The Loss of Fort Lee

The Loss of Fort Lee


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Fort Constitution, later Fort Lee, was constructed atop the New Jersey Palisades, beginning in July 1776. Its sister garrison, Fort Washington, occupied an elevated position across the Hudson River on Manhattan. Together the guns of the two strongholds were intended to frustrate the British war plan: Control the Hudson River with the Royal Navy to cut the colonies in two, then suppress the rebellion, first in New England and elsewhere if necessary.The New Jersey garrison later took the name of Fort Lee to honor Charles Lee, then regarded by many as America’s most able soldier. Ships were sunk in the waters between the two forts as an additional means to prevent British passage on the Hudson.Fort Lee, however, never saw the opportunity to play its intended role. On November 20, more than 4,000 British soldiers under Lord Charles Cornwallis crossed the Hudson about six miles north of Fort Lee, in hopes to trap the American army between the Hackensack and Hudson rivers.George Washington sent word of the British advance to the Continental Congress and suggested that Philadelphia would likely become the next target. The news came as a shock to many of the delegates, who had failed to grasp how badly the war was going.When Cornwallis’s forces arrived at Fort Lee, they encountered no opposition. Nathanael Greene had led a hurried evacuation of the facility and marched his soldiers toward Hackensack, where he joined Washington. The British were delighted to find 50 cannon, huge stores of flour and ammunition, and vast quantities of other supplies left behind by the fleeing Americans.Believing he had to the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against the rebels, Cornwallis pursued Washington’s army. Lee failed to respond, hoping for Washington’s defeat and his own ascent to command.Washington’s forces retreated across New Jersey, barely managing to keep a step ahead of Cornwallis. His army, which also had suffered from enlistment expirations, was taken over by General John Sullivan, who led them to Pennsylvania to join Washington.Congress ended its agonizing about whether to stay or go on December 12 and departed from Philadelphia. On the 20th they convened in Baltimore.However, British commander Major General William Howe called a halt to Cornwallis’s offensive in mid-December. Howe preferred to concentrate his attentions on the commercial center of Newport, Rhode Island, which had been occupied without opposition two weeks earlier, and on preparations for the winter encampment.Before settling into his winter quarters, Washington would provide a badly needed boost in morale by striking at Trenton and Princeton.


See also campaigns of 1776 and timeline of the War of Independence.


Palisades Empire: The Gangs of Fort Lee

Sunday is the season 2 premiere of HBO's hit series Boardwalk Empire. The show is based on the Atlantic City of the 1920s and Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, an Atlantic City Republican political boss and so-called racketeer. He was the undisputed boss of the Atlantic City Republican machine from 1910 until his imprisonment in 1941. That machine ran Atlantic City during the days of prohibition.

A friend of mine, the Jersey City born writer Helene Stapinski, today wrote a rundown of this era in the New York Times and I suggest you check it out. (Click here for full story in the Times)

What, say you, has this to do with Fort Lee? Well, my friends, our nascent film industry in 1912 produced--via D.W. Griffith--the first American gangster film, The Musketeers of Pig Alley. I wrote of this groundbreaking film in a previous archive piece. This would be just a prelude of things to come for Fort Lee.


Fort Lee

Fort Lee is the third largest training site in the Army it’s primary mission is to train sustainment Soldiers but it is not just a military base. It is also a community, a workplace and a home to military families.

Due to 2005 Base Realignment and Closure mandates, Fort Lee has experienced a lot of growth in the last ten years. It is designated as the Army Sustainment Center of Excellence where they train and focus on military supply, subsistence, maintenance, munitions, transportation and more. In addition to new training facilities, there have also been administrative areas, dining facilities and barracks improved and built on the base.

500 Lee Avenue #5228 Fort Lee, VA 23801

Fort Lee is located along Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell, Virginia. It is also neighboring the counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George.

Civil War Marker

Fort Lee located in America’s Historic Heartland . . . in Tidewater Virginia, twenty-five miles south of Richmond, and very near the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers.
Colonial Beginnings

For thousands of years Native Americans hunted the woods, fished the rivers, built their villages and raised their crops in the vicinity of today’s Fort Lee. Here was centered the Powhatan Confederation, whose tribes met the first European settlers upon their arrival at Jamestown in 1607.

Those who followed in the wake of Captain John Smith and company soon established thriving plantations along the James River and deep into the interior. The land hereabouts provided 17th and 18th century farmers with a rich harvest of tobacco, corn, beans, root plants, vegetables and more. By the time of the American Revolution, Virginia’s population had grown to nearly 200,000.

In April 1781 British troops under Major General William Phillips landed at Old City Point on the banks of the James River (at present-day Hopewell) and marched through Fort Lee property to defeat a much smaller patriot force defending Petersburg. In October that same year Washington and Rochambeau’s combined forces captured Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown – less than two hours’ drive from Fort Lee – and thus secured America’s independence.

Camp Lee WWI MP

Eight decades later another army crossed Fort Lee. This time it was Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Strategically located on the banks of the Appomattox River, 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, the town of Petersburg served as a major road and rail center throughout the Civil War. In the spring of 1864 a combined force of more than 100,000 Yankees marched across Fort Lee in a surprise effort to cut off Confederate General Robert E. Lee from his supply base. The nine-and-a-half month siege that followed was the longest in U.S. history. Four historic markers today trace the route of the United States Military Railroad that crossed Fort Lee bringing supplies to troops along the siege line.

Camp Lee WWI Fire Department
The First Camp Lee

Within weeks after the United States declared war on Germany in the spring of 1917, the War Department acquired a vast tract of farmland in Prince George County, Virginia (between Petersburg and Hopewell) for the purpose of building here one of 32 military cantonments. Construction of Camp Lee began in June. By September more than 1,500 buildings and over 15 miles of on-post roads had been completed. Soon members of the 80th “Blue Ridge” Division – made up of troops from Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia – began arriving for training.

Camp Lee WWI Mail

Before long Camp Lee became one of the largest “cities” in Virginia. More than 60,000 dough boys trained here prior to their departure for the Western Front, and fighting in France and Germany. Included among the many facilities here was a large camp hospital situated on 58 acres of land. One of the more trying times for the hospital staff was when the worldwide influenza epidemic reached Camp Lee in the fall of 1918. An estimated 10,000 Soldiers were stricken by flu. Nearly 700 of them died in the course of a couple of weeks.

Camp Lee continued to function as an out-processing center in 1919-20 following the First World War. In 1921 the camp was formally closed and its buildings were torn down, all save one – the so-called “White House.” During the war, this two-story frame structure served as 80th Division Headquarters and as temporary residence for its Commander, Major General Adelbert Cronkhite. Years later it became known as the “Davis House” in honor of the family that lived there in the 1930s and 40s.

Camp Lee WWI Davis House

Except for the Davis House (which is still in use today) and a handful of overgrown training trenches, there are no other visible signs of all the training and other activities that took place here during World War I. During the interwar years the property reverted to the Commonwealth of Virginia and was used mainly as a game preserve. The only evidence of persons in uniform was the Civilian Conservation Corps camp that opened at nearby Petersburg National Battlefield in the 1930s era Great Depression.

The Second Camp Lee

With storm clouds again rising in Europe, Congress approved the call-up of nearly 300,000 Guardsmen and Reservists in late August 1940, In September Congress passed a Selective Service Act that allowed the drafting of up to 900,000 more men for a year. And in October the War Department issued orders for the rebuilding of Camp Lee, on the same site as before. Overnight the area became a beehive of activity as thousands of civilian laborers swarmed into the Petersburg-Hopewell area and began building at a furious pace.

Even before the first barracks were constructed, raw recruits for the Quartermaster Replacement Training Center moved into tents in the heart of Camp Lee to begin training. In October 1941 (two months before Pearl Harbor) the Quartermaster School moved from Philadelphia to Camp Lee to begin training officers and noncommissioned officers in the art of military supply and service.

Over the course of the war Camp Lee’s population continued to mushroom until it became in effect the third largest “city” in Virginia, after Norfolk and Richmond. More than 50,000 officers attended Quartermaster Officer Candidate School. Over 300,000 Quartermaster Soldiers trained here during the war. There was a Regional Hospital with scores of pavilions and literally miles of interlocking corridors capable of housing over 2,000 patients at a time. Here too was located the Army Services Forces Training Center, the Quartermaster (Research & Development) Board, a large contingent of Women’s Army Corps Soldiers, and for a while a prisoner of war camp and the Medical Replacement Training Center. Camp Lee enjoyed a reputation as one of the most effective and best-run military installations in the country.

Quartermaster Headquarters

Following V-J Day in 1945 troop strength rapidly decreased, but Camp Lee continued to serve as the major Quartermaster field installation and as an out-processing center for those leaving the military.

The Post-World War II Era

Unlike at the end of World War I, there was no immediate decision to dismantle the second Camp Lee. The Quartermaster School continued operation, and in 1947 the Adjutant General’s School moved here as well (where it remained until 1951). The Women’s Army Corps likewise established its premier Training Center here from 1948 to 1954. Also, in 1948, the first permanent brick and mortar structure – the Post Theater – was constructed.

On 15 April 1950 the War Department reached the critical decision to keep Camp Lee as a permanent facility, while renaming it Fort Lee. At nearly the same time the Quartermaster School picked up from the Infantry School at Fort Benning the “supply by sky” mission, and began training airborne riggers here at Fort Lee. Then in June 1950, war again broke out … in Korea. Once again the installation quickly sprang to life as tens of thousands of Soldiers arrived between 1950 and 1953, to receive logistics training for what would later be called the “Forgotten War.”

Camp Lee WWII Training

The 1950s and 60s witnessed almost nonstop modernization efforts as one by one Fort Lee’s temporary wooden barracks, training facilities and housing units began giving way to permanent brick and cinderblock structures. New multi-storied brick barracks were built in the mid-50s, along with whole communities of Capehart housing for permanent party. The new three-story Quartermaster School Classroom Building, Mifflin Hall, was dedicated in May 1961. Kenner Army Hospital opened in 1962, replacing the remnants of the old WWII era facility and the privately-funded, new brick Quartermaster Museum opened its doors in 1963. Some years have seen far more change than others, but the overall process of modernization has continued ever since.

The rapid logistics buildup in Vietnam after 1965 signaled an urgent need for many more Quartermaster Soldiers. Fort Lee responded by going into overdrive. For a time the School maintained three shifts, and round-the-clock training. A Quartermaster Officer Candidate School opened in 1966, for the first time since World War II. A mock Vietnamese “village” was created on post to familiarize trainees with guerrilla tactics and the conditions they could expect fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Part of the sixties-era Quartermaster training program also saw the first widespread local use of automated data processing equipment.

Vietnam QM OCS
Fort Lee at the Turn of the Century

As Vietnam – “America’s longest war” – wound down in the early- to mid-1970s, the Army went through a period of reorganization, also introduced new doctrine, weapons and equipment, and unveiled new training and leader development techniques. In 1973, the Continental Army Command (CONARC) headquarters at Fort Monroe was replaced by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Here at Fort Lee the U.S. Army Logistics Center was created to serve as an “integrating center” for the Quartermaster, Transportation, Ordnance, and Missile and Munitions centers and schools – the traditional combat service support branches. There was a post reorganization and realignment in 1990. The Logistics Center, which heretofore had been a tenant activity, was redesignated the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), and the CASCOM Commander became the Installation Commander as well.

Since World War II Fort Lee installation has played host to a growing number of tenant activities, such as: the Army Logistics Management Center (ALMC), Readiness Group Lee, Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, Gerow U.S. Army Reserve Center, Defense Commissary Agency (DECA), USAR 80th Division, and several other Department of Army and Department of Defense activities. During the 1990s the Enlisted Supply and Subsistence and Food Service departments moved into modern training facilities. New petroleum and water field training cites were constructed. A whole Vietnam QM OCS new three-story wing was added to ALMC. Also the Quartermaster NCO Academy and barracks complex was completed, as well new on-post child care and physical fitness centers. Throughout this period the Quartermaster School routinely graduated 20-25,000 students annually, and ALMC another 10-12,000.

Two other QM School academic departments – Petroleum and Water, and Aerial Delivery and Field Services – each received all new, state-of-the-art headquarters and training facilities after 2000. In May 2001, the Army Women’s Museum also opened at Fort Lee, with more than 13,000 feet of gallery space and thousands of artifacts used to tell the long, proud history of women in the Army.

Two historical forces in particular left their mark on the shape and direction of Fort Lee at the dawn of the 21st Century: first, the Army’s increased involvement in contingency type operations at home and abroad and second, events surrounding the aftermath of 9/11, the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center. Fort Lee has frequently been the site of tailored logistics training, immediate processing and rapid deployment of specialized logistics units and personnel – for operations such Just Cause, Desert Storm, Restore Hope, and many others. That process continues to the present with operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Also, in the wake of 9/11, Fort Lee, like all other military installations across the country, has had to institute new policies and procedures to help protect against any future terrorist attacks. 1990s Captain’s Career Course (ALMC) A new fence was erected to completely enclose the fort. The main gates can no longer go unmanned. Protective barriers have been placed around key buildings. And now all newly constructed facilities must abide by DOD and Homeland Security rules and regulations aimed at averting another 9/11 type disaster.

BRAC 2005 and the Future of Fort Lee

The long term physical improvements that have been underway at Fort Lee over the last half century received a major boost when Congress passed Base Realignment and Closure legislation in 2005. As a result of approved recommendations several new organizations are relocating to and/or consolidating their operations on Fort Lee – including the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School from Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, and most of the U.S. Army Transportation Center and School from Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Dozens of new classroom buildings, headquarters, fitness and dining facilities, outdoor training sites, high-rise housing projects, and more are already under construction. When completed in 2011, at a projected cost of $1.5 billion, the installation will have acquired 6.5 million square feet of new facilities. In that same timeframe the daily population is expected to rise from 32,000 to nearly 47,000.

In the summer of 2007 there was a ground-breaking ceremony on Sergeant Seay Field to begin construction of the new four-story Sustainment Center of Excellence (SCoE) Headquarters building. To help make way for the new structure, the First Logistical Command Memorial – which had been located on that site since 1974 – was carefully unmoored and moved to a more prominent spot facing the main entrance to Fort Lee.

Sustainment Center of Excellence

The $50 million SCoE Headquarters Building took eighteen months to build and was formally dedicated in January 2009. It houses the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), logistics combat and training developments, and command group headquarters for the Quartermaster, Ordnance, and Transportation Corps. The Sustainment Center of Excellence transforms Fort Lee into the third largest training installation in the Army, in terms of student numbers, after Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Benning, Georgia.

In July 2009 the local Command and invited dignitaries gathered to mark the opening of the Army Logistics University (ALU), another recently completed BRAC 2005 project. This 400,000-square-foot building will soon be offering more than 200 courses, is expected to be able to train upwards of 2,300 military and civilian students daily.

The “new” Fort Lee that is emerging as a result of BRAC 2005 is already being hailed as the “lifeblood of Army logistics.” Already proud of its illustrious past, Fort Lee is laying the groundwork for an illustrious future in the 21st century as well.

Fort Lee Garrison Mission

To provide Base Operations Support, Quality of Life, and
Services essential to the entire Fort Lee Community and the
Nation’s Warfighting Mission

To be the recognized leader in Base Operations:
Setting the standard, inspiring success, and championing
innovation as the Army’s Installation of Choice

Fort Lee Point of Contact Information

Area Code 804
Post Information 765-3000
Post Status Hotline (Recording) 765-2679
Soldier Support Center 765-7930
Headquarters USAG 734-7188
Kenner Army Health Clinic 734-9000
Military Police Desk Sergeant 734-7400
SCoE Staff Duty 765-7425
23rd Quartermaster Brigade Staff Duty 734-5647
59th Ordnance Brigade Staff Duty 765-9288/765-9289
Fort Lee Lodging 733-4100
Privatized Housing Office (Pinnacle) 733-1558
Fort Lee Family Housing Office 765-1963/765-1597
Fort Lee Child Development Center 765-3765
Fort Lee Public Affairs Office 734-7451
Traveller newspaper 734-7147/734-7610
Media Relations 734-6965


Army removes two-star general at Fort Lee amid investigation

WASHINGTON — The general in charge of training for the Army’s sustainment and logistics programs has been relieved of duty and is the subject of an official investigation, defense officials said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Paul C. Hurley was fired as the commander of Fort Lee in Virginia by Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to effectively command,” Army Col. Michael Indovina, a TRADOC spokesman, said in a prepared statement. Hurley was also dismissed as commander of the Army’s Combined Arms Support Command.

It was not immediately clear Thursday what sparked the investigation into Hurley or what the general has been accused of doing. Indovina, who confirmed the investigation, said he could not provide further comment.

Army Brig. Gen. Douglas McBride Jr. has temporarily replaced Hurley to lead the command, Indovina said. McBride has been serving as the commandant of the Quartermaster School at Fort Lee.

Combined Arms Support Command oversees training and develops policy for the Army’s logistics corps. It includes the Army’s Ordnance Corps and School, the Quartermaster School, the Transportation Corps and Transportation School, U.S. Army Soldier Support Institute and Army Logistics University.

Hurley took command of the Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee in May 2017. He was commissioned into the Army in 1986 and has served deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


The Lostinjersey Blog Urban Exploration & photography. Jersey History. The Environment. oh and bacon.

The NJ Palisades is a 13-mile stretch of land from Fort Lee, NJ that extends North into NY State. It is home to a variety of wild animals including red and grey foxes, and also is a great place to watch turkey vultures and hawks throughout the year and particularly in September & October as they migrate South for the winter. It exists today due to the efforts of several parties who were concerned over the destruction of what they felt was a very rare part of nature in this over developed area. Those people include the noted philanthropist John Rockefeller, Peter Henderson, and the NJ Women’s Federation.

I strongly encourage you to walk the various sections of the Palisades. Each has it’s own characteristics, personality, as well as unique things to see. This write-up will explain in great detail what it is you are going to see, as well as make note of some interesting events that have occurred in this area over the years. If you’re hunting the geocaches hidden here, understand that this is not meant to be a typical cache hunt. The journey is more of a reward then anything you’ll find in the cache itself. Also note that a lot of what is contained in this write up will be the basis for an article that will be appearing in Weird NJ issue 19. The basis for this write-up was information I found at the home page for the Palisades. You can find a lot more detail on the subjects covered if you go there…

Verazzano & Henry Hudson were the first European explorers to “discover” the area, and in the 1600 & 1700’s, many people came from Europe to settle the area. The Dutch West India Company issued land grants to settlers who came to what is now Dobb’s Ferry, NY. The European settlers found the river that flowed north was a good place to settle because of its convenience, it provided a source of food, and the land was fertile in the valleys. (The river & the valley were eventually named for Henry Hudson.) The high points were difficult to farm because of the dense rock called diabase, but their dense forests though provided a place to hunt as well as source of wood for heat & for building.

The presence of European settlers put them in conflict with the Lenape Indians, descendants of the first humans to travel across the land bridge between Asia & North America 15,000 years before. Some settlers took land by force, others by trade & bartering, so it was not always a peaceful co-existence. By 1800, the Lenape virtually ceased to exist in the Hudson valley because of disease & fights with the white settlers. By 1750, the forests in the region were being clear cut for a variety of reasons, and by the 1800’s the Palisades cliffs were being quarried for the rock, which was valuable as a building material.

PRESERVATION EFFORTS:
THE NJ WOMEN’S FEDERATION

The effort to preserve the area began in 1898. Over the years, there have been 4 famous profiles on the cliffs. One cliff face allegedly look like George Washington, and another looked like a stoic Indian face. Later a profile of Hitler appeared and currently another Indian face can be seen. In 1898, Carpenter’s Quarry blew up the profile of George Washington despite much protest against it. A year later they blew up the Indian profile. This angered the NJ Women’s Federation so much that they circulated a petition to stop the quarrying that was going on. December 24, 1899 was the last day of quarrying, and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission was formed.

Your best spot to start is Fort Lee Historical Park. There is a visitor’s center, which has a lot of information on the historical importance of Fort Lee. I won’t try to tell you everything because it would take to long, but I will mention one important event that occurred here…

In 1776 we were at war with the British. American forces had forts on both sides of the river as well as in Staten Island. King George figured that if their naval vessels could control the waterways they could isolate the various groups of soldiers, thus cutting them off from support or escape. Cannon fire from the shores would be ineffective against naval vessels, so General Washington tried damning the river by sinking ships, but it didn’t work. In August of 1776, 31,000 troops landed at Staten Island and the American forces had to retreat. By November Fort Washington in Manhattan had fallen to the British. Realizing Fort Lee had little strategic value without Fort Washington, General Washington prepared an orderly retreat. Cornwallis’s forces landed at Huyler’s Landing on November 20, 1776 and captured the American soldiers who had not yet retreated. A lot of men & equipment were lost. It was a very tough time for the Americans, and it was during this dark period that Thomas Paine said the phrase “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

MORE PRESERVATION EFFORTS:
JOHN ROCKEFELLER, PETER HENDERSON & THE MOB

John Rockefeller acquired many of the estates that lined the top of the cliffs and in 1933 agreed to donate them to the Park Commission but with two stipulations. First, a scenic parkway was to be built from the GW Bridge to Bear Mountain. Second, all the estates had to go. The commission sought out the other estates not owned by Rockefeller, including the Penlyn Estate owned by Herbert Oltman. (This estate was not destroyed and eventually became park HQ.)

As we all know, the area along the cliffs south of here has become highly developed. The Palisades Amusement Park (where my father in-law worked as young man) existed just south of here before being sold off in 1971. The area now contains numerous high-rise condos and housing developments. Efforts to develop Fort Lee and the cliffs to the south began long before this…

In 1953 the Fort Lee town council was considering selling the land that is now Fort Lee Historical Park to developers. Peter Henderson, a journalist & Army news editor, was angered that a site of historical significance was about to be destroyed forever in the name of progress. He went to the Town Council meetings, and his wife realized that the perspective buyers were members of the mob. Henderson explained to the council the historical significance of the area. As he left the meeting, a person who represented the Rockefellers asked if there was proof that this site was used by Washington during the Revolutionary War. Henderson said he didn’t think so. The representative said if he could find the proof, the Rockefeller family would buy the area, and have it added to park lands.

Henderson went to the archives of the Library of Congress and found the necessary documentation. It took three years of fighting, and the town council waffled between patriotism and finances. Ben Marden, owner of the Riviera nightclub (which sat directly across here on the others side of the entrance to the GW Bridge) commented few people knew that Washington had watched the fall of Fort Washington across the river from this bluff. As the debate continued, the Ft Lee residents realized that had Cornwallis captured Washington in Fort Lee, the war might have ended very differently. The Park Commission already owned land directly north and south of the bluff, and eventually public sentiment swayed the council and the area was added to the Park. From here you get a wonderful close up view of the Bridge as well as Manhattan. I can’t imagine what the view was like 200 years ago, before the rise of the skyscrapers, and before the bridge was constructed. What must Washington have been feeling as he watched as the British over ran Fort Washington?

THE ESTATES OF THE NJ PALISADES

Most of the estates that lined this cliff edges were completely torn down by the decree of Rockefeller. There are a few exceptions. The Blackledge-Kearney house (which is now an exhibit at the Alpine Boat Basin) the Herbert Oltman estate (which was turned into Park HQ in 1939) and the estates of George Zabriski, Ernest Cadgene, and the gardens at Peanut Falls, which were abandoned but not completely destroyed. Most of the other estates are nothing more then foundations and many are completely obliterated. This writeup will detail all of the former estates as possible. Your quest begins on the rocky crag on the opposite side of the entrance to the GW Bridge.

From Fort Lee Historical Park and walk under the roadway that leads onto the GWB. Immediately after you pass the bridge, you will see a covered pedestrian walkway that leads over the Palisades Parkway. There is a sign that indicates the GWB walkway is closed. The same walkway also leads to the start of the NJ Palisades trails, so this sign does not apply to you. After 9/11 there used to be National Guardsmen here, but when I revisited this area in July, they were no longer guarding the bridge. As is the case with many of the estates, all that is left is an occasional piece of foundation or wall. Often they are barely discernible against the backdrop of the rocks that naturally protrude thru the soil. Within 100 yards of the entrance used to be the Riviera Nightclub. Ben Marden had bought an existing restaurant called Villa Richard, at the top of today’s Carpenters Trail, and renamed it the Riviera. It burned down in 1936. He rebuilt it to the south of that location and re-opened the new “Ben Marden’s Riviera” in 1937. Among its features was a revolving stage and a roof that could open up for nighttime-starlight dancing. It closed during WWII, then was re-opened by Bill Miller, who owned it until it was torn down for the Parkway in the mid-50’s. Thanks to the efforts of Peter Henderson and the Rockefellers, both sides of the bluff now belong to the NJ Palisades, and aren’t high rise condos or half million dollar mansions like the rest of the area south down to Bayonne.

Eventually the trail passes a bridge that allows you to cross the Palisades Parkway. Ignore it and continue onward over a small bridge with a stone railing. Immediately afterward is a pillar off to the right. There used to be a cannon on the pillar, a monument to the Spanish-American War – it was moved to a park in Fort Lee a couple of years ago. Farther north you will encounter a pair of stone walls built over 100 years ago.

William Allison was the first mayor of Englewood Cliffs, and he sold some of his riverfront property to the Carpenter Brothers for their quarry. Originally his estate was the site of the Palisade Mountain House, before it burned down in 1884. Allison’s estate burned to the ground in 1903. Parts of the Estate still stand in Allison Park farther North from here. Feel free to check it out, then go back the way you came to your car. Your exploration continues by driving north. Notice the stone wall on the right as you travel. Right on the Fort Lee border, the wall has several entrances or cut-thrus in it. I have no idea what this wall was for, or where the entrances led. Was it part of a military fort used by Washington? Was it meant to show the border between towns? Or was it the wall on the edges of someone’s property? I think the later is the most likely, since the area it surrounds was where Allison had his estate. Again, I don’t know, but speculating is a lot of fun… His former house still stands in Allison park, a tiny quiet park sitting next to St Peters

This place is located just north of the Rockefeller Lookout. Walk North about ¼ mile. (note that the trail bears right then hooks left right next to the Parkway.) You cross 3 sets of wooden planks and then you’ll see the former estate of Dr Ernest Cadgene. This estate is the most intact one you’ll find besides the Zabriski estate in TTT. Not much is known about him or his estate.

HUYLER’S LANDING & THE FLU OF 1918

If you park at the Alpine Boat Basin and walk south along the Hudson River about a ¼ mile you will encounter Jordan’s Plaque, attached to a giant boulder on your right side. It is dedicated to the park’s first Commissioner who slipped on an icy patch and died. Traveling further south you will eventually pass Huyler’s Landing. The remains of this dock are only visible at low tide. This was the landing point for Cornwallis when he invaded NJ after conquering Fort Washington across the river. (though this is sometimes debated). There are many docks from the GW Bridge north to the Tappan Zee Bridge. Most are only pilings and can only be seen at low tide. Most were used either for ferry service into NYC, or for the boats that took away the rocks that came out of the quarries.

The dock here had another military use many years after Cornwallis used it to invade Fort Lee. Click here to read about Camp Merritt.

Further south of here, during Christmas 1910, Columbia University students who were studying the rocks along the river edge found the skeleton of a dinosaur. Paleontologists examined the find, and the bones were classified as being approximately 100 million years old. The dinosaur was described as a cross between a crocodile & an ostrich, approximately 30 to 40 feet long and 15 feet in height.

Discovered about a ½ mile south of the GW Bridge, the bones were taken to the Museum of natural History still encased in a block of stone weighing over 5,000 lbs. After further examination, the find was found to be nearly 210 million years old, and is the oldest & one of the most significant finds in the northeast region. A skull of a similar creature was found in North Bergen in 1963, and other local finds have included a coelacanth and an Icarsaurus.

This area especially the Boat Basin were key to a huge film industry in the early 1900’s. Thomas Edison invented the camera in Menlo Park and the film industry used this area for filming because of its beauty and it’s proximity to NY. The term cliff hanger was coined because of the many climatic scenes in movies that involved people poised dangerously on the edges of these cliffs.

One amusing story surrounds “The Perils of Pauline”. In 1914, they filmed the movie in this area, and it’s heroine Pearl White filmed most of her own stunts. In a promotional event that went awry, she was set adrift in a balloon and soared as high as 4,000 feet before landing safely in Manhattan. The movie was a box office hit, with over 15 million people going to see her serial adventures.

Eventually however, filmmakers turned towards Hollywood and the NJ film industry died off. In recent years a few films have had scenes filmed in and around this area though. The opening scenes from the movie Big, where a Zoltar game at a carnival grants a boys wish to be big, was filmed at the Alpine Boat Basin. Scenes from Goodfellas, The Juror, Ransom & Copland (which is actually set in Fort Lee) have also been filmed here as well.

You will find the trail crosses the roadway and goes up the cliffside. Follow it and when it hits the top, head north. Eventually you will see a concrete path leading 10 feet past the cliff’s edge & surrounded by a railing. When I came here it was extremely foggy, check out the pictures. This is all that remains of the estate of Manuel Rionda, who lived just south of here. Rionda was a major dealer in sugar. At his estate in Alpine, he built a stone clock tower devoted to his wife Harriet who died in 1910. This tower was featured in an article in Weird NJ issue 10/11, and can be found off 9W on Esplande.

Next up is the George Zabriski estate about 1 mile north of here. You will walk past the Alpine Lookout where there are mounted binoculars for close up viewing of NYC. Supposedly there are a number of “abandoned estates & driveways” between the Rionda estate & the Zabriski estate where you are headed for. I found an interesting foundation along the way about a 1/2 mile in, but that was all I could find. As I said earlier, it’s very hard to spot stones used in building constructions when there are thousands of similar rocks jutting out of the ground everywhere naturally.

Logically any old estate would have left a clearing in its wake when it was bulldozed. I found such a clearing a little farther down the trail. I also noticed a number of felled trees that lay next to each other either in a line or at a right angle. The way they lay seemed just too perfect as if laid there intentionally. They just don’t look natural the way they sit there. Maybe it’s just me, but keep your eyes open and you’ll see what I mean as you walk towards the Zabriski estate… (If you do spot anything clearly please email me its coordinates & I’ll include them in future revisions of this write-up.)

When I visited the Zabriski house it very quite foggy, which only enhanced the creepiness of this home. As explained earlier, the Rockefellers required all estates be demolished, how this one survived I don’t know. I walked in and around the estate & it appears safe, but be very careful. The steps are crumbly and are leaf covered, adding to the slipperiness. I walked on the roof and there are numerous holes, some of which were partially covered by leaves. I also saw evidence that people had been there.

The Park Commission tells me they don’t believe any one is squatting there, but they do know that some individuals go there and light candles. What they do there we don’t know. I don’t believe there is any danger here, but I was a little uncomfortable exploring much because I didn’t know if anyone was around. This is another reason why I recommend doing this hike with a partner…

George Zabriski was a an executive officer of the Pillsbury Co. back in the early 1900’s. His estate was built from rocks taken from this very area. The estate must’ve been quite palatial and impressive in its day. Even now, with it’s columns lying on the ground and the “estate” in ruins, you can get a sense of what it must’ve been like. The building is quite solid and has weathered the past 50+ years well. You may walk to the orange trail and it will lead you to Boat Basin.

THE BLACKLEDGE-KEARNEY HOUSE

You could conceivably do the next hike the same day as the first if you wish, if you’re starting fresh park at the Alpine Boat Basin. The trail begins just behind the Blackledge-Kearney house. The house was built around 1750 or so and was acquired by the Park Commission in 1907 and later restored. You can go inside & tour the house during the spring & summer months. Just North of the house, where the stone picnic pavilion stands used to be a gristmill. Grain was brought down from the farms of Bergen County, ground up, then shipped from the docks here to New York markets. Most of the riverfront dwellings here housed fisherman who worked the Hudson River. The Park Commission razed all these homes in an effort to create a “public playground” and to make room for recreation facilities.

It’s interesting to read it because history told us that Cornwallis army landed here and went up the mountain on Alpine Road, but I told you something very different earlier. There are two theories on what happened, and recent evidence supports the story I told.

This hike is a bit longer then the first one. Take the trail behind the picnic pavilion at the Alpine Boat basin. After 1/4 to 1/2 mile is a small set of stairs that leads to a small structure built in the 20’s from rock. It was used to store dynamite used in quarrying. Farther down the trail at is a stone incinerator. It is just off the Alpine Approach Trail (orange), just south of the first switch back as you go up the trail from the Shore Trail. I thought that the dynamite shed was the incinerator. I haven’t had a chance to get back here yet… Anyhow… I point these out because these structures are a relic from another time. As amazing as it might seem to us today, the public would burn it’s trash in these incinerators. Built in 1934, they were phased out in the 60’s. Today the park’s trash is hauled to a transfer station like the rest of our trash is. To give you an idea of the volume of garbage generated by the park goers, in June 1988, 23 tons of trash was hauled away. Another interesting note: much of the shoreline was too narrow for picnic groves & ball fields, so barge after barge of New York trash was brought over & used as fill (after it had been burned that is). Ross Dock just beneath Fort Lee Historical Park is composed of debris & refuse from Carpenter’s Quarry…

THE BEACHES & SHAD FISHING

There were many beaches along this stretch of river in the 20’s & 30’s. The Englewood Boat Basin was home to Bloomers Beach, named for a family that lived in the area. In a typical summer, the beaches had easily a half million visitors. They came by ferry from New York, but once the GW Bridge opened attendance began to drop. Fewer ferries ran from Manhattan to these docks, and the growing use of the automobile allowed the locals to travel further away. In addition many pools opened in NYC cutting into the attendance at beaches here. In 1944 the beaches were closed because of “pollution from the war”.

In reality all of the above factors led to the beaches demise. In the years since we have become much more aware pollution, and can measure it much more accurately. What changed was our ability to detect it, not necessarily the amount of pollution. In the years before the pollution was so bad, Shad fishing could be quite lucrative. Continue walking north and you will find a few unmarked trails that lead to the water’s edge. Most of them are old docks that handled ferry service in the early 1900’s.

Continuing your journey onward, the trail will split. The lower trail stays more towards the shore & you may find more unmarked trails that lead right to the river. The trails converge about a half-mile north so it doesn’t really matter which way you go. This area was known as Cape Flyaway. A great many fisherman, hunters, and quarrymen lived in this area. Cape Flyaway was a small village of homes for these men and their families. Fishing was a popular source of work before the quarries were opened. The trails led to the piers and shanties where the fisherman plied the river and lived.

Native Americans knew that Shad spawned annually in the upper parts of the Hudson River. They spread their nets in the spring and the settlers soon learned that the Shad Run could make or break a fisherman. By the 1930’s fishing in the Hudson had become a losing proposition, or so most people thought. The river had been “fished out”. Cape Flyaway was gone, and the Interstate Park was in. Abandoned nets and sheds lay in many coves along the river’s edges.

During the Depression, with money tight (or non-existent for some), a handful of locals wondered whether the river was indeed fished out. They scrounged up some nets, and started fishing. This was 1931. Six years later a complete rebirth of Shad fisheries had occurred. Some fisherman lived in little shanties near the Giant Stairs, other in barges moored off the shoreline. What began as a lark had revived an industry.

Once you have walked about 2-3 miles the trail becomes a wide meadow only a few feet above the water’s edge. Take the blue & white trail, which leads up the cliff face. This is a giant set of stairs, but it is not THE Giant Stairs. I’ll explain what I mean later on… Once you reach the blue trail, head South and you’ll find a stone structure. This is the monument to the NJ Women’s Federation. I explained their role in the preservation of this area earlier. Continue South till the trail splits into three trails, bear left & walk 75 feet. About 10 feet off to the right you’ll see an old swimming pool. This is the largest relic left from the Cora Timken estate. Someone encountered this site & wrote about it in Weird NJ issue #9 but had no factual information. All they could do as describe it and wonder about why it was abandoned who owned it, etc. I’ve been in contact with the writer, Stuart Schneider, and he may be gtetting me some picture of the Cora Timken house before it was torn down. Here’s the real story.

John Burnett was a young osteopath and scientist Cora Timken an artist & sculptor. She designed the buildings, including a copper roofed lab far from the main house. In it her husband experimented with the healing properties of electro magnetism. He believed he might find a cure for all of mankind’s ailments here, and the lab was constructed using no magnetic substances that might interfere with this work. She designed an igloo type structure for her to work on her art. She also designed the swimming pool (still there) shaped like a serpent. In 1939 his lab burnt down, a tragedy compounded by the fact that a lot of her art was stored there.

The state wanted to build the Palisades Interstate Parkway as part of their agreement with the Rockefellers, and the plans had it going right thru their property and the site of their bomb shelter (which exists beneath you somewhere, over 100 feet long carved by hand out of the rock). A legal fight ensued, and they were given 1.5 million in compensation, a year after Cora Timken died. The state razed parts of the estate but abandoned plans to completely demolish it. I didn’t find much in the immediate area where the pool is located, but I believe there are more remains around here….

Continue South on the left hand trail till it rejoins the middle trail about ¾ mile down. Bear left. If you’re interested, after about 75 feet a small trail branches to the left. This leads to Ruckman’s Point: a dead end canyon, which you saw as you walked over here. Head South and & continue to about 1/2 mile or so. Directly in front of you is the former estate of the John Ringling. (Yes of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus fame) To your left is the Grey Crag Bridge, made of steel girders. It crosses a 20-foot deep crevasse. It is the opinion of one person that if you are afraid of great heights and would be uncomfortable standing on the edge of the world, (there are no fences or guard rails in this area) you shouldn’t cross the bridge. (Those who are adventurous will get fantastic view. )

Once you’re done head further South and eventually you will encounter the Park HQ. This is the old penlyn estate, probably one of the only estates that wasn’t torn down. Take the orange trail South to the shore trail, and you’re a few hundred yards from your starting point. Note: if it gets late and dark don’t even think of walking the rest of the way on the Parkway. It’s not allowed and the cops will pick you up. (Yes I have personal knowledge of this…)

The 3rd & final leg of this hike begins at the LookOut Inn north of here on the Palisades Parkway. The Inn serves as a snack bar on weekends so you can grab quick bite if you need to. As you exit the Parkway you will be driving on part of the old 9W, which was built in 1926. Lookout Inn was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1937 right on the side of 9W. Rockefeller had required that a scenic parkway be built from the GW Bridge to Bear Mountain. 9W was in the way, so in 1950 they moved it a mile west.

This area is home to annual hawk watching in the early fall. Thousands are birds are migrating South for the winter & it is during this time of year that hawks, owls, eagles, falcons and turkey vultures can be found in great numbers. The high cliffs and clear skies make it the perfect place for birds of prey to scan the sky for a meal.

Head North and you will be walking on the old 9W. After a short distance, you will need to enter the trail on the right. Walking on the Old 9W is completely eerie, almost creepy. Don’t do it now (you’ll miss the 2nd clue) but in the future try walking it. When you start seeing abandoned picnic tables, tell me it doesn’t feel weird to walk on an abandoned highway. Eventually you can exit the roadway, and descend a steep trail. After you cross a stream, turn right onto the first trail, and it leads down to Peanut Falls.

On the other hand, you can stay at the top of the cliffs and get good views of the Tappan Zee Bridge. You will be walking on a main trail that travels rather close to the cliff edge. There are many unmarked trails that take you even closer. You will get some great views of the TZ Bridge north of you. Once you note it down, make sure your shoes are tied tight. This next stretch is easily the most dangerous stretch in the park. You’ll be going down a very steep and twisty set of stairs. Once down on ground level, the trail heads west, and over a stream, then heads back down to the water’s edge. Along the way you’ll be boulder hopping thru a stream (when it has water in it) then down an incredibly steep incline made passable only because of wooden boards installed to serve as anchors. Watch your step in this section.
PEANUT LEAP CASCADE (HALF MOON FALLS)

The ruins at the base of this waterfall go by numerous names including the Peanut Leap Cascade and Half Moon Falls (named for the boat used by Henry Hudson). Mary Larence-Tonetti, a sculptor whose family owned an estate in Sneden’s Landing, built it. She designed this as Italian gardens meant for entertaining.
THE GIANT STAIRS

Head South and you’ll eventually cross back into NJ. The next mile or two is a big boulder scramble called the Giant Stairs. I must make a side comment here. Why do they call it the Giant Stairs? This is a mystery to me since it has no stairs, and right after it is a huge set of stairs that goes up the cliff face. Any intelligent person would look at this and think that these are the Giant Stairs. But no… they ignore the actual stairs and attach that moniker to a boulder scramble. Weird….
FOREST MEADOW

The grassy meadow you will soon walk into was a popular area to play and relax years ago. Somewhere between the end of Giant Stairs and the actual stairs you might find the remains of a fence and an old softball backstop. Try to imagine coming here to picnic. Remember that you’ve just walked 3 miles. The only other way here lies ahead of you: the hike up the side of the cliffs. That’s it, unless you had a private boat. (Excursion boats also dropped people off here.)

Eventually as private boats become more common place after the depression, a marina was built to accommodate them. The marina closed in 1940 but the area still received a fair amount of use after WWII. By the 1960’s people were driving to the Jersey shore or to Long Island, and the area felt into disrepair as no one came to picnic any more. This area, like so many of the other popular spots in the Palisades, was no longer visited, and became abandoned… You now have the clues to the final location. Walk South towards the stairs you climbed earlier. You will immediately enter a clearing free of trees. After 200 yards, you exit the clearing and are again under the shadows of the trees. Immediately turn around and look at the cliffs behind you….
HITLER, GEORGE WASHINGTON & AN INDIAN

You may notice what looks like the profile of an Indian amongst the craggy cliff face. A similar profile of an Indian & George Washington was the turning point in getting the quarries closed. In 1898 John Carpenter blew up a rock face that beared resemblance to George Washington. He did so despite protests against it. A year later he blew up a profile of an Indian. The NJ Women’s Federation was outraged at the destruction of the area, and this was the final straw. They organized a campaign to declare the area a nature preserve, one of the first efforts of its kind in this country. They were successful & Christmas Eve 1900 was the last day of quarrying.

Another profile on these cliffs is much more disturbing. A rock slide occurred on one cliff face in July 1939. Two years later a Yonkers Ferry crew noticed that the rock face now bore an uncanny resemblance to Adolph Hitler. Was this just paranoia and suggestibility from our involvement in WWII? The profile was 160 feet high and 50 feet wide. We’ll never know because on March 15, 1947, another rock slide obliterated this cliff face, 2 years after the defeat of Hitler by the Allied Forces.

After seeing the Indian profile, you should have reached the stairs. Climb them all the way to the top and you’ll exit onto the Old 9W which leads to where you parked. At this point our journey ends. I hope you have enjoyed the sites you have seen, and the information I have provided here. If you have questions or comments about the area, my write-up things I’ve missed please tell me. I put a lot of work into this project. I hope I’ve got my facts correct and haven’t missed anything significant.

Last but not least I want to say a big thanks to Eric Nelson from the JNJ Palisades Parkway Commission, who was invaluable in helping troubleshoot this writeup. I sent him a copy of this and he was kind enough to make suggestions and note any inaccuracies. There were relatively few and he complimented me on my accuracy & interest in the subject matter.

190 Billion Years Ago – Magma flows horizontally between tectonic plates in the NYC region. It doesn’t break the surface.

50 Billion Years Ago – The molten magma hardens in a strip several miles wide & 50 miles long from Newark into Rockland County. Erosion eventually chips away the layers above it, exposing the rock below, called Diabase.

100,000 Years Ago – Ice ages come down from the North, scraping away more of the top layers of soil.

15,000 Years Ago – The last glaciers retreat. Humans cross from Asia into North America via Alaska.

At least 4,000 years ago – The humans who crossed into America settle this area. These are the ancestors of the Lenape Indians, who eventually are eliminated by white settlers.

1524 – Verazzano explores the Hudson valley.

1609 – Henry Hudson sails his ship (the Half-Moon) thru the Hudson River, seeking passage to Oregon & the Northwest.

1629 – Dutch West India Company issues grants to settlers who take land from the Lenape Indians by force near Dobb’s Ferry. Over the next 100 years more Dutch colonists settle up and down the river, from New Amsterdam (later to become Manhattan) to Fort Orange (later to become Albany). The Palisades are still sparsely settled due to the rocky terrain, which is unsuitable for farming. Most settlements are in the valleys such as Hackensack. Disease & wars with white settlers eliminate the Lenape almost completely within 200 years.

1750 – Clear-cutting of the forests in the Palisades begins. The Blackledge-Kearney house is built.

1776 – The British attempt to control the Hudson River, in the hopes of splitting the American forces. US forces sink ships in the river hoping to create obstacles that the British can not pass. They also fire cannons from the shore. Neither approach is successful in stopping the British ships. King George sends 31,000 troops to Staten Island. On August 22, American forces retreat from there. By November 16, Fort Washington has fallen to the British & 2000 soldiers are captured. Washington retreats from his camp in Fort Lee on November 20. Many men & supplies are left behind. Two days later, Cornwallis lands at Huyler’s Landing. Thomas Paine makes his famous quote “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

1870 – Ferry landing is built near Bloomers beach by owners of the Palisade Mountain House.

1884 – Palisades Mountain House burns down.

1898 – A portion of the Palisades rock face bearing a resemblance to George Washington is blown up by Carpenter’s Quarry.

May 11, 1899 – Carpenter’s Quarry blows up a similar profile of an Indian face, despite huge protests. NJ Woman’s Federation spearheads an effort to stop the quarrying and have the area declared a nature preserve.

December 24, 1900 – Final day of quarrying. Palisade Interstate Park Commission is form and acquires the Blackledge-Kearney house.

1903 – William Allison house burns down.

1910 – Manuel Rionda erects stone clock tower in memory of his deceased wife Harriet.

December 21, 1910 – Phytosaurus remains found ½ mile North of GW Bridge. The dinosaur would’ve been 18 feet tall & 30 to 40 feet long.

1914 – The film industry had began a few years earlier in Edison, NJ. Many movies were filmed in this area, giving birth to the term “cliff hanger”. A publicity stunt for the movie “the Perils of Pauline” goes awry. The lead actress was in a hot air balloon, which “accidentally” was set aloft, but would still be tethered by an invisible wire. The hot air balloon actually breaks free & she gets to heights of a mile before landing in NY hours later.

1917 – Camp Merritt in Creskill-Dumont area is the point of origin for soldiers to head to Bayonne and on to Europe. They went by train from Dumont or by ferry from Huyler’s Landing.

1918 – Spanish flu spreads among soldiers in Spain getting R&R. In Autumn a deadlier strain develops here in the United States. The epidemic typically lasts 3 weeks, with most victims dying in 24 hours, their chest saturated with fluid. Doctors beg the army not to send any troops that might be infected but they are ignored. Soldiers fell and died by the side of the road and on the trains to Bayonne. Once there, the infected are weeded out, but some slip by. The men are sleeping in bunks stacked 4 high. The nurses on the ships can’t climb to the top bunks, and the soldiers are too weak to climb down and die in their beds. Camp Merritt is quarantined till the end of the war.

1921 – Penlyn estate of Herbert Oltman built.

April 30, 1929 – Monument to the Women’s Federation efforts to preserve the Palisades is erected.

1928 – Stock market crashes putting many men out of work. Government plans to put them to work constructing roads and doing public works.

1931 – GW Bridge opens. Dyckman Street Ferry suffers 70% drop in attendance within one year. Beach attendance begins to decline.

1932 – Rockefeller buys many estates in the Palisades. He agrees to donate the properties to the Park Commission if they establish a preserve for the public, and demolish the buildings so there isn’t anything that can be seen from the river.

1933 – 10 cents admission fee charged to go to beaches because of loss in revenue when Ferry closed. The ferry ran from 158th St to Carpenter’s Dock directly where the GW Bridge now stood. By 1936 beach attendance was down 40%.

1937 – Work Progress Administration builds Lookout Inn.

1939 – Rock slide just North of Twombley’s. Former Herbert Oltman estate converted to Park HQ.

1941 – Yonkers ferry crew notices that rock slide in 1939 created what looks like am image of Hitler. It is 50 ft wide & 160 feet tall.

1942 – Dyckman Street Ferry closes. Bloomers beach attendance drops 60%

1944 – All beaches are closed due to pollution and drops in attendance.

1947 – Rock slide obliterates Hitler profile, two years after Nazi are defeated by Allies Forces.


The site of Fort Clendenin and the origin story of Charleston, WV

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

This is the actual site of Fort Clendenin – also called “Fort Lee” – on the North bank of the Kanawha River in present day Charleston, West Virginia. The spot is located exactly at the corner of Brooks Street and Kanawha Boulevard, in downtown Charleston, West Virginia, and is now the site of a somewhat unsightly apartment building – though apparently the developers didn’t think so at the time it was built:

An old advertisement showing the two subsequent structures built on the site of Fort Clendenin. The apartment building is still standing. Maybe when urban blight overcomes it, it can be torn down in favor of a Fort Clendenin reconstruction….

There’s a boulder sitting next to the roadway with a couple of plaques commemorating the fort, as well as a regular historical marker marked, “Fort Lee.” It also mentions Ann Bailey. But more on her later…. The fort itself sat right where the ugly brick apartment building now stands. It apparently stood until the late 1800’s, having been used as a home (or at least the blockhouse from the fort, as I would imagine the stockade walls would have been long gone). Then, in the late 1800’s, Charles Lewis tore it down and built a mansion on top of it. Then that was torn down in the 1960’s, I would guess, in order to build the apartments. So the site is pretty well documented. I haven’t found any obvious disagreement on where Fort Clendenin was located.

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The memorial boulder has apparently been there for a while…. In the early 20th century, we must have been a patriotic and history loving state, because that’s about the date of all of these monuments you see to the old fort locations.

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia. As the monument appeared in an old photo.

How did the Clendenin’s obtain title to this spot?

In 1772, Lord Dunmore gave Major Thomas Bullitt a patent for a large tract of land on the Great Kanawha river, including the present site of Charleston, for his valuable service as an officer in Braddock’s war (man I’d love to have that document). This survey began in the upper end of the bottom, about two miles above the mouth of Elk river, and extended down the Valley as far as the mouth of Tyler creek, four miles below Elk. Major Bullitt did not settle upon the land himself, not did he ever even see it.

In 1786, Mr. Bullitt, met Mr. George Clendenin at Richmond, to whom he sold that portion of the tract on which the town of Charleston now stands. The deed was made to Mr. Clendenin in 1786 or 1787, before the formation of Kanawha county, and is on record in the Clerk’s office of Greenbrier county, which then embraced this portion of Kanawha.

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The exact year that Mr. George Clendenin moved upon the land which he purchased from Mr. Bullitt is a matter of uncertainty. It seems to be generally admitted, however, that he was the first white settler within the limits of the present city of Charleston, and that it was either in the fall of 1786 or the spring of 1787 that he built a fort on the river banks near Brook’s landing, which took his name. This could not have been later than 1787, for the reason that Lewis Tackett settled at the mouth of Coal river during that year, and the year following his home was destroyed by the Shawnee Indians, and those members of his family who were not taken prisoner, fled to the Clendenin fort at Charleston for protection and safety. I must, therefore, conclude that Charleston was first settled by George Clendenin in 1786 or 1787.

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

And I will add, that you can’t always depend on the deeds. In my research in Mason County, West Virginia, to locate the grave of my fifth great grandfather, James Bryan, I found that he had purchased his land near Point Pleasant, and moved there around the mid 1780’s, and yet did not receive an actual written deed to the place until 1807 or so. Probably this was due to a number of reasons, not the least of which were lawsuits and estate settlements.

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The first house in Charleston was built by George Clendenin (and his wife Jemima), on the banks of the Kanawha river immediately in front of the present palatial residence of Charles C Lewis, Esq., corner of Kanawha and Brooks streets (see photo of apartment building above), and was called the Clendenin fort, or “block-house.” It was the only fort at that time between Fort Union, at Lewisburg, and the fort at Point Pleasant, except a small block-house at the mouth of Paint creek, twenty-three miles above Charleston. The Tackett fort at Coalsmouth was built the year following, as stated in a preceding chapter.

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., Fort Lee

The Clendenin fort was a two-story double-log building, and was bullet and arrow-proof. It was built out of large hewed logs, was about forty feet long by thirty feet in width, and stood for nearly a hundred years. It was torn down by Mr. Lewis, in 1874, to make room for the elegant brick mansion in which he now resides. Mr. H.S. Brace, a resident gun-smith, procured a cut from one of the large logs of the fort, when it was demolished, out of which he made a handsome cane, which he kindly presented to the writer as a token of those days of frontier life.

Shortly after Mr. Clendenin built his block-house, several other log cabins were constructed about it and they stood for many years, as mementos of the early settlement of the country. Including Clendenin’s, there were seven buildings erected in Charleston by the early pioneers. I have no means of knowing the precise order in which they were constructed. Old citizens claim, however, that they were all built about the same time, or at least within a few years after the erection of “Fort Clendenin.”

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

Beginning at the lower end of town, I am informed there was a block of one-story log cabins on the corner of Kanawha and Truslow streets, near the store of C.J. Botkin. These buildings were principally occupied, after the beginning of the present century, by John and Levi Welch, as residences and places of business. John Welch was a hatter, and worked up large quantities of various kinds of fur skins into hats of many colors and styles, in these old-time log buildings.

Coming up street, next in order, was the large two-story log mansion on the upper corner of Court and Kanawha streets, called “Buster’s Tavern.” It was kept by Thomas Buster, as a house of entertainment, for many years, and was one of the most noted stopping places between Richmond and the Ohio river.

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

Next was a neat, two story double log building on Kanawha street, where now stands the drug store of Dr. James H. Rogers. In this building, in the early history of the county, Ellis Brown kept a hatter shop. John Hart, who kept the first ferry across Elk river, at its mouth, worked for Mr. Brown for many years at journey-work in his hattery establishment. Colonel Joel Ruffner and other old citizens of Kanawha say that they have sold Mr. Brown many a racoon, fox, otter, and muskrat skin for the manufacture of fur hats.

Where Mr. Moses Frankenberger’s three-story brick business block now stands, on the corner of Kanawha and Summers streets, there stood a two-story, hewed-log motel, which is generally supposed to have been the original Charleston hotel, a man by the name of Griffin being one of its first proprietors.

On the same square, where the Kanawha Valley Bank building now stands, was a large log dwelling-house, put up by Nehemiah Woods, and occupied by him for many years as a residence.

Next above was a log building, two-stories high, where Dr. J.P. Hale’s residence now stands, on the corner of Kanawha and Hale streets. It was one of the first buildings of the settlement in point of time. In this house, in the year 1808, Mr. Norris S. Whitteker was born, being the first white child born within the present corporate limits of Charleston.

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

Two squares above, on the same street, was a two-story log dwelling, which was built prior to 1790. It was torn down by Dr. Spicer Patrick a number of years ago, when he erected in its stead the brick building now owned by the Kanawha Presbyterian Church, and in which Mr. H.H. Wood at present resides.

Shortly before the beginning of the present century, a small log fort was built on the river bank in front of the residence of Mr. Silas Ruffner, perhaps a mile and a half above the court house.

On the corner of Kanawha and Alderson streets, about the same year, was constructed a one-story log dwelling, which was subsequently remodeled, and long known as the Central House. This building was burned down in the great fire of December 12, 1874, and upon its ruins Lewis Wehrle erected the substantial brick block which bears his name.

There stood for many years in the vicinity of the jail, on Virginia street, a small one-story frame building with a steep clapboard roof, which was one of the primitive buildings of the town. It was occupied as a residence for many years by James Wilson, Esq., who was perhaps the first Commonwealth Attorney for this county. After the death of Mr. Wilson, it was occupied by Captain Cartmill, one of the most influential and intelligent of Kanawha’s earlier citizens.Incorporating the Town

The Act of Legislature of Virginia incorporating Charleston as a town, was passed December 19, 1794, and is in the language following, taken from Henning’s Statutes:

“That forty acres of land, the property of George Clendenin, at the mouth of Elk river, in the county of Kenhawa, as the same are already laid off into lots and streets, shall be established a town by the name of Charlestown. And Reuben Slaughter, Andrew Donnally, Sr., William Clendenin, John Morris, Sr., Leonard Morris, George Alderson, Abraham Baker, John Young and William Morris, gentlemen, are appointed Trustees.”

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The name was originally “Charlestown,” which was changed some years afterwards for reasons not known. The name was suggested by George Clendenin, in honor of his brother Charles, who came to the Kanawha Valley with his elder brother in 1786 and became one of Charleston’s most exemplary, distinguished and useful citizens.

History of West Virginia By Virgil Anson Lewis publ. 1887

You can almost picture what the blockhouse of the fort would have looked like, overlooking the beautiful Kanawha River, by taking a look at the Ruffner House, which was rebuilt along the river in Daniel Boone park, just upriver from the WV State Capitol Complex.

Ruffner Cabin, overlooking the Kanawha.

This is the view from Daniel Boone park, where the Ruffner cabin was rebuilt. Unfortunately, when the rebuilt it here, they chinked it with portland cement, which will cause the deterioration of the logs, due to trapping moisture behind the chinking. As the marker in the park notes, Boone had a cabin for a number of years on the bank directly across from this park.

Looking towards “Kanawha City” over the Kanawha River, from Daniel Boone park.

Anne Bailey:

Perhaps the most famous person associated with Fort Clendenen, is “Mad” Anne Bailey, one of the rare frontierswomen of the 18th century frontier. Here’s a great article I found on Anne:

In 1761, Anne left Liverpool as an orphaned teenager to live with relatives in colonial Virginia. Within a few years, she married James Trotter and the couple had a son, William. The small family erected a “rude cabin” in the Staunton, Virginia, area of the Kanawha Valley. “The luxuries of later days were unknown,” wrote Virgil Anson Lewis in a laudatory 1891 history titled Life and Times of Anne Bailey: The Pioneer Heroine of the Great Kanawha Valley. “It became the abode of happiness and contentment, while on all hands was naught but the voiceless wilderness.”

https://timeline.com/mad-anne-bailey-a9b119223790

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

It was Anne’s introduction to a lifelong fascination with adventure in an austere and unforgiving landscape few could navigate.

In 1774, Virginia’s governor called for the formation of a border militia to battle resistant Shawnee and Mingo Indian tribes. James Trotter and many other area men enlisted. Soon 1,100 men began a march that would lead them 160 miles through the Appalachian mountains. The bloody battle at the end would claim Trotter’s life.

https://timeline.com/mad-anne-bailey-a9b119223790

A likeness of “Mad” Anne Bailey

In 1791, as Fort Lee slept, an alarm was given that nearby Native Americans would soon lay siege. The fort soon discovered its gunpowder supply was desperately low. Colonel George Clendenin gathered his soldiers and called for volunteers to fetch supplies from the nearest fort. “Not one would enter upon the perilous journey,” wrote Lewis. “Then was heard in a determined tone the words ‘I will go,’ and every inmate of that beleaguered fort recognized the voice of Anne Bailey.”

“From the moment she heard of her husband’s death, what appeared to be a strange wild dream seemed to possess her, and she resolved to avenge his death,” wrote Lewis. After leaving her son with friends Anne set out wearing buckskin pants and a petticoat. Armed with a hunting knife, she traveled the region’s recruiting stations to sign up more soldiers. In a conclusion that would carry political ramifications today, Lewis wrote, “It was the outburst and exhibition of patriotism and heroism combined.”

As the Revolution went on, Anne volunteered to courier messages between Point Pleasant and Lewisburg, then the “western outpost of civilization,” via horseback and often alone in dense forests that carried certain danger. The journey spanned some 160 miles.

By the time she married frontier ranger John Bailey on November 3, 1785, two years after the Revolutionary War, Anne was 43 years old and famous.

The couple moved to Fort Lee, where Anne impressed her male peers with her equestrian feats, rifle skills, and expert care for the sick. Through it all, she continued to carry messages to distant forts, often tying her horse to a tree and sleeping in the brush amidst wolves.

https://timeline.com/mad-anne-bailey-a9b119223790

In what would become her most famous ride, Anne took the fastest horse and disappeared into the night. According to a poem by militiaman Charles Robb, “Anne Bailey’s Ride,” which was later published in the Clermont, Ohio, Courier:

She spoke no word, of fear, or boast,

But smiling, passed the sentry post

And half in hope, and half in fear,

She whispered in her husband’s ear,

The sacrifices her soul would make

Her friends to save from brand and stake.

Anne rode 100 miles through the hostile Kanawha Valley before reaching Lewisburg. There, she received another horse, loaded up with gunpowder. The fort offered to send a guard back with Anne, but she declined. After several more days, she returned home with the supplies necessary for survival. As a reward, she was given the horse, a black stallion she named Liverpool after her birthplace. The journey was considered by some the most daring exploit of the frontier west.

Anne rarely stayed at the fort thereafter, especially after her husband’s death in 1794, preferring to live in and travel the valley wilderness. Exposed to danger, hunger, and fatigue, she slept outside. One winter night, she reportedly found a hollow tree and positioned her horse to breathe on her for warmth. A certain cave near Thirteen Mile Creek was known locally as “Anne Bailey’s Cave” for the frequency of her stays.

During her years in the wilderness, Anne’s reputation only grew as she faced more danger. Legend has it during one journey from Point Pleasant to Charleston, a band of Indians discovered her tracks. She hid in a hollow log, where her pursuers even stopped to rest and capture her horse. But Anne only waited until the middle of the night, when she followed their trail and stole her horse back. After she had ridden some distance, Anne “uttered a scream of defiance…So often did she thus baffle the Indians, that they came to believe she was a charmed being,” under the care of the Great Spirit. The Shawnee called her “the white squaw of the Kanawha” or “the phantom rider.” And they mostly left her alone.

https://timeline.com/mad-anne-bailey-a9b119223790

In Anne’s 76th year, her son pleaded with her to move in with him. She refused and built a house of fence-rails covered with straw, on a hill overlooking Gallipolis, Ohio. When her son finally coaxed her into town, she demanded he build a private cabin on the grounds where she could be alone. In town, she carried a rifle and recited tales about her stallion, Liverpool, and how she shot “a howl on a helm tree across the mouth of [the] river.” Her senility and stories earned her the fond nickname “Mad Anne.”

“I always carried an ax and auger,” she told a local reporter, “and I could chop as well as any man…I trusted in the Almighty…I knew I could only be killed once, and I had to die sometime.”

And in 1825, she did, in her sleep at age 83.

https://timeline.com/mad-anne-bailey-a9b119223790

Jemima Clendenin:

Col. George Clendenin’s wife was named Jemima – a name you don’t necessarily forget. She was a McNeil from the Greenbrier Valley – the Mill Point area. I believe the mill there was called the McNeil Mill. When the Clendenin’s moved into Greenbrier, the two met and became married. As I’ve written before, the Clendenins had a little Indian trouble, and the family patriarch, Archibald Clendenin, was killed in the famous 1763 raid by Cornstalk. This is the same family.

The natural progression for settlement was to go from the Greenbrier Valley area, to the next fertile limestone-rich soil valley, which would be the Kanawha Valley. However, there were quite a bit of obstacles between those two points, not the least of which was the existence of what we now call the “New River Gorge.” Now, we have one of the largest bridges in the world in order to drive across it. But in the old days, it was quite a trip to go between the two. Probably a 10 day or so journey using horses. So building a road between the two points was one of the earliest road building projects in West Virginia. This general route is still known today as the Midland Trail – supposedly originally a buffalo trail, though it may have actually been an Indian trail.

Map showing the “Midland Trail”

Possibly the first settler to move from Greenbrier to the Kanawha Valley was Walter Kelley, who attempted this in 1772 or 1773, settling at what is today called “Kelly’s Creek,” named after him. He was killed by Indians shortly afterwards in 1773. This is the site:

The mouth of Kelly’s Creek, in Cedar Grove, West Virginia, which is about 20 miles upriver from Charleston. As it looked yesterday.

The Morris family built Fort Morris at the same spot in 1774. This is about 20 miles South of the site of Fort Clendenin. Many of the wealthy Greenbrier landowners were claiming land along the Kanawha, and some were moving there – especially those who had been near Donnally’s Fort.

Cornfield along the Kanawha River, probably about as it looked 250 years ago.

The next group of Greenbrier pioneers after the Morris family to make a go of that area of the Kanawha Valley was Col. George Clendenin and his wife, Jemima Clendenin. They built the first permanent structure there and named the spot Charles Town – later to become Charleston. They donated the land on which the city was laid out. Thus, they, if we are to consider Jemima as an equal partner with her husband, are both the founders of Charleston.

The locals were pretty surprised that we didn’t get stuck. I knew we wouldn’t….

As I was searching for the grave of my fifth great grandfather, James Bryan, an early settler of Point Pleasant, I happened upon the abandoned and lost grave of Jemima Clendenin. I immediately recognized the name. The stone was likely buried with the others in that cemetery, but someone had put aluminum markers down in the 1920’s, which allowed me to find it with a metal detector.

An aluminum marker showing the location of the Jemima Clendenin grave. The stone itself is buried.

Jemima outlived her famous husband, George, who died in 1797. George and Jemima had a daughter, Parthenia (another name which sticks in your head) who married a wealthy Ohio settler from a prominent New England family, named John Meigs. Parthenia and John had a son named Return Jonathan Meigs, nephew to the Governor of Ohio during the War of 1812 (e.g., Fort Meigs). Return himself became a famous politician and lawyer into the Civil War era. It’s confusing though, because there are multiple cousins and uncles with the name “Return Jonathan Meigs.”

After Parthenia’s husband, John Meigs, died in 1807, she remarried – which brings us to the reason I found her while looking for a Bryan family cemetery. She married “Major Andrew Bryan” – the oldest son of my fifth great grandfather, James Bryan – and the older brother to my fourth great grandfather, Robert Bryan. Both James and Robert lived in a large log cabin built of cedar on this very property where the cemetery is located. Andrew never had, to my knowledge. However, doing some deed research, I found that Andrew Bryan, who was quite wealthy, owned some adjoining land – and this cemetery, which is on the only high-ground anywhere in the immediate area, is actually on the tract owned by Andrew.

So it looks like Jemima must have gone to live with her daughter Parthenia, and her husband, after George’s death. Then when she died in 1815, they buried her on their land. This also means that I’m on the right track to finding James Bryan’s unknown grave.

Drone view looking towards the cemetery at far left, along the flooded creek., and looking East towards Charleston, WV

This is actually the location of the cemetery. In the photo below, you’ll see the tracks going from the cornfield, over the railroad tracks, and into the adjacent marshy wetland. If you follow the tracks to the treelike next to the flooded creek, that’s where the cemetery is located. I bent the rim on my truck jumping that railroad track, but we had a lot of fun doing it. One of my favorite memories is our dear friend Glenville Jewell laughing about us jumping the railroad tracks and basically going mud bogging. He said he hadn’t had that much fun since he was a kid. And unfortunately, he just passed away a couple weeks ago….

Drone view of the abandoned cemetery where Jemima Clendenin is buried.

This was the site of the Bryan Cabin – exactly 2 miles from Point Pleasant.

A view of the Kanawha River from the North Bank, at about two miles from the point.

This is the view looking towards the Ohio River and Point Pleasant itself, from about the 2 mile point – basically hovering over the location of the cemetery. It was a muddy mess at that time.

Looking West towards the Ohio from 2 miles down the Kanawha River’s North Bank.

Here’s the drone view looking East, towards Charleston, up the Kanawha River, from the same spot. The original road to Charleston, and the original road cut and used by General Andrew Lewis and his army during Lord Dunmore’s War, in 1774, was just a trail along this bank of the river, where the tree-line is today.

Looking towards Charleston, WV from Point Pleasant, at about 400 feet in the air.

I got to do a little metal detecting at the Bryan Cabin site, where my paternal great grandfather’s lived from the 1780’s until the 1840’s, thanks to Mr. Jewell and one Mr. Fetty, who showed us the way.

Drone view of the Bryan Cabin site. Bulldozed after the big flood in the 1940’s.

Also, Clendenin, WV is named after Col. George Clendenin. But isn’t it also named after Jemima? Well it should be.

If you want to see more about our adventure in Point Pleasant looking for James Bryan’s grave, including the moment I found Jemima, check out the Youtube video:


Fort Lee was once the movie capital of the world

As you eagerly await a red carpet glimpse of Tom or Cate or Oprah (not to mention Brangelina) on their way to this year’s brightly lit, star-studded Academy Awards in Los Angeles, consider this: Fort Lee, New Jersey, is the birthplace of the American film industry.

Yep. Universal built its first studio in the early 1900s in this unassuming locale near the cliffs of the Palisades. It was soon followed by 20th Century Fox.

“There were as many as 17 studios in Fort Lee at one point, prior to and during World War I,” says Tom Meyers, executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission.

In 1912, D.W. Griffith directed Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore and Dorothy and Lillian Gish in “The New York Hat” along Main Street in Fort Lee. Three years later, sex symbol Theda Bara made her movie debut in “A Fool There Was,” filmed at the Fox/Willat Studio on Linwood Avenue. And, according to Meyers, the largest outdoor set ever built at the time was in Fort Lee for “Les Misérables” in 1918.

“Most of the town’s population, if not all of it, was employed at the studios,” says Meyers, whose grandmother worked as a child extra for various films and, later, in the film laboratories with her brothers and sisters. Her mother worked for Consolidated Republic Studio.

Also, lest we forget, Thomas Alva Edison built what is considered the first movie production studio (he called it Black Maria) in West Orange.

But California’s ample sunshine and mild weather beckoned. By the mid-1920s, the last major studio in Fort Lee closed, due, in part, to a coal shortage.

“You had these big gigantic studios in Fort Lee, and you had to heat them,” Meyers says. “And winters were rough.”

Still, Fort Lee retained some of its movie industry credentials until the early 1960s, through independent productions and its film storage and laboratories. One film storage facility is still in use today.

So, while lacking the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Fort Lee has a solid, albeit lesser-known, foothold in film history. Just don’t call it “Hollywood East.”

“It’s a big mistake when people say Fort Lee was Hollywood on the Hudson. No. Fort Lee was before Hollywood,” says an emphatic Meyers. “When you’re talking about the beginnings of the American film industry, Fort Lee was the first American film town.”

This story appeared in Inside Jersey magazine's January 2014 issue.


REVOLUTIONARY WAR SITES IN FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY

George Washington was named the head of the Continental (American) Army by Congress on June 15, 1775. His first task was to travel to Philadelphia from Boston, where a successful siege which drove British forces from the city was an early victory. The next chapter would prove to be much more difficult, and nearly disastrous to the Continental Army.

After British forces were driven from Boston in March 1776, General Washington headed to New York City, where he arrived on April 13, 1776. The task for him and his army was to protect New York from British invasion. The city was of great strategic importance, and New York harbor offered control of the Hudson River. The British had a large and powerful navy, and their strategy was to use their ships to gain control of the Hudson River in order to split the thirteen colonies in two.

On June 29, British ships began arriving in the New York harbor. Over the next two months, a steady stream of additional ships would arrive, carrying more and more British and Hessian troops. (Hessians were German mercenary soldiers hired by the British to fight in the war.)

While the main body of Washington's army was on Manhattan and Long Island, work began on a fort here in July 1776, which was originally called &ldquoFort Constitution.&rdquo It would later be renamed &ldquoFort Lee&rdquo in honor of General Charles Lee. Across the Hudson River, another fort called Fort Washington had already been constructed. The idea was that these two forts on opposite sides of the river could be used to stop British ships from sailing up the Hudson River.

On July 4, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, raising the stakes of the war. British ships continued to sail into New York harbor throughout the summer, bringing a total of more than 31,000 British and Hessian troops. This was the largest invading force in history up to that time. As the British and Hessian forces continued to grow on Staten Island, General Washington was uncertain as to where they would attack first. He therefore kept some of his troops on Manhattan Island and some in Brooklyn on Long Island.

The first test for the effectiveness of Fort Washington came when two British ships, the Rose and the Phoenix, sailed up the Hudson River on July 12. Cannon fire from Fort Washington made little impact the two ships suffered no serious damage, and no casualties. Despite these poor results, General Washington stuck to the plan of defending the river with the forts, and so work continued to complete Fort Lee.

The initial attack by British and Hessians came on Long Island on August 22, in which the Americans were forced to evacuate defenses they had spent months building. Over the following weeks, the Continental Army suffered a series of defeats and retreated north across Manhattan. By the end of September, British were in control of all of Manhattan, except Fort Washington.

The decision was made to defend Fort Washington, even though its effectiveness had been shown to be ineffective in its purpose of stopping British ships from sailing past it on the Hudson River.

On November 16, British and Hessian troops attacked Fort Washington, easily and quickly overrunning its defenses and capturing 2,800 American troops. Washington ordered General Nathanael Greene to manage an evacuation of Fort Lee, while Washington himself was headquartered ten miles away at the Zabriskie house in Hackensack. [2] A surprise invasion several days later would keep the evacuation from being an orderly one.

On the night of November 19-20, 5000 British and Hessian forces under General Cornwallis crossed over the Hudson River, disembarking about six miles north of Fort Lee at Lower Closter Landing. Upon learning of the invasion, the American troops at Fort Lee made a hasty evacuation, leaving behind such important items as tents, entrenching tools, heavy artillery, and a large amount of food. This began a twelve-day retreat across New Jersey, arriving on December 2 in Trenton, where they spent five days moving all the troops and supplies across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. (See the Bergen County 1776 Retreat Route Signs entry lower on this page.)

This was a desperate time for General Washington and his army, what Thomas Paine would describe as "These are the times that try men's souls." [3] Washington himself wrote in a letter to his brother John after the fall of Fort Washington, "I am wearied almost to death with the retrograde motion of things." [4]

More bad news followed. The army's second ranked General, Charles Lee, for whom Fort Lee was named, was captured by the British in Basking Ridge on the night of December 12 - 13. [5]

However, within weeks Washington and his army would turn the tide. On Christmas night, Washington's forces crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey and win a small but important victory the next morning at Trenton, followed a week later by another victory at Princeton. Having revived their chances and morale, Washington's army headed to Morristown where they spent the winter.

From this point on, New Jersey would play a major role in the Revolutionary War, and Washington would spend more time in this state than any other. Important events in New Jersey over the next six years include encampments in Morristown and Middlebrook the Battles of Monmouth, Connecticut Farms, and Springfield as well as many other major and minor events. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the war. When the news of the signing reached America, Congress was meeting in Nassau Hall in Princeton, and General Washington was headquartered in Kingston. Given New Jersey's significant role in the Revolutionary War, it was fitting that both General Washington and Congress were in New Jersey at the time they received this momentous news. [6]

The Visitor Center contains two floors of exhibits which explain and interpret the historic events which occurred at Fort Lee in 1776.There is also a small gift/book shop.

One of the most helpful exhibits is a large three-dimensional map of the New York/Fort Lee area titled "The New York Campaign." The exhibit combines narration with lights on the map which represent the movement of troops across the terrain of the area. When visiting Fort Lee, I highly recommend using this exhibit to understand the geography and troop movements of events in New York and Fort Lee in 1776.

In addition to the information and exhibits available at the Visitor Center, there are signs placed throughout the park grounds to describe the history of this site. There are also soldier hut recreations, and cannons. The view from the park of the Hudson River, New York City, and the George Washington Bridge are outstanding.


Monument Park was created by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1908. At the park's dedication ceremony, the keynote speaker was General John "Black Jack" Pershing, who would go on to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I . [7]

The centerpiece of Monument Park is the majestic Rebelmen statue shown above. In addition to this statue, there are historic plaques located throughout the park. Two plaques describe the use of surrounding Fort Lee roads by the troops in 1776. Others are dedicated to individual Revolutionary War Generals who played a role in the events in Fort Lee.


Bergen County 1776 Retreat Route Signs
Running from Fort Lee Historic Park
to Acquackanonk Bridge in Wallington

Washington's Army 1776 Retreat Route signs are posted throughout Bergen County along the retreat route taken by the army after abandoning Fort Lee on November 20, 1776. These signs can be followed through Bergen County from Main Street in Fort Lee to Acquackanonk Bridge in Wallington.

Washington's Army reached the Acquackanonk Bridge in Wallington on November 21. They continued their retreat across New Jersey, through Newark, New Brunswick, and Princeton, finally reaching Trenton on December 2. The next five days were spent moving all of the troops and supplies in small boats over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. They made their famous Crossing of the Delaware back into New Jersey several weeks later on Christmas night.


Source Notes:

1. ^ A variety of sources were consulted in preparing this entry, including:

&bull David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005)

&bull David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)

&bull Markers, signs, brochures and exhibits at Fort Lee Historic Park

&bull George Washington Edited by Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington Volume 4 (Boston: Russel, Odiorne and
Metcalf and Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1834) Available to be read at Google Books here

2. ^ Note that using modern roads, the distance is only eight miles from the Fort Lee encampment to Zabriskie's house site in Hackensack. However, in 1776 the journey was longer because it was necessary to use the New Bridge to cross the Hackensack River.

3. ^ "These are the times that try men's souls" is the opening sentence of Thomas Paine's The Crisis.

4. ^ George Washington to John Augustine Washington, sent from "Hackinsac" [Hackensack] on November 19, 1776 , reprinted in:
George Washington Edited by Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington Volume 4 (Boston: Russel, Odiorne and Metcalf and Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1834) pages 182 - 185 Available to be read at Google Books here

5. ^ General Charles Lee was captured at Widow White's Tavern in Basking Ridge by a group of British dragoons (cavalry) under the command of twenty-two-year-old officer Banastre Tarleton.
▸ For more information, see the Basking Ridge page of this website.

6. ^ For more information and accompanying source notes about the events mentioned in these two paragraphs, see the pages linked to within the text.

7. ^ Official Website of the Borough of Fort Lee and the General John 'Black Jack' Pershing plaque in the park.

The ultimate field guide to New Jersey's Revolutionary War historic sites!
Fort Lee New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites &bull Fort Lee New Jersey Historic Sites
Fort Lee Historic Park &bull Monument Park &bull Washington's Army Retreat Route 1776

Website Researched, Written, Photographed and Designed by Al Frazza
This website, its text and photographs are © 2009 - 2021 AL Frazza. All rights reserved.


Murals of Fort Lee's history may find new home

For murals depicting the borough's history are on display at the Post Office. Officials plan to restore them and relocate them to a new Post Office when it's built.

"Washington at Fort Lee," as it hangs in the Fort Lee Post Office. The mural and three others were painted by Henry Schnakenberg and installed in 1941 as part of the New Deal. (Photo: Michael W. Curley, Jr./NorthJersey.com)

FORT LEE — The borough wants to restore and relocate four murals dating from the New Deal era when it replaces its post office.

The four murals, painted by Henry Schnakenberg shortly after the post office's 1938 construction, adorn the interior walls of the building and depict scenes from the borough's history.

"It's very important for these murals to be available to the public," Borough Historian Tom Meyers said. "We hope what we're doing now will preserve this New Deal history."

The murals, entitled, "Indians trading with the Half Moon," "Washington at Fort Lee," "Moving Pictures," and "The Present Day," show Henry Hudson's ship meeting with native people, George Washington with his troops during the Revolutionary War, a scene from Fort Lee's history in the film industry, and the construction of the George Washington Bridge.

The murals were commissioned by the Department of the Treasury's Section of Fine Arts as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, intended to bolster the economy in the Great Depression by creating work for artists.

As part of its downtown renovation plan, the borough intends to build a multistory parking garage off Main Street with a new post office built into the first floor. The old post office would be demolished and the space turned into a park.

The murals will be restored and exhibited either in the new post office or another public space, Mayor Mark Sokolich said.

"It's not general depictions of the birth of our nation," he said. "It's the birth of Fort Lee. It's the history of Fort Lee -- they belong in Fort Lee."

The borough the week of Oct. 23 awarded a contract to construct the parking deck and new post office. Only after that work is completed will anything be done with the old post office, Sokolich said.

He said the borough is waiting to hear back from the State Historic Preservation Office on whether the post office itself is considered historic before taking down the old building.

"Moving Pictures," as it hangs in the Fort Lee Post Office. The mural and three others were painted by Henry Schnakenberg and installed in 1941 as part of the New Deal. (Photo: Michael W. Curley, Jr./NorthJersey.com)

Schnakenberg was an accomplished "naturalist painter" from New Brighton, New York, in the early 1900s. He was president of the Art Students League and was known for focusing on the aesthetics of his subjects rather than putting his own emotions into his work.

Meyers said the murals have been in danger of damage from leaks in the building and from the use of the post office when banners and signs were hung up on the murals.

The building itself is not handicap accessible, Sokolich said, and is in disrepair, necessitating the new post office.


The Loss of Fort Lee - History

The British called their fortified outpost "Fort Motte," a name it would retain into modern history. The military significance of Fort Motte was that it served as a supply depot for British supplies from occupied Charlestown to Camden and Ninety Six. It was a prime target for the Patriot Continental Army and the South Carolina Militia.

On May 12, 1781, Brigadier General Francis Marion and Lt. Col. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee (VA) set the outpost on fire and forced the British garrison to flee back to Charlestown. Fort Motte was erected around the mansion of Mrs. Rebecca Motte on Mount Joseph Plantation. Since only a protracted siege or cannon could reduce the fort, it became the principal depot for the convoys moving supplies up from Charlestown to the backcountry British outposts. It was garrisoned with the 2nd Battalion of the 84th Regiment of Foot led by Lt. Donald McPherson, with a troop of Hessian dragoons and some Loyalist militia.

The mansion was situated on Buckhead Hill and was surrounded by a deep trench, along which had been raised a parapet. Opposite the mansion stood another hill on which there was an old farmhouse.

Brigadier General Francis Marion with Lt. Col. Henry Lee decided to take the fort, and since Lt. Col. Lee had more experienced men, Brigadier General Marion gave him the honor of reducing the fort the day after they arrived. On May 7th, Lt. Col. Lee placed his 6-pounder such that it would rake the northern face of the enemy's defensive works. His men dug a trench towards the fort 400 yards away and completed it on May 10th. Lt. McPherson had a small artillery piece, but he was never able to put it to use.

On May 10th, Lt. Col. Lee summoned Lt. McPherson and asked if he wanted to surrender, which he politely declined. He was hoping that a relief column from Camden would soon come to his aid. It was not long before the retreating army of Col. Francis, Lord Rawdon could be seen in the distance of the fort's defenders. Brigadier General Marion knew that Lord Rawdon could reach his position within forty-eight (48) hours, so he decided upon a desperate strategy. He sent Lt. Col. Lee to ask Mrs. Motte is she would let his men burn her fine home, and she readily agreed.

Waiting until noon when the roof had become hot and dry, Lt. Col. Lee ordered the house to be set on fire. Weems wrote that Mrs. Motte lent the Patriots a bow and "African arrows." However, William Dobein James was at the siege, and in his book about Marion he wrote, "the house was not burnt, as is stated by historians, nor was it fired by an arrow from an African bow, as sung by poets. Nathan Savage, a private in Marion's brigade, made up a ball of rosin and brimstone, to which he set fire and slung it on the roof of the house."

As the roof caught fire, Lt. McPherson sent a detail aloft to rip off the burning shingles. Capt. Samuel Finley fired upon those on the rooftop with his 6-pounder with grapeshot. When Lt. McPherson's men began jumping from the burning house, he raised the white flag on May 12th.

Brigadier General Marion lost two men - Lt. Cruger and Sgt. McDonald, who had been commissioned a lieutenant before he fell.

As soon as the British and Loyalists laid down their arms, Brigadier General Marion sent his men to the house to help put the fire out. He offered the enemy generous terms. When they marched out, Lt. Col. Lee accepted the surrender of the British regulars, while Brigadier General Marion accepted the surrender of the Loyalist militia - this is how fractured the Patriots were at that point in time - Continentals versus Militia.

Mrs. Motte invited both the Patriot and British officers to dine with her that night. The dinner was marred when one of Lt. Col. Lee's officers, Cornet William Butler Harrison, had ordered three Loyalists to be hanged. Brigadier General Marion was seated at the table when Lt. McPherson received the news of this hanging. Brigadier General Marion leapt up from the table and stormed out of the mansion, arriving to find two dead Loyalist on the ground and one swinging from a noose. He ordered the man cut down and strongly reminded Lt. Col. Lee's men that he was in charge and that he would kill the next man who harmed any prisoners.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Brigadier General Francis Marion - Commanding Officer

Lee's Legion led by Lt. Col. Henry Lee (VA) with 300 men in the following known units:
- 1st Mounted Troop - Capt. James Armstrong
- 2nd Mounted Troop - Major Joseph Eggleston
- 3rd Mounted Troop - Major Michael Rudolph
- 4th Dismounted Troop - Capt. Allen McClane
- 5th Dismounted Troop - Capt. Henry Archer
- 6th Dismounted Troop - Lt. Edward Manning

1st NC Regiment of Continentals detachment led by Major Pinketham Eaton with 115 men in three known units:
- 1st Company - Lt. John Campbell
- 2nd Company - Capt. Joshua Hadley
- 3rd Company - Capt. Robert Smith

Nash County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. William Williams

Warren County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John Cokely

1st Continental Artillery Regiment of VA, 1st Battalion led by Capt. Samuel Finley with one 6-pounder

Nottoway County Volunteers (VA) - Capt. Charles Troy

Berkeley County Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment led by Col. Richard Richardson, Jr., Lt. Col. Hugh Horry, and Major John Gamble, with six (6) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Capers
- Capt. William Dukes
- Capt. John Malone
- Capt. Robert McCottry
- Capt. William McCottry
- Capt. Gavin Witherspoon

Horry's Light Dragoons (SC Militia) led by Lt. Col. Peter Horry, with four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Garner Bachelor
- Capt. John Baxter
- Capt. William Black
- Capt. Daniel Conyers

Kingstree Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment led by Col. Archibald McDonald and Major John James, with three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James McCauley
- Capt. John Postell
- Capt. Thomas Potts

New Acquisition District Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment of three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Henderson
- Capt. Frame Woods
- Capt. Thomas Woods, Sr.

Georgetown District Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment led by Lt. Col. Alexander Swinton, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Gordon
- Capt. Handlin

Cheraws District Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment led by Col. Lemuel Benton, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Maj. Maurice Murphy
- Maj. Tristram Thomas

Kershaw Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment led by Col. James Postell, Lt. Col. John Marshall, and Major Frederick Kimball, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John Brown

Lower Craven County Regiment of Militia (SC) detachment led by Col. Hugh Giles, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. James Weathers

Lt. Donald McPherson - Commanding Officer

84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants), 2nd Battalion (Young Royal Highlanders) led by Lt. Donald McPherson with 80 men

Frederick Starkloff's Troop of Light Dragoons led by Corp. John Ludvick with 58 men


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