Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bannerman's Castle

Ruins of Bannerman's Castle, Pollepel Island, New York, as seen from Amtrak train 253, 10 November 2010.

Earlier today, my friend Maria and I took the train from Albany, New York to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where we'll be attending the fall meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC). The Albany-Penn Station leg of the journey was, as usual, lovely. The train runs right on the western bank of the Hudson River, and passengers are always treated with a wide array of interesting sights, among them: lighthouses, bridges, boats and ships, all manner of waterfowl, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Ossining Correctional Facility (popularly known as Sing Sing).

Bannerman's Castle, which is located about 80 miles of New York City on Pollepel Island, is one of my favorite sights. Built in the first decade of the 20th century by Francis Bannerman IV, who owned a military surplus business, it housed various types of goods. However, over the course of the 20th century the castle and other buildings on the island fell into disuse. New York State assumed ownership of the island and its structures in 1967, and gave public tours until 1969, when a fire tore through the castle and destroyed its roof and floors.

The island has generally been closed to the public ever since the fire, but thousands of Amtrak Empire Service and Metro-North Hudson Line passengers enjoy a fleeting view of it every day. Despite the concerted efforts of the Bannerman Castle Trust to secure funding needed to stabilize the structure, it's quite possible that the castle will continue to crumble: two exterior walls partially collapsed in late December 2009, and some of the remaining walls look disconcertingly unstable.

At present, however, Bannerman's Castle continues to fascinate children and to encourage busy adults to devote a few minutes to contemplating the fragility and impermanence of all things human.

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