For almost a century, a stone trailside memorial along the Palisades has honored the contribution of an organization that fought to save the cliffs from destruction back in the late 19th century.
Dedicated in 1929, this memorial, a stone castle that overlooks the Hudson River in Alpine, honors the role that the New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs played in its preservation.
The design of the memorial was meant to “evoke to ancient watchtowers along the River Rhine in Europe,” according to a 2010 Cliff Notes, the park’s newsletter, noting that “poets had called the Hudson, because of its scenic beauty, ‘America’s Rhine.'”
On a recent visit, a good friend and I walked the .03-mile (one way) Forest View trail to the memorial from a parking area off Route 9W north. A two-mile round trip alternative hike to the memorial starts at the State Line Lookout in Alpine.
From the lot, a blue and white blazed trail crosses over the Palisades Interstate Parkway on a pedestrian bridge before heading into the woods and shortly joining up with the Long Path. The trail was muddy in spots with decomposing leaf matter all around.
Not far from where the cars were parked, I observed a red tail hawk perched in a tree on the other side of the roadway.
All was quiet at the memorial though; we had the trail and the memorial site pretty much to ourselves. Nothing stirred, no wildlife, no people.
“Many hikers pass by here on a weekly basis and they don’t know what the significance of the site is,” said my friend, John Jurasek, the publications chairman of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and a hike leader.
The women’s clubs were a part of a massive conservation effort that led to the end of quarrying operations on the cliffs. At the time, quarrying was active in the area since the end of the Civil War, up until the creation in 1900 of the Palisades Interstate Park.
NY Governor and soon to be Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who considered the Palisades, “a landscape masterpiece,” was also a part if this effort.
Historian Douglas Brinkley wrote in his book Wilderness Warrior that while serving as Governor from 1899 to 1901, Roosevelt, worked with other groups, including scientists, business leaders, and organizations such as the women’s clubs, “to establish a 700-acre refuge from Fort Lee to Piermont in order to preserve the ‘sill’ cliffs, commonly called the ‘Palisades Sill’ on the west bank of the Hudson River.”
The New Federation of Women’s Clubs, established in 1894 assisted with lobbying for the “enabling legislation” that created the interstate park and in the fundraising efforts to acquire land.
Starting in 1895 the clubs, “set out to persuade the (NJ) state legislature to pass a bill to join with New York to protect the Palisades.”
Information found on the park’s website offers a deeper dive into the story of the women’s clubs and their role in preserving the Palisades, starting with the Englewood chapter. “These women, mostly wealthy, knew the Palisades well; their families picnicked and hiked along the tall cliffs.”
The group worked to get the federation with its sister clubs throughout the state involved.
The Federation’s organized a yacht tour to view the devastation caused by the quarrying during their 1897 annual convention. Viewing the devastation up close on that outing solidified the women’s club’s commitment to the cause. Per Cliffs Notes, “Their minds were made up: the Palisades must be saved.”
And they were.
Once the cliffs were preserved, Roosevelt along with NJ Governor Foster Vorhees signed bills creating the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in 1900.
Today, the Women’s Federation Memorial is located along the Long Path Trail. The turquoise blazed Long Path is a 357-mile-long hiking trail that begins on 175th Street in New York City and ends in the Albany area.
The memorial is also part of the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail. A marker placed near the castle reads that the trail is “a collection of historic places located around the state that represent the significant contributions women made in the history of New Jersey.”
For more on the Federation of NJ Women’s Clubs, visit: >njsfwc.org
For more on the Palisades Interstate Park, visit: >njpalisades.org