April 22, 2017 9:40 am

Welcome to Bannerman Island. This little landmass sits in the Hudson Highlands and was once known as Pollepel Island, but the name evolved after an unusual castle was constructed atop the tiny island. The structure looks like it belongs in a fairy tale, especially now that nature is slowly reclaiming the towers and turrets, but a new, much darker story has arisen, pushing this place far away from fantasy.

Bannerman Castle has a unique history on its own, but a modern murder mystery has recently landed this one-of-a-kind island back in the news. Before we share the saga that is still unfolding here, check out this amazing aerial footage shot by drone photographer David Erath. It will give you an excellent bird’s eye view tour of this strange place to set the scene for the story to come:

As for the history of this unusual place, let’s start from the beginning.

Francis Bannerman began collecting scrap in the harbor as a young boy and eventually turned this hobby into a business, auctioning off the metal he found. After the Civil War, Bannerman began to buy surplus from government auctions and, by the end of the Spanish American War, he had amassed so much metal and ammunitions that he was forced to move his enormous materials collection outside of New York City limits.

Bannerman, who was born in Scotland, bought the small 6.5-acre island from the Taft family in 1900 to use as a storage site, and designed his castle after those found in his native country. Construction began in 1901 and Francis and his wife Helen lived in a small house on the island while the towers and detailed facade were in progress. Despite the lavish exterior, the castle was never meant to be an ostentatious home – it was only ever used as a warehouse to hold the items that Bannerman bought and sold through his mail order catalogue. The ornate design only served as an advertisement for what Francis called “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal.”

The castle was never actually completed – construction stopped after Bannerman died in 1918. Two years later, a massive explosion, fueled by nearly 200 tons of gunpowder and shells, destroyed a large portion of the castle. The ferry that served the small island sunk in a storm in 1950 and the island was abandoned and left vacant. Pollepel Island was purchased by the state of New York in 1967, and tours were briefly held after the remaining scrap metal was removed; however, a massive fire in 1969 burned down the remaining roofs and the island was once again vacated.

The property is still owned by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. The island and ruins are off-limits to the public; however, trespassers have left their mark on the crumbling structure. In 2009, a major collapse destroyed a large portion of the remaining castle.

As if Bannerman’s Castle isn’t fascinating enough on its own, a new level of mystery was added in 2015, when an engaged couple paddled out for a romantic kayak trip to the island. When Angelika Graswald returned without her fiance, an investigation was conducted and the bride-to-be was charged with the murder of Vincent Viafore, whom she claimed had capsized in the icy waters and drowned. Although she put on quite a show for the cameras, holes in her story, her casual behavior after the accident, and the fact that her fiance was an athletic and experienced kayaker left family members and authorities leery. Inconsistencies in her accounts and statements implicating herself in the murder during interrogation was enough for prosecutors to proceed; however, trial convictions have yet to be made and the case remains open at this time.

This modern mystery certainly adds a dark chapter to the unusual history of this beautiful place!

Categorised in:

This post was written by Nadia Vella