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Travels With Bob: Bannerman’s Island, Hidden Gem

 From the distant shore or on a passing boat plying the Hudson River below the quant town of Beacon, NY, Bannerman’s Island looks as though it has just stepped out of a Stephen King horror story. A crenelated castle, or just the remains of one with nothing more than the walls surrounding an empty shell, an odd-looking mansion atop a hill that seems to beckon passersby to tempt fate by entering and winding trails leading up and across the hilltop on the island.

For those who let first impressions guide their decisions, they are missing a truly unique experience.

The island, once host to the Bannerman family’s vast story of military gear, weapons and explosives, is now a destination for the artsy crowd, those drawn to plays, concerts and the like. But let’s keep all of that as secret. Actually, let’s not.

What happens on Bannerman’s Island, unlike Las Vegas, should not stay just on the island.

Beacon, NY, an easy 60-mile drive from New York City by car can also be reached by Metro North Railroad, making it a truly neat and interesting day trip from north or south.

Once in Beacon, make your way to the river just below the railroad station. But a caveat—be careful where you park. Most of the parking area warns of dire consequences if you ignore the signs.

Yards from the Metro North station and parking lot are two docks extending into the Hudson. Make your way to the second, the one on the left. The first caters to a boat club. At the second dock sits an open excursion boat sits ready to take visitors to the island on a smooth, 20-minute ride to the island and its dedicated landing.

Disembarking, the first thing you’ll notice is a staircase that goes back and forth, seemingly endlessly as it works its way to the top. If you don’t like the thought of hiking up all those steps, check out the path to the left…the one with a one-way sign guiding people in the opposite direction.

Officially known as “Pollepel Island,” the former name of the Bannerman family, the island today is a welcoming location to visitors. The main house, the former residence of the Bannerman family, has been undergoing major renovation. A few short years ago it was almost falling apart, but thanks to a dedicated group of preservationists, it is in the throes of becoming a museum heralding the history of the island.

The Bannerman’s, sharp investors, began buying up surplus military uniforms, weapons from guns to canons, ammunition and explosives. Most of this was stored in the “Castle.” The family made a fortune reselling all the equipment to other nations, military and, basically, anyone who had a need for such weaponry. That lasted until the late ‘60s when a mysterious fire and explosion destroyed the contents and turned the castle into little more than rickety walls now standing only by the grace of God and the struts supporting them.

Interesting artifacts have turned up as the renovation continued including old rifle bayonets used in place of rebar to strengthen the concrete and masonry work. Trails around the island offer amazing views of the Hudson River and remnants of docks that once serviced the island’s business operations.

Today the island welcomes visitors to not only tour, but to enjoy concerts, plays and musical performances. With the pandemic scaling down, activities on the island are scaling up. While in the area, don’t skip the town of Beacon itself. Here is a farmer’s market, wooded hiking trails, a contemporary art museum, live music at the Town Crier Café and on the second Saturday of the month is the local arts festival. There is even a quaint glass blower creating delicate designs.

Special boat charters are available for groups on weekdays from May through October. For a complete listing of events on the island, check out www.bannermancastle.org.

 By Bob Nesoff

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