Land stewardship and heritage protection often go hand in hand. The Hudson River Valley is not only one of the most beautiful places in the United States, it was also the key to who would win the Revolutionary War.
In July, 1779, General George Washington and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne stood on a rocky outcropping on Buckberg Mountain. As they stood, they could see out over the Haverstraw Bay and the Hudson River, a view that included Stony Point Fort. The view must have been breathtaking, but the two officers weren’t there for the scenery. They were planning land and water routes for a surprise attack on British troops stationed at the fort. That attack became known as the Battle of Stony Point.
“Wayne's victory at Stony Point on July 16th removed the British presence from the Hudson Highlands northward for the rest of the war,” explains Dr. Col. (Ret.) Jim Johnson, military historian of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and executive director of Marist College’s Hudson River Valley Institute.
Today, the site where they stood, known as Washington’s Lookout, is protected as a historic site that students, historians, and anyone interested in American history can visit. In February 2000, OSI, the Save Washington's Lookout Fund, and the Town of Stony Point banded together to purchase the site on Buckberg Mountain in Rockland County. It is one of several sites that OSI has helped to save, simultaneously protecting open spaces and illuminating history.
“As the center of the colonies at the time of the American Revolution, the Hudson River Valley hosted many key figures, battles, and political events throughout the eight years of war,” says Johnson, explaining the pivotal role the Hudson River Valley played in the Revolutionary War. General Washington, he goes on to explain, “understood that the Hudson River was the nexus of population, industry, agriculture, commerce, communications, and logistics. In his ‘Sentiments on a Peace Establishment’ in 1783, Washington argued that the defense of the fortifications at West Point on the Hudson River--his major pivot point throughout the war--had been the ‘key of America.’”
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is it worth to stand on the ground, like that at Washington’s Lookout, where history was made?
According to writer and historian Robert Hutchinson, preserving historic sites like the many that abound in the Hudson River Valley is a necessity because it “enlightens and informs the written account.” He also points out that history is subject to multiple and often conflicting interpretations, and the American Revolution is no exception. “In order to settle conflicting accounts of folkloric and historic interpretations, it’s critical to maintain intact the integrity of archeological sites to act as a touchstone for assessing what the truth was or what the most probable truth was.”
“OSI is proud to have protected several historic properties, including Arden Point and the North Redoubt, that contain important Revolutionary War era artifacts,” says Joe Martens, OSI president. “In all these cases, our work ensured that important sites would be available for education, interpretation, and recreation.” At these sites, Martens explains, history becomes more than words on a page or pictures on a screen. “Historic sites are the window to our past. They help define who we are as a community, region, state, and nation. If we did not protect historic sites, on the Hudson and elsewhere, the only connection to our past would be through books and other media.”
Some of OSI’s cultural and historic acquisitions include:
Mystery Point is a 137-acre preserve on the eastern banks of the Hudson River, just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge in Putnam County. In 1894 Edward Livingston, whose great-grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence, built an extraordinary Georgian house atop Mystery Point. The property along with the extant Georgian mansion is now the national headquarters for Outward Bound, the outdoor experiential educational school.A 18-acre Revolutionary War fortification known as North Redoubt lies atop a 180-foot rise in the Hudson Highlands. The remains of this Revolutionary battery - a set of parapets and stone walls - are part of this historically rich site, which is now open to the public and managed by the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation;
The purchase of 250 acres of the State’s best agricultural soils, directly adjacent to the 150-acre Papscanee Island Nature Preserve, which was created by OSI. For hundreds of years, until the mid-seventeenth century when Dutch settlers moved in, this land was farmed and occupied by the Mohican Indians. The island is named after their chief, Papsickene.
Washington’s Lookout marks the location where General George Washington and Colonel Anthony Wayne planned a surprise attack, which helped them to defeat the British, in the Battle of Stony Point in 1779. The Town of Stony Point now manages this site as a local park with signage marking the spot where Washington and Wayne mapped their attack route;
The 93-acre Glenclyffe property, located in Garrison, is rich in U.S. history. Benedict Arnold escaped to the Hudson River through this property. As well, former Governor of New York and Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, and later his son, resided on this property;
The protection of 136 acres of farmland along the historic Kinderhook Creek in Columbia County. This farmland is adjacent to the Martin Van Buren Historic Site and just down the creek from the Luykas Van Alen agricultural museum. This acquisition is part of an ongoing effort to protect approximately 850 acres within the Kinderhook Corridor to conserve farmland and protect the historic character of the surroundings.
The Connecticut Camp property in the Town of Philipstown was the site of the Connecticut Line’s encampment during the Revolutionary War. The cantonment, which was constructed to house the troops during the winter months between 1780-1781, doubled as their workshop. Buttons, musket parts and other artifacts, which have been found on the premises, emphasize the historical significance of this parcel.
Top Cottage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vacation home and surrounding property in Hyde Park. The 44-acre parcel and homestead is managed by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the National Park Service, and at designated times, the house will be open to the public, complimenting the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Historic Site in Hyde Park, and giving visitors a unique glimpse into the life of FDR. Subsequent parcels have been added by OSI, providing a link to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home.
100 acres bordering the Hudson River in the easternmost section of the Town of Colonie, Albany County. This site is on New York State and National Registers of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. This property was once a meeting place and trade center for Native American tribes prior to its purchase by the Van Rensselaer family in 1630. It was sold to the Schuyler family in 1672 and used as an important colonial resting point for troops and settlers. The Schuyler family held the house until 1910.
Both Mount Gulian and Verplank Landing were once part of the grand estate of Gulian Verplank, a prominent Dutch merchant who built a home on the site in the mid 1730s. During the later part of the Revolutionary War, this house served as the headquarters of the unheralded American hero, General Von Steuben, who transformed American army into a victorious military force. Archeological evidence has also been discovered on the property providing evidence of site occupation from as early as the archaic period, nearly 8,000 years ago.