Tours Begin on Mysterious Island in New York
It's a place steeped in centuries of myth and legend; the Native Americans thought it to be haunted; in the 17th century, the Dutch told stories about a tribe of goblins who they believed lived there; and George Washington himself approved a military prison to be built on it during the Revolutionary War. The place is Bannerman Island, also known as Pollepel Island, out on the Hudson River in New York State. If you live in or visited the New York City metropolitan area, you may be one of the millions of people who have seen it pass by from the windows of the Metro-North trains that follow the shore of the river, and wondered just what had gone on out there.
In the later part of the 19th century, locals would have wild and questionable parties out on the Island. Around the same time, Matthew Vassar proposed building a giant statue of Henry Hudson on the Island. When he couldn't rally enough public support for it, he used the same funds to start Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. Eventually, a lady named Mary Taft would purchase the Island, in part, to discourage the behavior that had been going on it - in particular, the fermentation of alcohol.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a surplus military arms dealer named Francis Bannerman, who would end up creating the Army-Navy store type business, purchased the Island from Ms. Taft, after agreeing to not make alcohol there. Bannerman could be described as eccentric. After getting the Island and moving his surplus there, he spent the next 16 years having workers build on it; one of the most notable structures was a Scottish castle-like warehouse; the ruins of which still stand today.
After Bannerman passed away in 1917, it seems like the goblins had their way. A series of unfortunate events befell the Island, including the explosion of 200 tons of shells and black powder and resultant fires around the Island in 1920, the sinking of the Island's only ferry in the 1950's during a fierce storm, a massive fire that consumed the entire castle with 100-foot flames for 3 days in 1969, and after, the Island and its structures sat dormant and maintained for decades.
In the early 1990s, a group of people formed the non-profit group called the Bannerman Castle Trust. Since then, they've worked continuously to stabilize the ruins of the castle, grow and recreate the gardens that once existed on the Island, stabilize and begin to restore the Bannerman family's home that is also on the Island, and create the infrastructure to bring the public to the Island. This year, they'll be hosting walking tours, hikes, self-guided tours, music performances, picnics, dinners, overnight photography workshops, movie nights and more, all out on the Island. In more recent times, the Island had a cameo appearance in Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, the Travel Channel's Off Limits with Don Wildman, and as recently as this past month, Buzzfeed came out to film on location.
The Bannerman Island touring season runs from now through October 2017, with boats departing from Beacon and Newburgh, New York, every weekend at 11am and 12:30pm, and many days during the week. For tickets and more information, click here.
Here's a segment from Off Limits, filmed in early 2011, before many of the improvements on the Island were made.