Editor’s Note: New York by Rail updated this Aug. 2020 blog experience to include current information.
There are many sights from an Amtrak window seat. Whether passing by the Palisades or West Point, the eye-catching views constantly remind passengers how amazing train travel can be. For example, riding Amtrak, between Croton-Harmon (CRT) and Poughkeepsie (POU), the train passes the famous Bannerman Castle, located on Pollepel Island, a small island in the middle of the Hudson River with structures dating back to the early 1900s. Rich in history and lovely scenery, it’s worth hopping off the train to tour to the island for a closer look.
This year, Bannerman Island will reopen for visiting on May 1st, 2021.
History of Bannerman Island
The castle is named after Francis (Frank) Bannerman VI who was originally born in Dundee, Scotland in 1851 and came to the United States to live in Brooklyn at the age of three. Bannerman collected scrap from the harbor and began acquiring other materials, which he soon transformed into a business known as “Bannerman’s.”
“By chance while canoeing on the Hudson, David Bannerman noted the island,” says Jane Bannerman, granddaughter-in-law of Frank Bannerman VI. “The Bannerman’s purchased it from the Taft family in 1900 as a safe storage site. Mr. Bannerman began construction on a simulated Scottish castle and simple residence in 1901.”
The business was located on the front of the island, where visitors can see the ruins today. The castle provided safe storage for Bannerman’s goods, including equipment and ammunition. Frank and Helen Bannerman resided there with their family during the summer, in a more simple home toward the back of the island. Mrs. Bannerman was an avid gardener. Some of the garden areas still exist today.
Tours and events at Bannerman Island in 2021
In past years, Bannerman Castle held tours, events and event movie nights, all enjoyed by visitors. Back in the summer of 2020, COVID-19 interrupted tours, events and other programs on the island. The Bannerman Castle Trust took advantage of this break and has worked tirelessly to update Bannerman Castle with several preservation projects. Last year, they received a grant from the Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust to complete more stabilization work for the interior of the tower structure’s walls that collapsed in 2010. Additionally, the 2019 West Point Cadet engineering class redid the restrooms. Other improvements consist of a new concrete trail, cleaning and painting of the Bannerman Tour Boat and replacement of life vests on the boat.
Bannerman Castle Trust received a grant from Parks and Trails New York that enabled them to replace cement side walks. Phase one of the replacement was completed in Sept. 2020, with phase two being completed this month in April 2021.
Movie Night at Bannerman Island
Despite the interruptions in 2020, Bannerman Castle is beginning to feature these fun events once again in 2021. This year, Bannerman Island Movie Night returns with tickets going on sale June 1st. Visitors can view up to three movies this summer. One of the featured movies will be Bill & Ted Face the Music, showing on Aug. 20th. Other showings will premiere on Aug. 27th and Sept. 10th. These two movie showings are still to be announced. Potential movies include “E.T.,” “Gremlins,” “Disney’s Snow White,” “Hitchcock’s Vertigo,” “Hitchcock’s Rear Window” and “King Kong 1933.” Be sure to send your two picks to BannermanGallery150@aol.com.
Bannerman Artifact Exhibit
Another great attraction coming to Bannerman Island this year is the new Bannerman Artifact Exhibit. This new exhibit will be featured at the Bannerman Residence during this upcoming tour season. The featured artifacts are loaned from BTC Collector Mike Vashen, and will include several antiques. This artifact exhibit is suitable for all ages, and will provide a fascinating look into the various goods that were once stored in the island’s Arsenal.
Getting to Pollepel Island
This year, Bannerman Island will be reopening for tours and events on May 1st, 2021.
Just like in 2020, this year guests can arrive in private kayaks or small motor crafts. Kayakers should have paddling experience to navigate the surrounding waters. Small motor vessels must be under 28 feet. Both options require reservations in advance to dock.
If you are not an experienced kayaker, consider visiting the island with Storm King Adventure Tours. These tours include kayak equipment, instruction and a tour of the island. Tours begin in May and conclude in Oct. with reasonable pricing for children and adults.
Another way of exploring Bannerman Island is through Hudson Views’ guided boat tours. Licensed Captain Rob Doyle will be providing mid-week, guided boat tours on his 2021 Monterey M4 ’24 Boat. This exciting experience offers amazing memories and an in depth view of the island and beautiful Hudson River views. You can get picked up for your guided tour in Beacon or Newburgh. Be sure to book your 3-hour tour soon, as they are happening in July and onward.
Summer Schedule at Bannerman Castle
Despite these challenging times, Bannerman Castle offers exciting outdoor entertainment options for this summer and fall.
This year Bannerman Castle will be featuring Third Sunday Music Concerts with several talented artists and musicians. Concert dates include, May 16th, June 20th, July 18th, Aug. 15th, Sept. 19th and Oct. 17th. Performers include, the Storm King Duo, SWP and Daryl Brown, the Klettner Brothers, the Toland Brothers, Thistle and Josie & Nico.
On September 4, 2021, Bannerman Castle hosts a Chef’s Picnic Dinner, open to the public and that includes a five-course meal and an art sale, all while helping to raise funds for preservation of Bannerman Castle. The dinner will be hosted by Chef Noah Sheetz and the Bannerman Castle Trust. This year will be the 11th annual Farm Fresh Chef’s Dinner on the island. There will also be live music during the dinner which includes performances by musicians, Judith Tulloch and Tony DePaolo.
Of course, in accordance with the CDC, all events are outside and follow the state’s guidelines for COVID-19.
Book your tickets here!
Upon arriving on the island, expect social distancing during the short overview of Bannerman Castle. After that, visitors can explore the island on a self-guided tour. Additionally, all paths are one-way, with stones marked in blue to label six-feet of separation.
“This has been a challenging year for everyone,” says Neil Caplan, Executive Director of the Bannerman Castle Trust. “We are extremely thankful to New York State for allowing us to open with the protocols in place.”
Bannerman Castle follows New York State’s COVID procedures. Masks are required. Hand sanitizers are located along the paths on the island. Crew members thoroughly clean the Estuary Steward after each boat ride. A maximum of 22 people may ride on the boat at one time, half of its capacity.
Enjoying a Day at Bannerman Castle
The lovely views of Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island and the surrounding areas are hard to beat. The ride over to the island is quick, but gives you enough time to enjoy sightseeing from the middle of the Hudson. During my visit, everyone popped up ready to take photos when we were approaching the island. It is a perfect shot, especially if you catch the Amtrak train passing by at the same time. From afar, the castle looked small. However, as soon as we began docking, I realized it was much larger up close, and I was excited to get an even better look at it.
Once off the boat, we prepared to walk up 72 steps for the closer view. I was glad to be wearing comfortable shoes!
The tour gave me a perfect escape from the mainland and allowed me to dive into a part of history. It was exciting to view the remains of the castle while learning about another life that was once there. I tried to fully depict what it was like with my imagination. If you decide to visit, you might find yourself conjuring up your own thoughts of what was once there.
More than a Castle Tour
I packed a lunch to make a day out of the trip. (Note: Anything brought onto the island must leave with you as well.) To dive even deeper into the history of Bannerman Castle, I dropped by Bannerman Island Gallery before heading out of town, at 150 Main Street in Beacon. It has changing art exhibitions throughout the year, plus I could view other archived items from the island.
Starting in June, there will be three art galleries at 150 Main Street in Beacon. The first of the galleries is the Bannerman Island Paint-Out and will be held on Saturday, June 5th. The next of the three is the Garden and Harvest exhibition, which will be on display from Saturday, Sept. 11th to Saturday, Nov. 7th. The last exhibition is the Bannerman Island Gallery Holiday Exhibitions, which is an open theme show from Saturday, Nov. 13th to Winter 2020.
When I was on the island, I made sure to take a moment when I reached the highest point to take in the panoramic views and see what kind of birds I could spot flying by. I explored the gardens (my favorite part) and made sure to pick the tour guides’ brains about all of it! Exploring Bannerman Island was a wonderful mini-trip, that satisfied me with interesting history and beautiful scenery.
Take Amtrak to Bannerman Castle
- From New York City: Take Amtrak from Penn Station (NYP) to Croton-Harmon (CRT). Transfer at CRT to a Metro North northbound train to Beacon.
- From points north of Poughkeepsie: Take Amtrak to Poughkeepsie (POU). Transfer at the POU to a Metro North southbound train to Beacon.
The Beacon Institute Floating Dock is a short walk from the Beacon train station.