I’ve taken pictures of Bannerman’s Island from afar – from both the west shore and the east shore of the Hudson. I finally decided to see it up close and took the tour – the island is about a 25 minute boat ride from Beacon, NY and the tour leaves from right next to the Beacon Metro-North station. Although there’s not a lot to see on the island, what there is is interesting and you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in the lower hudson valley. So to me the tour was worth it. The guides give lengthy descriptions of the history of the island, of Francis Bannerman and over the castle like buildings (actually they are arsenals). I’m sure I would have been more interested in the descriptions had I not recently attended a presentation on Bannerman’s Island at the Briarcliff Manor Historical Society
Crumbling arsenal buildings. Note the metal buttresses. About 40-50 percent of the arsenal buildings have collapsed in recent years.
FRANCIS BANNERMAN, the noted merchant and authority on war weapons, is the sixth Frank from the first Frank Bannerman, standard-bearer of the Glencoe MacDonalds, who escaped the massacre of 1692 by sailing to the Irish coast. His descendants remained in Antrim for 150 years, intermarrying with Scottish settlers. In 1845, Mr. Bannerman’s father removed to Dundee, Scotland, where Francis VI was born, March 24, 1851. He came with his parents to the United States in 1854 and has resided in Brooklyn since 1856. The eldest son in each generation is always named Frank. The surname originated at Bannockburn, where an ancestor rescued the clan pennant, whereupon Bruce cut off the streamer from the Royal ensign and conferred upon him the honour of “bannerman.”
Young Francis left school at ten, when in 1861 his father went to the war. He secured employment in a lawyer’s office at two dollars a week, each morning, before going to the law-office, supplying with newspapers the officers of the warships anchored off the Brooklyn Navy Yard, near his home. Summer evenings, after work hours, he dragged the river with a grapple for bits of chain and rope, which he sold to junkmen. When his father returned disabled, he became a dealer in the material the boy collected, with a storehouse at 18 Little Street, also attending the Navy auctions, and later established a ship-chandlery business at 14 Atlantic Avenue. Frank went back to school for a time and won the scholarship for Cornell University, but could not accept owing to his father’s war disability requiring his assistance in carrying on the business.
In 1872 Francis began business for himself, attending army auctions and, noting the destruction of useful and historic war weapons for old metal, began buying them and sending out an illustrated catalog to collectors. He also supplied frontiersmen with fowling-pieces made over from the old army rifles, which he also altered into Quaker guns for boys’ brigades and military schools. The Assistant Chief of Ordnance stated that “Bannerman has done so much good toward training the youth of America with his Quaker drill guns that the United States could well afford to pay him a bounty on each gun made.” He opened stores in New York City first at 118 Broad Street, then 27 Front Street, and finally, in 1897, at 579 Broadway, where he fitted out many regiments for the Spanish-American War. After the war, he purchased from the United States Government over 90 per cent. of the captured war material, and bought historic Polopel Island, in the Hudson Highlands opposite Cornwall, known to the public as Bannerman’s Island, and erected large arsenals patterned after the Scottish baronial castles. This beautiful island, 13 acres in extent, he also makes his summer home. In 1905, he bought 501 Broadway from the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum, who greatly “reduced the price in recognition of his maintenance of a Free Public War Museum.” The building has seven floors, 40,000 square feet, devoted to museum and salesroom. The collection contains ancient and modern weapons from every country covering hundreds of years. All his goods are sold on Government auction sale terms – cash with order. Even the Standard Oil Company in purchasing had to send check with order.
Mr. Bannerman is not only the largest dealer in the world, but is the acknowledged founder of the military goods business and the foremost authority on military supplies. His illustrated catalog, of more than 400 pages, is known to collectors as the best book on the subject. At the request of the Government, he has in preparation a History of War Weapons. He originated the “sealed bid” plan of selling obsolete Government stores. His goods go all over the world. A large number of transactions have been with Central and South American countries; but he has consistently refused to sell to revolutionists, or to minors or irresponsible persons – he recently cancelled a large order, and refunded the money, when he discovered it was from revolutionists. His stock and facilities are so extensive that he once converted a large ocean steamer into a warship and delivered it in one week. At the outbreak of the European War, in 1914, in seven weeks he supplied the French Army with 8,000 saddles, and as a loyal Scot, donated thousands of rifles, cartridges, etc., to the British Army.
While on a business trip to Europe in 1872, he visited his grand- mother in Ulster. There he met Helen Boyce, of Huguenot-Scotch-Irish descent, to whom he was married, June 8, 1872, in Ballymena, by Rev. Frederick Buick who had married his father. They have three sons: Frank VII, David Boyce, and Walter Bruce; one daughter died in infancy. The two eldest sons are in business with their father. Walter Bruce is a physician in Bridgewater, Mass.
Mr. Bannerman is a most genial and energetic man. Notwithstanding his busy life, he is active in philanthropic and Christian work. He is a great lover of boys, and in connection with boys club church work for years has devoted one evening in the week to studying with them the Sunday-School lesson. He is a member of the St. Andrew’s and many other societies, and was an organizer and one of the first trustees of the Caledonian Hospital.
One of the main arsenal buildings modeled on Bannerman’s take on a Scottish castle.
The so-called “Two Towers”. Bannerman built a harbour to protect his boats when they were unloading. This was the entrance. Seen here at low tide.
The residence where Mr. and Mrs. Bannerman stayed when they visited the island.
View from the Residence of Mrs. Bannerman’s Garden, Storm King mountain on the right and the Hudson