Every day, thousands of passengers pass a giant castle in the middle of the Hudson River on the MetroNorth’s Hudson Line. While most commuters pass it on the regular, you can always pick out the folks who haven’t seen it before… their eyes practically pop out of their head, and then like clockwork, you see them pull out their phones, presumably to google it. You can almost hear their inner dialogue: “What the hell was that castle? Can I go there?!” The answers: that the castle is Bannerman Castle, and yes you can.
Backing up a bit, Francis Bannerman VI, the castle’s namesake, was born in 1851 in Scotland and immigrated into the U.S. in 1854. The family business purchased surplus military equipment at the end of the American Civil War, including guns, ammunition, and equipment. The business was wildly successful, and it expanded quickly–so quickly, in fact, that the family business had to be moved because of the concentration of explosives in Manhattan was so dangerous. In 1900, Bannerman purchased Pollepel Island for use as a storage facility and a showroom of sorts. Bannerman designed the castle himself, intriguing the public and other businessmen by his aesthetic choice of building a castle instead of an ordinary warehouse. The rest, they say, is history–including an explosion, a fire that destroyed much of the island, abandonment, decay, and the eventual intervention and preservation by the Bannerman Castle Trust.
These days, the newest addition to Bannerman Castle and Pollepel Island is artist Melissa McGill’s art project “Constellation.” Every evening as the sun sets, starry lights emerge from the darkness one by one, hovering over and around the castle ruins. Seventeen solar-powered LED lights highlight existing points on the castle, along with points that have vanished over the years. The result is a starry “constellation” over the island, connecting the past and present. To see it in action, you can take a sunset tour of the island every weekend from May through October 2016; check the schedule here.
Besides the aforementioned sunset tour, there’s several other great ways to see the island. If you’re planning a daytime visit, the Bannerman Castle Trust offers tours that take you to the island by boat, then lead 2-hour walking tours through the island. Adventure seekers will love guided kayak tours by Storm King Adventure Tours, whose tours run both during the day and at night. Any way you choose to visit, you’re in for a treat–because aside from the actual castle, spending an afternoon on the Hudson River surrounded by the mountains is nothing short of breathtaking.
To Get Here: Take the Train, Then Boat or Kayak Your Way to Bannerman Castle
Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island is located just an hour and a half from New York City, making it a perfect daytrip. (Make sure to reference our Beacon, NY guide for ideas of how to spend the rest of your day–or weekend!) To take any of the boat tours, take the MetroNorth to Beacon, where the dock is just steps away from the train platform. To take a kayak tour, you’ll have to cab it (or just rent a car for the day) to Storm King Adventure Centers in nearby Cornwall-on-Hudson. For any of the tours or special events at Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island, tickets go fast and must be purchased in advance!
- Constellation Tours: Sunset tours with a focus on the Constellation art exhibit, some of which are artist-led.
- Storm King Adventure Tours: Guided daytime and evening kayak tours, some of which are artist-led.
- Bannerman Island Trust Tours: Historic tours of the island during the day; special events including dinners, musical performances, theater, and other entertainment.
Escape Brooklyn thanks John Huba (photographer) and Melissa McGill (artist) for the photo of Constellation at night time.