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The steamer passes too near the west bank to give a view of the magnificent plateau with parade ground and Government buildings, but on rounding the point a picture of marvelous beauty breaks at once upon the vision. On the left the massive indented ridge of Old Cro’ Nest and Storm King, and on the right Mount Taurus, or Bull Hill, and Break Neck, while still further beyond toward the east sweeps the Fishkill range, sentineled by South Beacon, 1,625 feet in height, from whose summit midnight gleams aroused the countryside for leagues and scores of miles during those seven long years when men toiled and prayed for freedom. Close at hand on the right will be seen Constitution Island, formerly the home of Miss Susan Warner, who died in 1885, author of “Queechy” and the “Wide, Wide World.” Here the ruins of the old fort are seen. The place was once called Martalaer’s Rock Island. A chain was stretched across the river at this point to intercept the passage of boats up the Hudson, but proved ineffectual, like the one at Anthony’s Nose, as the impetus of the boats snapped them both like cords.
Some years ago, when the first delegation of Apache Indians was brought to Washington to sign a treaty of peace, the Indians were taken for an “outing” up the Hudson, by General O. O. Howard and Dr. Herman Bendell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Arizona. It is said that they noted with cold indifference the palaces along the river front: “the artistic terraces, the well-kept, sloping lawns, the clipped hedges and the ivy-grown walls made no impression on them, but when the magnificent picture of the Hudson above West Point revealed itself, painted by the rays of the sinking sun, these wild men stood erect, raised their hands high above their heads and uttered a monosyllabic expression of delight, which was more expressive than volumes of words.”
Northern Gate of Highlands
Sir Robert Temple also rises into rapture over the northern gate of the Highlands. “One of the fairest spectacles to be seen on the earth’s surface; not on any other river or straitnot on Ganges or Indus, on the Dardanelles or the Bosphorus, on the Danube or the Rhine, on the Neva or the Nilehave I ever observed so fairy-like a scene as this on the Hudson. The only water-view to rival it is that of the Sea of Marmora, opposite Constantinople.”
Most people who visit our river, naturally desire a brilliant sunlit day for their journey, and with reason, but there are effects, in fog and rain and driving mist, only surpassed amid the Kyles of Bute, in Scotland. The traveler is fortunate, who sees the Hudson in many phases, and under various atmospheric conditions. A midnight view is peculiarly impressive when the mountain spirits of Rodman Drake answer to the call of his “Culprit Fay.”
“‘Tis the middle watch of a summer night,
The earth is dark but the heavens are bright,
The moon looks down on Old Cro’ Nest
She mellows the shade on his shaggy breast,
And seems his huge gray form to throw
In a silver cone on the wave below.”
It is said that the “Culprit Fay” was written by Drake in three days, and grew out of a discussion which took place during a stroll through this part of the Highlands between Irving, Halleck, Cooper and himself, as to the filling of a new country with old-time legends. Drake died in 1820. Halleck’s lines to his memory are among the sweetest in our language. It is said that Halleck, on hearing Drake read his poem, “The American Flag,” sprang to his feet, and in a semi-poetic transport, concluded the lines with burning words, which Drake afterwards appended:
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“Forever float that standard sheet,
Where breathes the foe but falls before us,
With Freedom’s soil beneath our feet,
And Freedom’s banner streaming o’er us.”
It floweth deep and strong and wide
This river of romance
Along whose banks on moonlight nights
The Highland fairies dance.
E. A. Lente
Just opposite Old Cro’ Nest is the village of Cold Spring, on the east bank, which receives its name naturally from a cold spring in the vicinity; and it is interesting to remember that the famous Parrott guns were made at this place, and many implements of warfare during our civil strife. The foundry was started by Governour Kemble in 1828, and brought into wide renown by the inventive genius of Major Parrott. Cold Spring has a further distinction in having the first ground broken, about three miles from the river, for the greatest engineering enterprise of the age”The Water Supply of the Catskills,” when Mayor McClellan, in June, 1907, began the work with his silver shovel. A short distance north of the village is
Undercliff (built by John C. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, but more particularly associated with the memory of the poet, Col. George P. Morris), lies, in fact, under the cliff and shadow of Mount Taurus, and has a fine outlook upon the river and surrounding mountains. Standing on the piazza, we see directly in front of us Old Cro’ Nest, and it was here that the poet wrote:
“Where Hudson’s wave o’er silvery sands
Winds through the hills afar,
Old Cro’ Nest like a monarch stands
Crowned with a single star.”
Few writers were better known in their own day than the poet of Undercliff, who wrote “My Mother’s Bible,” and “Woodman, Spare that Tree.” On one occasion, when Mr. Russell was singing it at Boulogne, an old gentleman in the audience, moved by the simple and touching beauty of the lines, rose and said: “I beg your pardon, but was the tree really spared?” “It was,” answered Mr. Russell, and the old gentleman resumed his seat, amid the plaudits of the whole assembly. Truly
“Its glory and renown
Are spread o’er land and sea.”
When freedom from her mountain height
Unfurled her standard to the air,
She tore the azure robe of night
And set the stars of glory there.
Joseph Rodman Drake
The first European name given to Storm King was Klinkersberg (so called by Hendrick Hudson, from its glistening and broken rock). It was styled by the Dutch “Butter Hill,” from its shape, and, with Sugar Loaf on the eastern side below the point, helped to set out the tea-table for the Dunderberg goblins. It was christened by Willis, “Storm King,” and may well be regarded the El Capitan of the Highlands. Breakneck is opposite, on the east side, where St. Anthony’s Face was blasted away. In this mountain solitude there was a shade of reason in giving that solemn countenance of stone the name of St. Anthony, as a good representative of monastic life; and, by a quiet sarcasm, the full-length nose below was probably suggested.
The mountain opposite Cro’ Nest is “Bull Hill,” or more classically, “Mt. Taurus.” It is said that there was formerly a wild bull in these mountains, which had failed to win the respect and confidence of the inhabitants, so the mountaineers organized a hunt and drove him over the hill, whose name stands a monument to his exit. The point at the foot of “Mount Taurus” is known as “Little Stony Point.”
The Highlands now trend off to the northeast, and we see North Beacon, or Grand Sachem Mountain, and Old Beacon about half a mile to the north. The mountains were relit with beacon-fires in 1883, in honor of the centennials of Fishkill and Newburgh, and were plainly seen sixty miles distant.
This section was known by the Indians as “Wequehache,” or, “the Hill Country,” and the entire range was called by the Indians “the endless hills,” a name not inappropriate to this mountain bulwark reaching from New England to the Carolinas. As pictured in our “Long Drama,” given at the Newburgh centennial of the disbanding of the American Army,
That ridge along our eastern coast,
From Carolina to the Sound,
Opposed its front to Britain’s host,
And heroes at each pass were found:
A vast primeval palisade,
With bastions bold and wooded crest,
A bulwark strong by nature made
To guard the valley of the west.
Along its heights the beacons gleamed,
It formed the nation’s battle-line,
Firm as the rocks and cliffs where dreamed
The soldier-seers of Palestine.
It was also believed by the Indians that, in ancient days, “before the Hudson poured its waters from the lakes, the Highlands formed one vast prison, within whose rocky bosom the omnipotent Manitou confined the rebellious spirits who repined at his control. Here, bound in adamantine chains, or jammed in rifted pines, or crushed by ponderous rocks, they groaned for many an age. At length the conquering Hudson, in its career toward the ocean, burst open their prison-house, rolling its tide triumphantly through the stupendous ruins.”
Pollopel’s Island, east of the steamer’s route, was once regarded as a haunted spot, but its only witches are said to be snakes too lively to be enchanted. In old times, the “new hands” on the sloops were unceremoniously dipped at this place, so as to be proof-christened against the goblins of the Highlands. Here also another useless “impediment” was put across the Hudson in 1779, a chevaux-de-frise with iron-pointed spikes thirty feet long, hidden under water, strongly secured by cribs of stone. This, however, was not broken and would probably have done effective work if some traitor to the cause had not guided the British captains through an unprotected passage. The State at one time contemplated the purchase of this island on which to erect a statue to Hendrick Hudson. For some reason Governor Flower vetoed the bill. It is now owned by Mr. Francis Bannerman, an energetic business man, who perhaps some day may see his way to promote a monument to Hudson on the splendid pedestal which nature has already completed.
Cornwall and Idlewild
Cornwall-on-the-Hudson. This locality N. P. Willis selected as the most picturesque point on the Hudson. The village lies in a lovely valley, which Mr. Beach has styled in his able description, as “an offshoot of the Ramapo, up which the storm-winds of the ocean drive, laden with the purest and freshest air.”
Idlewild. Where Willis spent the last years of his life is a charming spot and rich with poetic memories. E. P. Roe also chose Cornwall for his home. Lovers of the Hudson are indebted to Edward Bok for his realistic sketch of an afternoon visit. The “Idlewild” of to-day is still green to the memory of the poet. Since Willis’ death the place has passed in turn into various hands, until now it belongs to a wealthy New York lawyer, who has spent thousands of dollars on the house and grounds. The old house still stands, and here and there in the grounds remains a suggestion of the time of Willis. The famous pine-drive leading to the mansion, along which the greatest literary lights of the Knickerbocker period passed during its balmy days, still remains intact, the dense growth of the trees only making the road the more picturesque. The brook, at which Willis often sat, still runs on through the grounds as of yore. In the house, everything is remodeled and remodernized. The room from whose windows Willis was wont to look over the Hudson, and where he did most of his charming writing, is now a bedchamber, modern in its every appointment, and suggesting its age only by the high ceiling and curious mantel. Only a few city blocks from “Idlewild” is the house where lived E. P. Roe, the author of so many popular novels, as numerous, almost, in number as the several hundreds of thousands of circulation which they secured. There are twenty-three acres to it in all, and, save what was occupied by the house, every inch of ground was utilized by the novelist in his hobby for fine fruits and rare flowers. Now nothing remains of the beauty once so characteristic of the place. For four years the grounds have missed the care of their creator. Where once were the novelist’s celebrated strawberry beds, are now only grass and weeds. Everything is grown over, only a few trees remaining as evidence that the grounds were ever known for their cultivated products. A large board sign announces the fact that the entire place is for sale.
Cornwall has been for many years a favorite resort of the Hudson Valley and her roofs shelter in the summer season many thousand people. The road completed in 1876, from Cornwall to West Point, gives one a pleasant acquaintance with the wooded Highlands. It passes over the plateau of Cro’ Nest and winds down the Cornwall slope of Storm King. The tourist who sees Cro’ Nest and Storm King only from the river, has but little idea of their extent. Cro’ Nest plateau is about one thousand feet above the parade ground of West Point, and overlooks it as a rocky balcony. These mountains, with their wonderful lake system, are, in fact, the “Central Park” of the Hudson. Within a radius of ten miles are clustered over forty lakes, and we very much doubt if one person in a thousand ever heard of them. A convenient map giving the physical geography of this section would be of great service to the mountain visitor. The Cornwall pier, built by the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad in 1892 for coal and freight purposes, will be seen on our left near the Cornwall dock. This railroad leaves the West Shore at this point and forms a pleasant tourist route to the beautiful inland villages and resorts of the State.