On a bluff rising 330 feet above the Hudson River sits 33 acres of our nation’s Revolutionary War heritage. Located just south of the George Washington Bridge, Fort Lee Historic Park offers visitors inspiring views on top of its historical value.
“This is such a beautiful path with amazing views of the Hudson, Manhattan, and the bridge,” Jenny Brockway, the park’s site manager, said as we walked the grounds on what was some perfect spring weather.
The park has walking paths that lead to viewing areas for the bridge on its northern end, and to a reconstructed Revolutionary War encampment on its southern end. On the way toward the encampment’s gun batteries, Brockman noted that visitors here “get to stand where soldiers manned their guns during the American Revolution.”
“This park is a gem,” she said as we approached the camp area. “It’s great for the community, and rich in history.” The encampment includes a reconstructed soldier’s hut, an officer’s hut, woodshed, outdoor baking oven, gun batteries, and a blockhouse.
In between, there’s a visitor center where one can learn about the important role Fort Lee played during the early days of the American Revolution.
On November 20, 1776, the fort was evacuated after, “an overwhelming assault” by British forces captured 2,900 American troops at Fort Washington in New York City four days earlier. Fort Washington was located directly across the river from Fort Lee. Gen. George Washington ordered the evacuation that sent the Continental Army southward through New Jersey at the same time they were pursued by forces under the command of British Gen. Charles Cornwallis. To that end, Cornwallis and a force of 5,000 men had crossed the Hudson River and climbed the Palisades several miles to the north.
Replicas of the cannons used at Fort Lee are on display in the visitor’s center, along with a diorama of the fort. Visitors can also view authentic artifacts, including bayonets, grape shots, gunflints, cannonballs, and spearheads discovered in the area of Fort Washington.
The park is known for having an innovative living history program that it offers to area elementary schools.
“Our program is very hands on,” Brockway said. “Recruits (the students) do everything that a soldier would have done in camp 246 years ago. And that includes marching, drilling, wood detail, making a stew, and baking bread in our outdoor Dutch oven.”
Fort Lee Historic Park hosts special events throughout the year. The largest of these activities happens each November when the retreat of the fort is commemorated with reenactors who gather, set up camp, provide artillery demonstrations, and a march towards Monument Park, located within the Fort Lee borough. Brockway noted that more than 100 brigade reenactors take part in “Retreat Weekend.”
Brockway has managed the park for two decades. She said “interacting with visitors,” who come from all over the world, is what she loves most. “I also enjoy working with the children who participate in our wonderful education program.”
Fort Lee Historic Park grounds are open 6am-9pm daily
Visitor Center hours: Wed-Sun, 10am-4:45pm
Photos by Jenny Brockway
Steve Kelman is a writer and musician who works and performs in the Northern New Jersey and Hudson Valley areas. He performs at farmers markets, restaurants, and cafes everywhere from Ramsey to Southern Vermont.