Race continues to save castle on the Hudson

The turreted ruins of Bannerman's castle jutting from a small Hudson River island look like they were built to withstand flaming arrows and battering rams.

In reality, the tall walls and towers 50 miles north of New York City are the remains of a glorified warehouse made to look like a Scottish castle. The toughest assault on this castle is coming from wind, rain and ice, which are causing it to crumble even as advocates race to save the tourist attraction.

Businessman Francis Bannerman VI bought the island in 1900 as a place to store helmets, haversacks, mess kits and munitions he could not store in his thriving military surplus store in New York City (also, city officials were antsy about warehousing gun powder).

Bannerman ordered up a building that would look like an old castle, complete with a moat, turrets, towers and impossible-to-miss letters on the side reading "Bannerman's Island Arsenal." Workers also built a house that looked like a little castle for the Bannerman family elsewhere on the craggy 6.5-acre (2.6-hectare) island.

It was the most unusual summer retreat on the Hudson. The Bannerman family strolled the hilly paths and tended their shrubs in the shadow of a castle storing enough munitions to stage a small-nation coup.

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"The buildings were out of a fairy tale," said Bannerman Castle Trust executive director Neil Caplan. "They were the medieval castle structures that you see here today that are based on castles all throughout Europe, which make up this baronial Scottish design that Bannerman created here as his own wonderful play land."

Bannerman died in 1918. The family sold the island to New York state in 1967 and a fire gutted the castle's interior in 1969.

Today, the island is well known by the trainloads of commuters to New York City who zip by daily. The island is open to tourists in the summer, but only through arranged tours by passenger boat or kayak. Visitors cannot get too close to the castle because of safety concerns.

The not-for-profit Bannerman Castle Trust has been raising money since 1993 to clear paths, replant gardens, stabilize the buildings and make the island visitor friendly.

The trust marked a milestone by fixing up the island's two-story residence. But that $400,000 project is the opening act for the more complex and costly stabilization of the castle. Major chunks of the walls fell several years ago and the remaining walls need to be held in place by cables, cribbing or other means.