(New York City) – “Hey, what’s the deal with that castle out there?” Micah Laaker asked his girlfriend on their return train trip alongside the Hudson River last fall. Against a beautiful, foggy, Fall backdrop, a crumbling tower of a forelorn castle rose out of the waters alongside the Metro North Railroad tracks near Cold Springs, New York. This castle, once known as Bannerman’s Island Arsenal, is now the subject of a documentary Mr. Laaker is planning to create.
The documentary, now in preliminary stages, is set to examine the rise and fall of the Bannerman family business, as well as the mysterious history of the island.
The island fortress, now a shell of its former state, was the residence and business warehouse of Frank Bannerman VI. Bannerman was an immigrant munitions baron at the turn of the 20th century, running a military surplus and salvage operation in downtown New York. Spurred by the passing of local laws preventing the stockpiling of gunpowder and arms within the city, Bannerman purchased Polopel Island as a means to stockpile his weaponry and advertise his business through a great masonry project visible to all on the heavily-trafficked waterway.
Built over a span of 17 years, Bannerman’s Island Arsenal took the form of a variety of Scottish castles. Using only Bannerman’s crude drawings formed on the back of his company’s stationery, a group of masons and workmen built the compound with nearly no right angles and a series of optical illusions (making the castle appear much larger from the land). Using brick and concrete, the island’s buildings grew to house both the company’s inventory and the families of the workers (including Bannerman’s now-wealthy family).
Situated at the foot of Storm King Mountain and just north of the Hudson Highlands water gate, the island commands a powerful presence within view of West Point Academy. No longer accessible to the public, the castle complex burned in 1969 leaving only a fraction of the buildings once adorning the island. Of the three original warehouses, only one remains partially intact. New York’s State Parks department now owns the land and is working with the Bannerman Castle Trust to eventually allow the public a closer view of the intriguing landmark.
After spending months researching the history of the island, Laaker finally visited the island with the Trust this past weekend. Spending Sunday helping to clear old foot paths once connecting the various gardens, buildings and residences, Laaker got an exclusive tour of the stronghold, providing rich resource material for the upcoming project.
Mr. Laaker has made a selection of images from his visit available online for interested viewers.