Pollepel Island is located in the Hudson River approximately 80km north of New York City. It was first discovered by early Dutch settlers from New York City, and was widely regarded by the native population to be haunted.
During the Revolutionary War, Patriots attempted to stop British ships from coming up the river by placing 106 upright logs with iron tips in the river between the island and Plum Point. Loyalists reported this activity to the British, and they were able to move around the barrier without incident.
There is also a story that George Washington had signed off on a plan to use the island as a prison, but this never happened.
Francis Bannerman was born March 24, 1851 in Dundee, Scotland. In 1854, his parents decided to move to the US, and took up residence in Brooklyn. There, Francis' father began a military supply business in 1858 near the Brooklyn Naval Yard. At the end of the civil war, Bannerman's purchased the surplus left overs. They expanded, opening a store on Broadway from which they also outfitted the volunteers going to the Spanish - American war. At the end of this war, Bannerman's was able to buy up weapons from Spain as it evacuated Cuba, and then almost all of the captured munitions from the US government.
The business soon became too large to be storing weapons, powder and other dangerous materials in the newly formed borough of Brooklyn, so they were horsed to find a new place to store it. In November, 1900, he purchased Pollepel Island and the following spring began construction on the self-designed, castle-inspired warehouse. Other buildings on the island were also contructed in the same style including, eventually, his new home.
During World War I, Bannerman provided cannons, uniforms and blankets from his arsenal to the US Government. At the end of the war, in 1918, Bannerman died, construction ended, but the business continued.
In August, 1920, 200 tons of shells and powder exploded destroying a portion of the complex. New laws against the sale of military hardware to civilians were adopted and business began to fall off.
In 1950, the ferry servicing the island, also named Pollepel, sank. From this point forward, the island and its buildings were left mostly unused.
In 1967, New York State purchased the island and began removal of the military hardware left behind. Tours opened the following year. On August 8, 1969, a fire broke out destroying most of the floors and walls causing part of the arsenal to collapse. It was then placed off limits to the public.
Tours would begin again, but now from a "safe distance". On December 28, 2009, parts of two walls of the arsenal collapsed. All structures on the island suffered from years of weather, neglect, vandalism, etc. until the Bannerman's Castle Trust was formed who are currently attempting to preserve and restore the site.
It was a very hot day, and being out on the water did nothing for it. I was sweating almost the entire time I was out there. Despite that, however, I was quickly taken by the appearance of the huge structure that had dominated our view of the river since I had arrived in town. I can only imagine what it must have looked like completely intact during those early tours in 1968, or what wonderful artifacts were uncovered as they removed the contents the year before.
This is a great place to visit, and though it is a tour, if you find yourself in the area, please support the Trust and go.