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Hudson Valley News

Bannerman Castle Trust Opens Tour Season, Plans Restorations

WAMC/Allison Dunne

Bannerman Island in the Hudson Highlands region of New York is open for tours for the season, and many plans are afoot. The island that sits in the Hudson River south of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge is known for its castle that was once the warehouse for Frank Bannerman’s military surplus business.  

That’s the Estuary Steward, a donation to the Bannerman Castle Trust from the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse. The boat was once a floating classroom for Dutchess County BOCES, and succeeds the Pollepel, which Hudson River Adventures has retired. Tours of Bannerman Island in Fishkill began in 2004. Bannerman Island and surrounding environs were once considered haunted, and the island’s true name came about, well, it depends upon which story you believe, whether it be that the Dutch were convinced a tribe of goblins lived there…

That’s Neil Caplan, executive director of Bannerman Castle Trust, who tells the story of sailors being scooped up from the water by ladle-like devices as they fled the ghouls and goblins.

He says Native Americans named it for “Little Manhattan.” And there are more stories.

He goes on to tell how Polly’s father had already promised Polly’s hand in marriage to a reverend. So fast forward the love triangle, to stories within the story, and the endings, some of them, go like this. Brinkerhoff rescued Polly and the reverend after the two had fallen through the ice on the Hudson River.

Wes Gottlock, who also leads tours and has written about the island, explains how the island became known as Bannerman, as Frank Bannerman searched to move his munitions from New York City.

The so-called castle was rocked by an explosion in 1920 and a major fire in 1969.

Moving away from the castle, you may head toward the two-floor, three-bedroom residence at the top.

The residence itself is heavily damaged, though the grounds surrounding it are used for concerts and theatre performances during the summer. Caplan was hoping to open a visitor and information center on the first floor for this season, with a more long-term goal for the second floor.

Where they are is at a third and new departure point for their tours – Cold Spring, in Putnam County, where the boat will depart beginning in June. The other two departure sites are Beacon, in Dutchess County, and Newburgh, in Orange County. Richard Herbek is the Newburgh city manager. He says bringing people to the city’s waterfront is good for the local economy.

The pier for loading passengers from Newburgh to Bannerman Island is along a section of the waterfront lined with bars and restaurants, and Herbek says the added attraction of the Estuary Steward could mean added dollars for local businesses.

Meanwhile, Neil Caplan from the Bannerman Castle Trust says more dollars are needed to help with work on the island.

Tours run on the weekends, and special events range from dinners to photography shoots. There are also three outfitters leading kayak tours.