Historic area 'round NE New Jersey

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
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Trip End Mar 15, 2007


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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I left Debbie's about noon and, after taking a picture of a big sycamore tree outside her house, followed Sandy's very specific directions to Demarest, New Jersey - a distance of less than 25 miles. I am so glad she gave me guidance in such detail as there was no easy or straight way to go. Cattle paths which became roads apparently. It feels sort of country-like but it is very densely populated. While the drivers are relatively courteous, they are also very determined.

After I left my gear upstairs in the lovely room which Sandy has offered for a few days, we went out on a drive around the area and north into New York State. There are many little communities which run one into the other and we passed by some absolutely lovely and very expensive homes on our way. Some of these little communities positively cling to the cliffs and make for difficult driving.

A geological feature of the area is called the Palisades and they have had a large role in directing the settlement and defense of this area. Whenever we looked up or down the Hudson river, we kept seeing this enormous rise of land. At one point we drove down to the river's edge at, I believe, Piermont and the drop in land from the top to the bottom of the cliffs was enough to make your ears pop.

Wikipedia tells me "The Palisades, also called the New Jersey Palisades or the Hudson Palisades, are a line of steep cliffs along the west side of the lower Hudson River in northeast New Jersey and southern New York in the United States. The cliffs stretch north from Jersey City approximately 20 mi (32 km) to near Nyack, New York. They rise nearly vertically from near the edge of the river, ranging in height between 350 ft (107 m) and 550 ft (168 m). The cliffs are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of New York City, forming a canyon of the Hudson north of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as well as providing a dramatic vista of the New York City skyline from the opposite bank of the Hudson.

The cliffs are the margin of a diabase sill, formed approximately 200 million years ago at the close of the Triassic Period by the intrusion of molten magma upward into sandstone. The molten material cooled and solidified before reaching the surface. Subsequent water erosion of the softer sandstone left behind the columnar structure of harder rock that exists today. The cliffs are approximately 1000 ft (300 m) thick in sections and were probably originally 1000 ft (300 m) high, approximately twice as high as they are today. ... In the 19th century, the cliffs were subject to widespread quarrying for railroad ballast, leading to local efforts to preserve the cliffs. A section of the cliffs north of Fort Lee were subsequently purchased by John D. Rockefeller, who donated them to the State for permanent preservation. The land is now a part of Palisades Interstate Park, a popular destination for hiking and other outdoor recreational activities, that also includes Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park, Minnewaska State Park Preserve and several other parks and historic sites in the region." The parkway is lined with miles and miles of shale, presumably from the palisades before they began preservation.

We went down to a place called the "Blackledge-Kearney House" on the river opposite Yonkers, NY. Its' website notes that it "is listed in the National and State Historic Registers this way but is known more familiarly as the "Kearney House" or the "Cornwallis Headquarters"-this house is the oldest building in the New Jersey Section of the Palisades Interstate Park. The southern half of the house, built of native stone and timbers, probably dates to the 1760s. The smaller, wood-frame northern addition was probably built in the 1840s, the large porch added in 1909. The house has been a Hudson River homestead, a riverfront tavern, a Park police station, and a "historic shrine." Today it helps bring to life two centuries in the story of the Hudson River and those who depended upon it for their lives and livelihoods."

Sandy explained the story to me as she knew it and I fleshed it out using an internet search engine. "In the early hours of 20 November 1776, a British force led by Lieutenant General Lord Charles, Earl of Cornwallis, crossed the Hudson to New Jersey for a surprise attack on the Continental Army at Fort Lee. Between three and five thousand men crossed the river in flatboats to climb the Palisades on a primitive farm road. Washington got word of the invasion before the British reached Fort Lee; the Continental Army then began its famous "Retreat to Victory" across New Jersey. At the time of the [Palisades Interstate] Park's creation, it was widely accepted that Cornwallis had landed his army here at the Closter Dock, and that he had used this house as his "headquarters" during the crossing. More recent research, however, has shown that his forces landed a mile-and-a-half to the south, at what was then called the "New Dock" (later, "Huyler's Landing"). This research has in turn cast serious doubt on the "headquarters" claim."

Despite its unconfirmed history, I was quite fascinated by it. Even if it was not the site of Cornwallis' headquarters, there were people living there at the time and, as a tavern, it would have been a centre for "news of the day". They had the building open for an event later that night so we were able to go in, admire the period furniture and construction (a bit low for one of my height). I took many pictures.

We went back and Sandy went out for an appointment while I updated my journal. Later we went out for a lovely Japanese dinner at the Mt. Kisco restaurant in Closter (clow-ster, not claw-ster), near where we had been today. We returned home in time to have a chat with some of our online friends. She also gave me guidance on how to get to New York City by bus. I'd hoped to go in by train; however, there is no train any longer in Demarest - has not been for about 40 years, apparently. I retired a bit early after a wonderful glass of Laphroaig single malt scotch, tired after my busy, if short drive and day.
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