On travel: Exciting history just outside New York City

Old munitions castle on Bannerman’s Island.
Photos by Bob and Sandy Nesoff


Somehow or other, destinations at a distance always seem to be more exotic and interesting than those in our own backyards. Nearby New York puts the lie to those assumptions.

Beacon, New York, easily reached by car or Metro-North, brings you to a short boat ride to Bannerman’s Island.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, with its fabulous vintage aircraft, is more easily reached by car, but there are also train options available.

Bannerman’s Island, set in the Hudson River, is home to the remains of Bannerman’s Castle, an imposing fortress that today is little more than a shell of what it was when built in the early 1900s.

Bannerman Mansion-1

The island’s history took it from a refuge for vandals to a home for weapons and munitions and back to vandals once again. Today, it is a state park undergoing a massive restoration to bring as much of it as possible back to its glory days.

The “Castle” built by Frank Bannerman to store military surplus items is an imposing, if dark, presence looming over the river. Most of it today is prevented from becoming a pile of bricks by steel struts supporting the walls that remain.

Bannerman became a multi-millionaire by purchasing everything military surplus, storing it on the island and selling weapons, munitions, military clothing, helmets and whatnot to small armies around the world.

A short walk to the high point of the island brings you to the old mansion house, an amazing building with a commanding view across the river. While this too became a derelict over the years with trees actually growing from inside the building through the roof, it will soon be restored to its former glory. Restoration work is an ongoing project and results are already visible.

The island has been turned into a cultural attraction with regularly scheduled shows running on the third Sunday of the month through October. Everything from Irish and bluegrass to modern acoustical rock is presented. The shows are held in the island’s gardens.

But music isn’t the only attraction. On June 17, Douglas Taurel’s production of “The American Soldier” tells the stories of soldiers and their families, culled from letters written from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan.

Classical buffs can get their fill on July 15 and 16 with a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Other planned shows include “Whiskey Women” on August 19 and “War of the Worlds” on September 16.

The island is easily reached by the Bannerman Castle Trust near the Metro-North station in Beacon. For information check out www.bannermancastle.org.

For something more “flighty” and adrenaline-pumping, there’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome and its vintage aircraft. Founder Cole Palen believed it was not an airplane if it did not fly. Keeping true to his vision, the museum today ensures that a variety of ancient aircraft are still considered “airplanes.”


Okay, let’s face it. Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome isn’t exactly JFK. It’s not even Teterboro. But the road to access it from the Thruway and several major highways is very well marked. Even the Red Baron wouldn’t get lost.

There’s a more than ample parking lot across from the entrance, but you have to go up the hill (drive, don’t walk) to the museum to purchase entry tix. Then come back down, park and walk across the road to the entrance. If you’re there on a weekend you’ll hear the ancient engines revving in preparation for a run down the grass strip for takeoff.

If watching these old craft doesn’t get your blood pumping, go home and play canasta.

There is a great variety of aircraft ranging from an old German Fokker to a recreation of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis undergoing work in preparation for its maiden flight.

Adding to the experience are the era-appropriate flyboys in uniform, old military vehicles and the variety of aircraft sitting in hangars and on the grass waiting to go airborne.

There are four iconic original World War I vehicles: an M1917 light tank, a 1917 Columbia Ambulance that was used to transport wounded, a 1918 Curtis JN-4 “Jenny” training aircraft used in war service, and a 1918 Thomas Morse S4-B American fighter that was shipped to the front too late to make it into the war. On display are more than 60 aircraft and more than 40 antique automobiles from 1900-1938.

Every Sunday from mid-June through October features Allied and Central Powers  fighters in flight and mock combat. On Saturdays, air shows chronicle the history of flight from the beginning to the 1930s.

For those with some adventure in their bodies, take a flight in one of the old craft, circle over the countryside and look down on some of the most beautiful estates in the country. The flights are surprisingly smooth from takeoff to landing. This is a thrill, flying in a double open cockpit biplane, that you’ll long remember. The cost is $75 per person.

You’ll be flying in a 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane powered by a Wright Whirlwind engine of the type that took the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic.

This is one of the greatest family outings available in the northeast. School and other groups can be accommodated on weekdays.

After leaving the Aerodrome, head for the village of Rhinebeck, a short drive away. Check out the old buildings and the quaint little shops. It’ll make for an amazing day to remember.

For information check out www.spiritoftheaerodrome.com; www.oldrhinebeck.org; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rhinebeckaerodrome museum.


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