Part of the fun of visiting Bannerman Castle, the abandoned structure perched on an island in the middle of the Hudson River, has always been the feeling that you’ve left civilization behind. Sure, it’s only a 20-minute boat ride from the Beacon dock, and the mysterious edifice is visible every day to thousands of Metro-North commuters on the Hudson Line. Still, once you step foot on the craggy Pollepel Island (now commonly referred to as Bannerman Island), it is easy to get swept away in both the history and the mystery. But things are getting a lot more civilized this summer.
State-Of-The-Art Restrooms Added & More Improvements
While activity on the island—lively historic tours, special events and performances—has been increasing each year, 2019 marks a major milestone. Not only is there a blockbuster lineup of music, theatre, and movie nights, but—wait for it —an actual state-of-the art, two-room permanent restroom has just been installed. No longer will visitors have to follow up Shakespeare or another show with a long trek down a steep staircase to access two portable toilets. In fact, we think the new handicapped-accessible restroom, designed and built by a team of 10 senior West Point engineering cadets, may now be one of the best public bathrooms in all of Beacon!
The last couple of years have seen a host of major improvements to the island. In 2017 a new visitors center/museum opened in the round Bannerman residence building, perfectly situated on top of a hill with panoramic views. (Most eye-catching is a rusty bathtub used in the original house.) A cute “gift shop” area displays Bannerman Island paraphernalia: mugs, magnets, calendars, and more.
Learn The History of Bannerman Island
Here, the history of the island is laid out with old photographs and memorabilia. We learn about Frank Bannerman IV, who built the main castle between 1901 to 1918 to store his collection of antique military equipment, and how his family continued to use the residence through the 1930s. We see how the property fell into ruin after 1957, when the last superintendent retired, and how the interior of the castle was destroyed by a devastating three-day fire in the summer of 1969. Luckily, Neil Caplan, a local real estate broker and theatre enthusiast fell in love with the island, organized a nonprofit aimed at restoring it to its former glory, and first started leading tours in 2004.
Last year, a new stage was installed outside the visitors center. Frank Marquette, who with his wife runs the traveling theatre company Theatre on the Road, had such success with his nighttime production of Dracula there last year —The New York Times cooed: “An exceptionally skillful version of the classic thriller, fascinating”—that he is bringing it back for two more days in September. The company is also producing the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace for four days in July. As an added bonus, the daughter of Boris Karloff, who starred in the 1962 movie, will be on the island for two of those days to talk about why this show meant so much to her father.
Movie Lineup & Events This Summer
Six movies will be shown this year. The season kicks off with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on May 31, and also includes The Wizard of Oz (July 5), Jurassic Park (August 2), House of Wax (September 6) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (September 27). It’s no surprise that—given the sometimes eerie crumbling castle surroundings— the two showings of the cult classic Psycho are almost sold out (June 7 and 8).
Other special events include farm-fresh dinners and musical performances on the third Sunday of each month, from May through October.
No matter what brought you to the island—a show or one of the 1.5-hour guided walking tours— an ever-present added bonus is the natural beauty that surrounds you at every turn. A dedicated team of volunteers tend to the carefully-cultivated gardens, which are sponsored by Adams Fairacre Farms; that’s a good thing, as the island has been designated a monarch butterfly waystation. And of course there are the ever-present views. From Frank Marquette, “The Bannerman experience is completely unique. There is just nothing else like this,” says Marquette. “Of course, there are some challenges—there are mosquitos, there are trains going by—but people are willing to overlook these things because of the gorgeous, exotic setting. And, of course, those views.”