From humble beginnings collecting scrap metal, Mr. Bannerman’s fortune mushroomed, taking him abroad where he observed baronial castles. Inspired, he decided to erect a fortress with crenelated towers to house his weaponry. He drew up architectural plans, sometimes on old invoices or napkins, borrowing Scottish, Moorish and Belgian design details. Construction began in 1901. Barges ferried his cannons and artillery up the Hudson, according to a tour guide, Steve Santangelo.
In 1920, the powder house on the island blew up. “The explosion was heard from Poughkeepsie to Peekskill,” Mr. Santangelo said. The castle, too, was affected: its high windows were shattered, as were many more in nearby villages. Mr. Bannerman had died two years earlier and his widow, lodging at the family retreat, narrowly escaped being killed.
Over time, the Bannerman offspring lost interest in visiting their summer idyll. Relics went to the Smithsonian Institution and the island was sold, eventually becoming part of the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve. In 1969, a conflagration, believed to be arson, left the castle a shell.
The island became safely accessible to the public largely thanks to Neil Caplan, a Beacon resident. In 1992, he started the Bannerman Castle Trust, which has raised more than a million dollars to stabilize the ruins and clear the overgrown paths. Today, about 30 volunteers are involved in landscaping and leading tours, he said, which cost $35 and last two and a half hours, including the boat ride, and run from May through October. Upcoming events include horror movie nights and a five-course dinner. Kayak tours range from $100 to $130.
No one lives on the island, except for “Frank, a black rat snake,” Mr. Caplan said. “And mice, but they don’t stay too long with Frank around.”
Beacon, in Dutchess County, is a fine place to round out the day. Main Street is lined with shops, restaurants and art galleries like Matteawan (436 Main Street), promoting notable midcareer and emerging artists. Dia:Beacon (3 Beekman Street) is more of a rabbit hole, another day trip in itself.
Make time for Meyer’s Olde Dutch (184 Main Street), a new diner with a killer crispy chicken sandwich and loaded double-patty burger. The same chef/owner, Brian Arnoff, is rightfully lauded for Kitchen Sink Food & Drink (157 Main Street), featuring a good wine list and seasonal, delicious dishes like creamy sweet corn gnocchi with crab meat. Sit in the serene back patio.
On the return journey from Beacon, if someone looks out the window and asks, “What’s that?” of the castle, now you’ll have the answer.
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