Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Mystery Solved

Whenever I take Amtrak to parts north of New York -- which I like to do as often as possible -- I pass by a small island in the Hudson River that seems to be the home of an abandoned castle. It's a great sight, and I've always wondered about it. Thanks to BLDGBLOG and photographer Shaun O'Boyle, now I know that it's Bannerman's Island:
As American Heritage describes it, "this island fortress was once the private arsenal of the world's largest arms dealer." And that was Frank "Francis" Bannerman.

Bannerman, we learn, "bought up ninety per cent of all captured guns, ammunition, and other equipment auctioned off after the Spanish-American War. He also bought weapons directly from the Spanish government before it evacuated Cuba. These purchases vastly exceeded the firm's capacity at its store in Manhattan and filled three huge Brooklyn warehouses with munitions, including thirty million cartridges." Accordingly, "Bannerman now needed an arsenal." Or, more accurately speaking: he needed a private island.

Bannerman soon purchased "six and a half acres of scrub-covered rock called Polopel's Island, about fifty-five miles north of New York City." But even that wasn't enough. He then "bought seven acres more of underwater land in front of the island from the state of New York. He ringed the submerged area with sunken canal boats, barges, and railroad floats to form a breakwater" – a kind of artificial reef. "The island was under continuous construction for eighteen years."

Photos of Bannerman's Island, copyright Shaun O'Boyle


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