From New York City to Yonkers along the Hudson River

This upper landing of the Hudson River Day Line has a beautiful location and is a great convenience to the dwellers of northern Manhattan. On leaving the pier the steel-arched structure of Riverside Drive is seen on the right. The valley here spanned, in the neighborhood of 127th Street, was once known as “Marritje Davids’ Fly,” and the local name for this part of New York above Claremont Heights is still known as “Manhattanville.” The Convent of the Sacred Heart is visible among the trees, and

Trinity Cemetery’s Monuments soon gleam along the wooded bank. Among her distinguished dead is the grave of General John A. Dix whose words rang across the land sixty days before the attack on Fort Sumter: “If any man attempts to pull down the American flag shoot him on the spot.” The John A. Dix Post of New York comes hither each Decoration Day and garlands with imposing ceremonies his grave and the graves of their comrades.

Near Carmansville was the home of Audubon, the ornithologist, and the residences above the cemetery are grouped together as Audubon Park. Near at hand is the New York Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, and pleasantly located near the shore the River House once known as West-End Hotel.

Washington Heights

Washington Heights rise in a bold bluff above Jeffrey’s Hook. After the withdrawal of the American army from Long Island, it became apparent to General Washington and Hamilton that New York would have to be abandoned. General Greene and Congress believed in maintaining the fort, but future developments showed that Washington was right. The American troops, so far as clothing or equipment was concerned, were in a pitiable condition, and the result of the struggle makes one of the darkest pages of the war. On the 12th of November Washington started from Stony Point for Fort Lee and arrived the 13th, finding to his disappointment that General Greene, instead of having made arrangements for evacuating, was, on the contrary, reinforcing Fort Washington. The entire defense numbered only about 2000 men, mostly militia, with hardly a coat, to quote an English writer, “that was not out at the elbows.” “On the night of the 14th thirty flat-bottomed boats stole quietly up the Hudson, passed the American forts undiscovered, and made their way through Spuyten Duyvil Creek into Harlem River. The means were thus provided for crossing that river, and landing before unprotected parts of the American works.”

According to Irving, “On the 15th General Howe sent a summons to surrender, with a threat of extremities should he have to carry the place by assault.” Magaw, in his reply, intimated a doubt that General Howe would execute a threat “so unworthy of himself and the British nation; but give me leave,” added he, “to assure his Excellency, that, actuated by the most glorious cause that mankind ever fought in, I am determined to defend this post to the very last extremity.”

“Apprised by the colonel of his peril, General Greene sent over reinforcements, with an exhortation to him to persist in his defense; and dispatched an express to General Washington, who was at Hackensack, where the troops from Peekskill were encamped. It was nightfall when Washington arrived at Fort Lee. Greene and Putnam were over at the besieged fortress. He threw himself into a boat, and had partly crossed the river, when he met those Generals returning. They informed him of the garrison having been reinforced, and assured him that it was in high spirits, and capable of making a good defense. It was with difficulty, however, they could prevail on him to return with them to the Jersey shore, for he was excessively excited.”

“Early the next morning, Magaw made his dispositions for the expected attack. His forces, with the recent addition, amounted to nearly three thousand men. As the fort could not contain above a third of its defenders, most of them were stationed about the outworks.”

About noon, a heavy cannonade thundered along the rocky hills, and sharp volleys of musketry, proclaimed that the action was commenced.

“Washington, surrounded by several of his officers, had been an anxious spectator of the battle from the opposite side of the Hudson. Much of it was hidden from him by intervening hills and forest; but the roar of cannonry from the valley of the Harlem River, the sharp and incessant reports of rifles, and the smoke rising above the tree-tops, told him of the spirit with which the assault was received at various points, and gave him for a time hope that the defense might be successful. The action about the lines to the south lay open to him, and could be distinctly seen through a telescope; and nothing encouraged him more than the gallant style in which Cadwalader with inferior force maintained his position. When he saw him however, assailed in flank, the line broken, and his troops, overpowered by numbers, retreating to the fort, he gave up the game as lost. The worst sight of all, was to behold his men cut down and bayoneted by the Hessians while begging quarter. It is said so completely to have overcome him, that he wept with the tenderness of a child.”

“Seeing the flag go into the fort from Knyphausen’s division, and surmising it to be a summons to surrender, he wrote a note to Magaw, telling him if he could hold out until evening and the place could not be maintained, he would endeavor to bring off the garrison in the night. Capt. Gooch, of Boston, a brave and daring man, offered to be the bearer of the note. He ran down to the river, jumped into a small boat, pushed over the river, landed under the bank, ran up to the fort and delivered the message, came out, ran and jumped over the broken ground, dodging the Hessians, some of whom struck at him with their pieces and others attempted to thrust him with their bayonets; escaping through them, he got to his boat and returned to Fort Lee.”

Washington’s message arrived too late. “The fort was so crowded by the garrison and the troops which had retreated into it, that it was difficult to move about. The enemy, too, were in possession of the little redoubts around, and could have poured in showers of shells and ricochet balls that would have made dreadful slaughter.” It was no longer possible for Magaw to get his troops to man the lines; he was compelled, therefore, to yield himself and his garrison prisoners of war. The only terms granted them were, that the men should retain their baggage and the officers their swords.

Fort Lee, directly across the river, had a commanding position, but was entirely useless to the Revolutionary army after the fall of Fort Washington. It was therefore immediately abandoned to the British, as was also Fort Constitution, another redoubt near at hand.

It will be remembered that the American army after long continued disaster in and about New York, retreated southward from Fort Lee and Hackensack to the Delaware, where Washington with a strategic stroke brought dismay on his enemies and restored confidence to his friends and the Patriots’ Cause.

The Palisades

The Palisades, or Great Chip Rock, as they were known by the old Dutch settlers, present the same bold front to the river that the Giant’s Causeway does to the ocean. Their height at Fort Lee, where the bold cliffs first assert themselves, is three hundred feet, and they extend about seventeen or eighteen miles to the hills of Rockland County. A stroll along the summit reveals the fact that they are almost as broken and fantastic in form as the great rocks along the Elbe in Saxon-Switzerland.

As the basaltic trap-rock is one of the oldest geological formations, we might still appropriately style the Palisades “a chip of the old block.” They separate the valley of the Hudson from the valley of the Hackensack. The Hackensack rises in Rockland Lake opposite Sing Sing, within two or three hundred yards of the Hudson, and the rivers flow thirty miles side by side. Some geologists think that originally they were one river, but they are now separated from each other by a wall more substantial than even the 2,000 mile structure of the “Heathen Chinese.”

It might also be interesting to note Prof. Newberry’s idea that in pre-glacial times this part of the continent was several hundred feet higher than at present, and that the Hudson was a very rapid stream and much larger than now, draining as it did the Great Lakes: that the St. Lawrence found its way through the Hudson Channel following pretty nearly the line of the present Mohawk, and the great river emptied into the Atlantic some 80 miles south of Staten Island. This idea is confirmed by the soundings of the coast survey which discover the ancient page of the Hudson as here indicated on the floor of the sea far out where the ocean is 500 feet in depth. A speculation of what a voyager a few million years ago would have then seen might, however, as Hamlet observes, be “to consider somewhat too curiously” for ordinary up-to-date tourists. But even, granting all this to be true, the Palisades were already old, thrown up long ages before, between a rift in the earth’s surface, where it cooled in columnar form. The rocky mould which held it, being of softer material, finally disintegrated and crumbled away, leaving the cliff with its peculiar perpendicular formation.

A recent writer has said: “The Palisades are among the wonders of the world. Only three other places equal them in importance, but each of the four is different from the others, and the Palisades are unique. The Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Ireland, and the cliffs at Kawaddy in India, are thought by many to have been the result of the same upheaval of nature as the Palisades; but the Hudson rocks seem to have preserved their entirety—to have come up in a body, as it were—while the Giant’s Causeway owes its celebrity to the ruined state in which the Titanic forces of nature have left it. The third wonder is at Staffa, in Scotland, where the rocks have been thrown into such a position as to justify the name of Fingal’s Cave, which they bear, and which was bestowed on them in the olden times before Scottish history began to be written. It is singular how many of the names which dignify, or designate, favorite spots of the Giant’s Causeway have been duplicated in the Palisades. Among the Hudson rocks are several ‘Lady’s Chairs,’ ‘Lover’s Leaps,’ ‘Devil’s Toothpicks,’ ‘Devil’s Pulpits,’ and, in many spots on the water’s edge, especially those most openly exposed to the weather, we see exactly the same conformations which excite admiration and wonder in the Irish rocks.”

There are many strange stories connected with the Palisades, and one narrator says: “remarkable disappearances have occurred in the vicinity that have never been explained. On a conical-shaped rock near Clinton Point a young man and a young woman were seen standing some half a century ago. Several of their friends, who were back some thirty feet from the face of the cliff, saw them distinctly, and called out to them not to approach too near the edge. The young couple laughingly sent some answer back, and a moment later vanished as by magic. Their friends rushed to the edge of the cliff but saw no trace of them. They noticed at once that the tide was out, and at the base three or four boatmen were sauntering about as though nothing had happened (forgetting even, as Bryant did, that a vertical line from the top of the cliff on account of the crumbling debris of ages makes it impossible for even the strongest arm to hurl a stone from the summit to the margin of the river). A diligent search was instituted. Friends and boatmen joined in the search, but from that day to this they have never been heard from, no trace of them has been found, and the mystery of their disappearance is as complete now as it was five minutes after they vanished—a more tragical termination than the story of the old pilot on a Lake George steamer, who, surrounded one morning by a group of tourist-questioners, pointed to Roger Slide Mountain, and said: “A couple went up there and never came back again.” “What do you suppose, captain,” said a fair-haired, anxious listener, “ever became of them?” “Can’t tell,” said the captain, “some folks said they went down on the other side.”

The old Palisade Mountain House, a few miles above Fort Lee, had a commanding location, but was burned in 1884 and never rebuilt. Pleasant villas are here and there springing up along this rocky balcony of the lower Hudson, and probably the entire summit will some day abound in castles and luxuriant homes. It is in fact within the limit of possibility that this may in the future present the finest residential street in the world, with a natural macadamized boulevard midway between the Hudson and the sky.

It grieves one to see the gray rocks torn away for building material, but, as fast as man destroys, nature kindly heals the wound; or to keep the Palisade figure more complete, she recaptures the scarred and broken battlements, unfolding along the steep escarpment her waving standards of green. It sometimes seems as if one can almost see her selecting the easiest point of attack, marshalling her forces, running her parallels with Boadicea-like skill, and carrying her streaming banners, more real than Macbeth’s “Birnam-Wood” to crowning rampart and lofty parapet.

The New York side from the Battery to Inwood, the northern end of Manhattan Island, is already “well peopled.” Until recently the land about Fort Washington has been held in considerable tracts and the very names of these suburban points suggest altitude and outlook—Highbridgeville, Fordham Heights, Morris Heights, University Heights, Kingsbridge Heights, Mount Hope, &c. The growth of the city all the way to Jerome and Van Cortlandt’s Park during the last few years has been marvelous. It has literally stepped over the Harlem to find room in the picturesque county of Westchester.

The Island of Manhattan

The Island of Manhattan.—As we approach the northern limit of Manhattan we feel that in the preservation of the beautiful name “Manhattan,” distinctive of New York’s chief borough, Irving’s dream has been happily realized. The meaning of this Indian word has been the subject of much discussion. It is, however, simply the name of a tribe. As the old historian De Laet says, “On the east side, on the main land dwell the Manhattoes,” and again from the “Documentary History of New York.” “It is so called from the people which inhabited the main land on the east side of the river.”

Indian Head, Palisades

The word Manhattan signifies also it is said: “The People of the Islands,” and it was evidently used by the Indians as a generic term designating the inhabitants of the island itself, and also of Long Island and the Neversink. This is in accordance with the testimony of Van der Donck. With Irving we all recognize the music and poetry of the name and are proud that our river of beauty is so happily heralded.

Spuyten Duyvil Creek

Above Washington Heights, on the east bank, the Spuyten Duyvil meets the Hudson. This stream is the northern boundary of New York Island, and a short distance east of the Hudson bears the name of Harlem River. Its course is south-east and joins the East River at Randall’s Island, just above Hell Gate. It is a curious fact that this modest stream should be bounded by such suggestive appellations as Hell Gate and Spuyten Duyvil. This is the first point of special legendary interest to one journeying up the Hudson and it takes its name according to the veracious Knickerbocker, from the following incident: It seems that the famous Antony Van Corlear was dispatched one evening with an important message up the Hudson. When he arrived at this creek the wind was high, the elements were in an uproar, and no boatman at hand. “For a short time,” it is said, “he vapored like an impatient ghost upon the brink, and then, bethinking himself of the urgency of his errand, took a hearty embrace of his stone bottle, swore most valorously that he would swim across en spijt en Duyvil (in spite of the Devil), and daringly plunged into the stream. Scarce had he buffeted half way over when he was observed to struggle violently, as if battling with the spirit of the waters. Instinctively he put his trumpet to his mouth, and giving a vehement blast—sank forever to the bottom.”

The main branch of the Hudson River Railroad, with its station at Forty-second Street and Fourth Avenue, crosses the Harlem River at Mott Haven, and, following its northern bank, meets the Hudson at this point, where the 30th Street branch, following the river, joins the main line. The steamer now passes Riverdale, with its beautiful residences and the Convent of Mount St. Vincent, one of the prominent landmarks of the Hudson, located on grounds bought of Edwin Forrest, the tragedian, whose “Font Hill Castle” appears in the foreground, and we come to Yonkers, on the east bank, seventeen miles from New York, at the mouth of the Nepperhan. West of the creek is a large rock, called A-mac-lea-sin, the great stone to which the Indians paid reverence as an evidence of the permanency and immutability of their deity. The Mahican Village at the mouth of the creek was called Nappechemak. European settlements were made as early as 1639, as shown by deeds of purchase. Here are many important manufacturing industries: carpet, silk, and hat factories; mowers and reapers, gutta percha, rubber and pencil companies. Its “Recreation Pavilion” on the pier was a noble thing for the city to build—costing $50,000. The structure is of steel and capable of accommodating 5,000 people.


It is said that Yonkers derived its name from Yonk-herr—the young heir, or young sir, of the Phillipse manor. Until after the middle of the seventeenth century the Phillipse family had their principal residence at Castle Phillipse, Sleepy Hollow, but having purchased “property to the southward” from Adrian Van der Donck and obtained from the English king a patent creating the manor of Phillipsburgh, they moved from their old castle to the new “Manor Hall,” which at this time was probably the finest mansion on the Hudson. This property was confiscated by act of Legislature in 1779, as Frederick Phillipse, third lord of the manor, was thought to lean toward royalty, and sold by the “Commissioners of Forfeiture” in 1785. It was afterwards purchased by John Jacob Astor, then passed to the Government, was bought by the village of Yonkers in 1868, and became the City Hall in 1872. The older portion of the house was built in 1682, the present front in 1745. The woodwork is very interesting, also the ceilings, the large hall and the wide fire-place. In the room still pointed out as Washington’s, the fire-place retains the old tiles, “illustrating familiar passages in Bible history,” fifty on each side, looking as clear as if they were made but yesterday.

Mary Phillipse, belle of the neighborhood, and known in tradition as Washington’s first love, was born in the “Manor House” July 3, 1730. Washington first met her on a visit to New York in 1756, after his return from Braddock’s campaign, as guest of Beverly Robinson, who had married her elder sister.

It has been claimed by some writers that he proposed and was rejected, but it is doubtful whether he ever was serious in his attentions. At least there is no evidence that he ever “told his love,” and she finally married Col. Roger Morris, one of Washington’s associates on Braddock’s staff. The best part of residential Yonkers lies to the northward, beautifully embowered in trees as seen from the Hudson. A line of electric street cars run north along Warburton Avenue. The street known as Broadway, is a continuation of Broadway, New York. Many of the river towns still keep this name, probably prophetic as a part of the great Broadway which may extend some day from the Battery to Peekskill.

Almost opposite Yonkers a ravine or sort of step-ladder cleft, now known as Alpine Gorge, reaches up the precipitous sides of the Palisades. The landing here was formerly called Closter’s, from which a road zigzags to the top of the cliff and thence to Closter Village. Here Lord Grey disembarked in October, 1778, and crossed to Hackensack Valley, “surprising and massacring Col. Bayler’s patriots, despite their surrender and calls for mercy.”

Indian Head (510 feet) about two miles north of Alpine Gorge, is the highest point of the Palisades.


Bruce, Wallace. The Hudson; Three Centuries of History, Romance and Invention. New York: Bryant Union Company. 1907.

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