Gilded Age businessman Francis Bannerman VI (1851–1918),[3] who had purchased the island in 1901.

The name pollepel is a Dutch word meaning "(wooden) ladle". The Bannerman Castle Trust organization, however, ascribes the name to a folk tale about a young girl named Polly Pell having been stranded on the island.[5]

Early history[edit]

Pollepel Island was discovered during the first navigation of the Hudson River by early Dutch settlers in New York,[6] at the "Northern Gate" of the Hudson Highlands. During the Revolutionary War, patriots attempted to prevent the British from passing upriver by emplacing 106 chevaux de frise (upright logs tipped with iron points) between the island and Plum Point across the river (see Hudson River Chains). Caissons from several chevaux de frise still rest at the river bottom. However, these obstructions did not stop a British flotilla from burning Kingston in 1777.[7] General George Washington later signed a plan to use the island as a military prison. However there is no evidence that a prison was ever built there.[6]

Bannerman's Castle[edit]

Bannerman's Island Arsenal
View from the railroad on the eastern bank of the Hudson River
Location Pollepel Island, off NY 9-D, Fishkill, New York
Area 13.4 acres (5.4 ha)
Built 1901
Architect Bannerman,Francis VI
Governing body State
MPS Hudson Highlands MRA
NRHP Reference # 82001121[8]
Added to NRHP November 23, 1982

Francis Bannerman VI[edit]

Francis Bannerman was born March 24, 1851, in Dundee, Scotland, and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1854. The family moved to Brooklyn in 1858 and began a military surplus business near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1865 purchasing surplus military equipment at the close of the American Civil War. In 1867 the business occupied a ship chandlery on Atlantic Avenue engaged in the purchase of worn rope for papermaking. The store on the 500-block of Broadway opened in 1897 to outfit volunteers for the Spanish-American War.[9] The business bought weapons directly from the Spanish government before it evacuated Cuba; and then purchased over 90 percent of the Spanish guns, ammunition, and equipment captured by the United States military and auctioned off by the United States government.[10] Bannerman's illustrated mail order catalog expanded to 300 pages; and became a reference for collectors of antique military equipment.[9]

Construction and decay[edit]

Francis Bannerman purchased the island in November 1900,[9] for use as a storage facility for his growing surplus business.[11] Because his storeroom in New York City was not large enough to provide a safe location to store thirty million surplus munitions cartridges,[9] in the spring of 1901 he began to build an arsenal on Pollepel. Bannerman designed the buildings himself and let the constructors interpret the designs on their own.[12] Most of the building was devoted to the stores of army surplus but Bannerman built another castle in a smaller scale on top of the island near the main structure as a residence, often using items from his surplus collection for decorative touches. The castle, clearly visible from the shore of the river, served as a giant advertisement for his business. On the side of the castle facing the western bank of the Hudson, Bannerman cast the legend "Bannerman's Island Arsenal" into the wall.

Construction ceased at Bannerman's death in 1918. In August 1920, 200 tons of shells and powder exploded in an ancillary structure, destroying a portion of the complex. Bannerman's sales of military weapons to civilians declined during the early 20th century as a result of state and federal legislation. After the sinking of the ferryboat Pollepel, which had served the island, in a storm in 1950, the Arsenal and island were essentially left vacant.[4] The island and buildings were bought by New York State in 1967, after the old military merchandise had been removed, and tours of the island were given in 1968.[6] However, on August 8, 1969, fire devastated the Arsenal, and the roofs and floors were destroyed.[4] The island was placed off-limits to the public.

The castle today[edit]

The collapsed wall viewed from shore

Today, the castle is property of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and is mostly in ruins. While the exterior walls still stand, all the internal floors and non-structural walls have since burned down. The island has been the victim of vandalism, trespass, neglect and decay.[13] Several old bulkheads and causeways that submerge at high tide present a serious navigational hazard. On-island guided hard hat tours were recently made available through the Bannerman's Castle Trust.[14] The castle is easily visible to the riders of the Metro-North Railroad's Hudson line and Amtrak. The sign is easily visible to southbound riders.

Sometime during the week before Sunday, December 28, 2009, parts of the castle collapsed. Officials estimate 30-40 percent of the structure's front wall and about half of the east wall collapsed. It was reported by a motorist and by officials on the Metro North Railroad, which runs along the edge of the Hudson River. [15]

In literature[edit]

Dark fantasy author Caitlín R. Kiernan uses Bannerman's Castle and Pollepel Island as the setting for a number of the stories in her collection, Tales of Pain and Wonder (2000), including "Estate," "The Last Child of Lir," and "Salammbô." In these stories, the castle was constructed by a fictional industrialist named Silas Desvernine and is referred to simply as "Silas' Castle."

"Bannerman Castle" by authors Barbara Gottlock and Thom Johnson was released through Arcadia Press in August 2006. The book contains almost 200 vintage photographs, and the text documents the island's growth and decline. Proceeds from the book go the Bannerman Castle Trust in its ongoing efforts to preserve and improve the island's structures. For ordering information, contact the Bannerman Castle Trust.

Pollepel Island is a murder scene in Linda Fairstein's murder mystery Killer Heat<Fairstein, Linda. Killer Heat. Doubleday, 2008> and the site of a series of abductions in Kirsten Miller's book Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City.

In Philip Kerr's The Day of the Djinn Warriors (2004), Bannerman's Island appears in the itinerary of the Djinn Twins.

The castle is visited and described in depth in William Least Heat-Moon's travel log titled River Horse: A Voyage Across America.

Bannerman's Castle (called the Hammer Armory here) was the site of clandestine human experimentation by the villainous Talia al Ghul and Dr. Creighton Kendall in issues #145 (published August 2008) and #146 (September 2008) of the (defunct) Nightwing ongoing series from DC Comics (in a story arc titled "Freefall," written by Peter J. Tomasi).

Part of Lev Grossman's The Magicians (2009) is set in a wizardry college in upstate New York, along the Hudson River. The school is an amalgam of Bannerman's Castle and Olana.

In Jill Churchill's book Anything Goes, there is mention of Bannerman Castle/Pollepel Island throughout the story. It is a murder mystery set in early 1930s.

In the first book of The Vampire Journals series, entitled Turned, by author Morgan Rice, the Island of Pollepel is used as a vampire covens territory and Bannerman's Castle is their home and training grounds.

Bannerman Island is the home of Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts in L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin.

In music[edit]

Indie Rock band Shearwater used the island to illustrate its 2010 album, The Golden Archipelago, which referred to the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin with his Isle of the Dead.

Progressive rock band 3 recorded a music video for the song "All That Remains" from its album The End is Begun on the island.[16]

In movies[edit]

Bannerman Castle makes a two-second appearance in the Michael Bay movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon as one of the sites, along with Angkor Wat and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, of the Pillars that transports Cybertron to Earth.

The Castle can be seen in the movie Against the Current with Joseph Fiennes

In television[edit]

Bannerman Island is the secret location of George Washington's tomb, built by the Masons, in the fictional drama Sleepy Hollow on the FOX network.[17]


  1. ^ "Bannermans' Island Photographs". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  2. ^ a b c "Bannerman Castle Trust". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Beattie, Rich (2006-07-28). "Kayaking to Pollepel Island". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  4. ^ a b c "Explosions on Bannerman's Island". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  5. ^ Jane Bannerman. "History - Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc.". Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c "Bannerman Island History". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  7. ^ "Underwater Legacy". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  8. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  9. ^ a b c d Bannerman, David B. (1954) Bannerman 90th Anniversary Military Goods Catalog Francis Bannerman Sons, New York
  10. ^ Joseph E. Persico, "The Great Gun Merchant", American Heritage June, 1974
  11. ^ "Bannerman's Arsenal". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  12. ^ "Visit to Bannerman's Castle". Archived from the original on 2006-10-15. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  13. ^ "Panorama from Bannerman's Castle, South Terrace". Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  14. ^ However, they were halted indefinitely June 9, 2008.http://www.bannermancastle.org/news.html#closed "Bannerman Island Tours". Retrieved 2006-11-17. [dead link]
  15. ^ http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/article/20091228/NEWS01/91228026/1006/news01
  16. ^ All That Remains Music Video Metal Blade Records/Youtube
  17. ^ Season 1, Episode 12 "The Indispensable Man". Aired January 20, 2014.

External links[edit]

Media related to Bannerman Castle at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 41°27′19″N 73°59′20″W / 41.455314°N 73.98887°W / 41.455314; -73.98887