Francis Bannerman VI purchased the island in 1900 for use as a storage facility for his growing surplus business. After the Spanish-American War Bannerman bought 90% of the US army surplus, including a large quantity of ammunition. Because his storeroom in New York City was not large enough, and to provide a safe location to store munitions, 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. Most of the building were 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 eastern 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 pounds of shells and powder exploded in an ancillary structure, destroying a portion of the complex. 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.
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. However, on August 8, 1969, fire devastated the Arsenal, and the roofs and floors were destroyed. The island was placed off-limits to the public. The castle today 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. Several old bulkheads and causeways that submerge at high tide present a serious navigational hazard.
A substantial portion -- perhaps the majority -- of the remaining walls collapsed in early 2010.
his most fanciful castle now lies in ruins, looming high above the river spreading age old myths and legends about the ghosts and spirits of the island and creating new ones as fresh generations discover this unique and haunting structure. Special boat tours to the island depart from Newburgh in season taking you out and around the island, retelling the tales and giving you the history and lore of both the island and the castle.
From shore, the best vantage point is from the Bannerman Island Scenic Overlook, located on Route 9 north of Cold Spring. Watch for a tiny seldom used rail platform for Metro-North called "Breakneck Ridge." From here you will have your best land view of both the island and castle. In addition, the view includes the great North Gate of the Hudson Highlands and a sweeping panorama across and north up to Newburgh and beyond. A breathtaking view and scenic backdrop for one of the most curious and interesting places in the Hudson Valley.
During the summer months a cruise departs from Newburgh & Beacon taking you out to the island for a walking tour. It may be a little expensive, $40 per person when last we checked, but it is well worth the time and money. If for no other reason, the view from the island simply cannot be matched anywhere else in the Valley.