Bannerman Castle Trust
Bannerman Castle Trust
Evelyn Owen Palen and Jane Campbell Bannerman at ribbon cutting for opening of the Bannerman Island Gardens. Photo by Linda T. Hubbard
The Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. is a not-for-profit “Friends” organization of volunteers working with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Trust is dedicated to bringing together resources and funding to stabilize the buildings on Pollepel Island. The Trust aims to raise awareness and educate the public and government organizations on the value and history of the island. The Trust aims to raise funds for repairing the island, creating a master plan and eventually stabilizing the structures. The Trust is working to make the island safe for volunteers and for the public to enjoy the island as an educational, cultural, historical and recreational facility promoting heritage tourism in the Hudson Valley.
Bannerman Castle Trust
Years ago my good friend, Dr. Sheila MacManus, gave me a book called Day Hops to the Hudson Valley. I have a background in theater and my wife Darlene and I were taking trips to the Hudson valley to find a theater space. In the book was a small drawing of Bannerman Island, by Hudson Valley artist John Guild. Darlene and I both looked the picture and the small description about the island’s history, and thought it would be a great place to do theater. There was one big problem. The castle and the grounds needed to be stabilized before anything could be done.
The island seemed to be claimed by surrounding towns of Cold spring and Cornwall on Hudson. After some research, we found that the island was in the Town of Fishkill, NY and was owned by New York State Parks. I immediately contacted the Parks Department and they told me to write them a letter. I sent a letter to NYS Parks and wrote about all the wonderful possibilities for Bannerman Island. I shortly received a letter back from the Parks, who told me that the Island was “off limits” and it was “forever wild.” I really do not like to take no for an answer, so I started a campaign to “Save Bannerman Castle” and to charge the status of the island from a “scenic ruin,” so it could be opened as an historical, educational and cultural facility. People told me I was nuts and the castle could not be saved.
Photo: Left to right. Bottom row. Bill Bauman, Frank Bannerman VIII, Jane Bannerman
Back row: Jim Moogan, Neil Caplan, Thom Johnson
By chance, I would meet Thom Johnson, who has been a Bannerman Island enthusiast since the 1970’s, along with Mrs. Charles S. Bannerman (Jane Campbell Bannerman), the wife of the builder’s grandson. She loved the idea to use the island for theater and art. With the help of Susan Andersen, Dr. Sheila MacManus, Dutchess County Assemblyman John Ballo, Alison MacAvery, Dorie Papas, Robert McKenna, the Director of Housing and Community renewal in Newburgh, and my wife Darlene, in 1993, we formed the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. to save Bannerman Island, and open it to the public.
We incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1994 and had no contact with NYS Parks until Governor George Pataki took office and appointed Bernadette Castro as the Commissioner of The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in 1995. Mrs. Bannerman’s surgeon happened to be Commissioner Bernadette Castro’s husband. While at an office visit, Jane gave him a copy of “The Story of Bannerman Island” to give to his wife, Bernadette. Commissioner Castro was intrigued and set up meeting to discuss the possibilities to save Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island. In 2005, The Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. became the official “friends” organization for Bannerman Island and New York State Parks.
It was a long road to open Bannerman Island to the public. At first, Parks allowed the BCT to hold a kayak tour of the island once a month. Hudson River Adventures worked with the Trust to bring Bannerman Island cruises to the valley and to promote the history and the Bannerman Castle Trust’s mission. Along the way to opening the island, we had incredible volunteers join the cause to Save the Island, including Wes and Barbara Gottlock, Len Warner, Evelyn Owen Palen (who lived on the island in 1934) and her daughter Virginia Donovan, Frederick Osborn III, and Mike McCormack.
In 2003, John Lawrence built the stairs to access the island and with the help of Jayne McLaughin, the Taconic Park Department Regional Director, the island opened in 2004. In 2007, Donna Blakemore and Barbara Gottlock formed the Bannerman Volunteer Gardeners, who have transformed the grounds and gardens. In 2009, West Point Cadets installed a watering system on the island. In 2011, the BCT stabilized the Bannerman residence and in 2014, stabilized the Tower which in 2010 had 2 1/2 walls collapse. In 2017, West Point Cadets built the Bannerman Bridge with the help of John and Melanie Lanc who provided the funding for the material for the bridge.
Finally, The Bannerman Castle Trust, was able to fulfill my dream to present theater and art on Bannerman Island. The island is a source of inspiration, wonder and mystery and everyone who gets involved has been bitten by the “Bannerman Bug!” Help us continue to “save the castle!”
Neil Caplan, Executive Director and Founder, The Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc.
Experience Bannerman Castle