Monday, October 7, 2013

Hudson Highlands & Bannerman's Island

I am so fortunate, once again, to find myself living in some truly beautiful country. When I find myself having to spend a spell in some desert with nothing but strip malls for a view, I should do well to remember that I have lived in such beauty.

I now find myself in the Hudson Valley-- a region in New York which falls along New York's eastern edge and follows the Hudson River from the Adirondack mountains in the north to the Manhattan in the south-- and at my particular juncture, intersects a portion of my own beloved Appalachian Mountains, which if possible, only endears me further to my new surroundings.

I only recently realized how lucky I am to border the spectacular area know as the Hudson Highlands.  The Highlands are a stretch of mountain over a billion years old to the east and west of the Hudson river. While much lower in elevation than my native North Carolina Appalachian mountains, they are nonetheless impressive for the way they shoot straight out of the river with rocky faces, like a fjord, but with rounded tops worn smooth by glaciers during the last ice age.

My mom was visiting, and she's always up for a bit of adventure (even in the rain), so we took a boat to Bannerman Island to check out the castle ruins there. 

A castle in the sense that it played a part in the machinery of war, but it's a modern tale.

The structure was built in the early 1900s by Francis Bannerman IV, who made his fortune by buying and reselling surplus military equipment.

His business was based in Brooklyn, but it became necessary to relocate his warehouse when the state of New York discovered how much black powder his was keeping in the borough.

Not one for subtlety, he looked for a location where he could build a fitting warehouse and somewhere that he could make a statement. He negotiated the purchase of Pollepel Island in the Hudson River, just south of Beacon and Newburgh, and it was there that he built a monument to his empire, an advertisement for his business, an homage to his heritage, and a functional warehouse for his goods.

Being Scottish, the warehouse was fashioned in the style of a Scottish castle, and featured white walls with BANNERMANS' ISLAND ARSENAL painted in large block letters on the side. It was an impressive view in its heyday, visible from both trains lines on either side of the river.

While Bannerman died in the 30s, his family carried on until the 50's when finally the business closed amidst scandal that weapons sold to aid the war effort fell into the wrong hands.

The island was closed until purchased by New York State in the 70s, but was only recently opened to the public, thanks to the enormous effort by the Bannerman Island Trust.

Today, the castle is barely surviving. A major collapse in 2009 lost 30-40 percent of the existing structure.

The island also houses the Bannerman residence, bay, breakwater, and gardens - which have been lovingly restored by the trust's garden volunteers.

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