Constitution Island

Last updated
Constitution Island
Constitution Island, NY viewed from the west Jan 09.JPG
Constitution Island from the west
at Merritt Road at West Point
Usa edcp relief location map.png
Red pog.svg
Location in the United States
USA New York relief location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location in New York
Nearest city West Point, New York, U.S.
Coordinates 41°24′20″N73°57′15″W / 41.40556°N 73.95417°W / 41.40556; -73.95417 Coordinates: 41°24′20″N73°57′15″W / 41.40556°N 73.95417°W / 41.40556; -73.95417

Constitution Island is in the northeastern United States, located in New Yorkon the east side of the Hudson River, north of New York City. It is directly opposite the U.S. Military Academy Reservation at West Point and is connected to the east shore by Constitution Marsh.

Contents

It is the only part of the U.S. Military Academy Reservation on the east side of the Hudson River. Formerly known as "Martelaer's Rock", Constitution Island is the site of the earliest Revolutionary War fortifications in the Hudson Valley. Taken briefly by the British in 1777, the island was re-occupied by American forces in 1778, and made an integral part of Fortress West Point. The island was bequeathed to the military academy in 1909 and has been administered by the West Point Museum ever since.

The Education Center was completed in 2016, the Warner House has been completely restored and will be ready as a Museum again in the Spring of 2020.

Martelaer's Rock

Between Cold Spring and West Point lay a large rocky island connected to the eastern shore by a reedy marsh. Dutch Navigators called it Martelaer's Island and the part of the river between it and Storm King Mountain, Martelaer's Rack, or Martyr's Reach. The word "martyr" signified "struggling", as vessels coming up the river with a fair wind would frequently find themselves, immediately after passing the point of the island into the reach, contending with the wind ahead. [1]

Fort Constitution

Constitution Island seen from US Route 9W Constitution Island from 9W.JPG
Constitution Island seen from US Route 9W

The strategic importance of the ability to control navigation along the Hudson River was obvious to both the Americans and the British from the outbreak of open hostilities. The Hudson was the major means for transportation of supplies and troops throughout a large portion of the northeast. On May 25, 1775, the Continental Congress resolved to build fortifications in the Hudson highlands for the purpose of protecting and maintaining control of the Hudson River.

General George Washington was appointed by the Continental Congress to work with the New York Provincial Congress to draft plans as to how the Hudson River should be fortified against the British. Local residents James Clinton and Christopher Tappan were sent to scout appropriate locations. The initial site chosen was Martlaer's Island, across from West Point. Located on a strategic curve in the Hudson River, engineer Bernard Romans, was appointed to begin the construction of a large fort on the island which was to be named “Fort Constitution". [2]

Historical marker across the river at West Point Constitution Island Plaque at Bettery Sherburnejpg.jpg
Historical marker across the river at West Point

Plans for the fort called for four bastions. Construction of the fortifications began in the summer of 1775, and the island was soon known as Constitution Island. By November it had 70 cannons. However, difficulties in construction and management of the original plan of fortifications, together with escalating costs, led to abandonment of that project. A site at Popolopen Creek across from Anthony's Nose was proposed, and in January 1776, the materials and resources from Fort Constitution were redirected to the construction at the new site. [3] The building of Fort Constitution was suspended while the militia concentrated their efforts on building Forts Clinton, Montgomery and Independence south of the island in the hope of containing the British further downstream. [4] The earthworks at Fort Constitution were unfinished when British troops destroyed them in 1777. [5]

In 1778 Polish engineer Thaddeus Kosciusko began designing Fortress West Point as a series of forts and redoubts on both sides of the river. On Constitution Island, a barracks, three redoubts, and a water battery were constructed. [5]

Chain

The island is perhaps best known as the eastern anchor-point for the Great Chain, a massive iron structure that stretched across the narrow bend in the Hudson between the island and the mainland at West Point. The chain was intended to prevent British naval vessels from navigating freely along the Hudson. This was the second attempt to string a chain across the Hudson River in an effort to prevent the British from taking control of the Hudson thereby splitting the American colonies. The first chain, which weighed 35 tons and was 1650 yards long stretched between the base of Fort Montgomery and the rock at Anthony's Nose. That chain failed to stop the British forces when they attacked Forts Montgomery and Clinton. That chain was dismantled by the British. [4]

The Great Chain remained in place (except during months when ice blocked the river) from 1778 to 1782. After the war, Constitution Island returned to civilian use. [6] :17–18,25–27

Tadeusz Kościuszko along with Thomas Machin designed a capstan for reeling in the chain. Kosciuszko also added the Lanthorn Battery at Gee's Point and the Knox Battery to cover the South Dock. The original iron chain, with one and a half inch thick links, was replaced in 1778 with links two and a quarter inches thick, which were two feet long and weighed 140 pounds. Made by Peter Townsend's Stirling Iron Works in Warwick, New York, the 1500 foot long chain weighed 186 tons. Kept afloat on huge logs, forty men removed the chain in winter.[ clarification needed ] [7] :55,58

Warner House

The Warner House as part of the National Historic Landmark of the United States Military Academy, is located on Constitution Island and administered by the West Point Museum, United States Military Academy. The Warner family owned the island and lived in the house from 1838 to 1915. Sisters Susan Bogert Warner and Anna Bartlett Warner were popular, prolific novelists whose works sold millions of copies in the United States, England and elsewhere. The Warner sisters are recognized as among the most significant American women writers of the nineteenth century. Anna Bartlett Warner's most well known song is Jesus Loves Me. In 1908, seven years before her death, Anna Warner sold the island to Mrs. Olivia Sage, widow of the financier Russell Sage.

In 1908, Mrs. Russell Sage and Miss Anna Warner presented Constitution Island to the United States government as a joint gift according to the following stipulations:

“Lawrence, L.I., September 4, 1908,

The President:

Sir: I take pleasure in tendering as a gift to the United States from myself and Miss Anna Bartlett Warner, Constitution Island, opposite of West Point…to be an addition to the Military Academy…under the following conditions: First: That ‘the Island be for the use forever of the United States Military Academy at West Point…that no part of it shall ever be used as a public picnic, excursion, or amusement ground, operated by private enterprise, individual or corporate, for profit…”

The president sent the following letter to Mrs. Sage.

“My dear Mrs. Sage:

I have received your letter of September 4th. I wish to thank you for your very generous gift to the Nation, and I have written Miss Warner thanking her…. Permit me now, on behalf of the Nation, to thank you most heartily again for a really patriotic act.

With regard, Yours sincerely, Theodore Roosevelt.”

Both sisters are buried at West Point Cemetery. [6] :78–79,163–164

The Constitution Island Association, a not-for-profit organization, traditionally provides historic and cultural tours for visitors to the island and maintains the extensive gardens surrounding the Warner House. At this time, the Warner House has been closed to visitors because the structure has become unsafe. The garden and grounds are open for visiting on certain days in the summer. The Military Academy has made improvements to the site including upgrades to the roadways, drainage, support facilities and trails. The West Point Museum and United States Army Garrison have begun the construction of an Education Center on the island. The project is a joint effort of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Directorate of Public Works, West Point and the West Point Museum and solely funded by the United States Army Garrison, West Point. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Fort Montgomery (Hudson River) United States historic place

Fort Montgomery was a fortification built on the west bank of the Hudson River in Highlands, New York by the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Erected in 1776, Fort Montgomery was one of the first major investments by the Americans in strategic construction projects.

West Point, New York CDP in New York, United States

West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States. Located on the Hudson River in New York, West Point was identified by General George Washington as the most important strategic position in America during the American Revolution. Until January 1778, West Point was not occupied by the military. On January 27, 1778, Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons and his brigade crossed the ice on the Hudson River and climbed to the plain on West Point and from that day to the present, West Point has been occupied by the United States Army. It comprises approximately 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) including the campus of the United States Military Academy, which is commonly called "West Point".

<i>Cheval de frise</i> Defensive obstacle

The cheval de frise is a defensive obstacle, which existed in a number of forms and were employed in various applications. These included underwater constructions used to prevent the passage of ships or other vessels on rivers, or as anti-cavalry measure consisting of a portable frame covered with many projecting long iron or wooden spikes or spears. They were principally intended as an anti-cavalry obstacle but could also be moved quickly to help block a breach in another barrier. They remained in occasional use until they were replaced by wire obstacles just after the American Civil War. During the Civil War, the Confederates used this type of barrier more often than the Union forces. During World War I, armies used chevaux de frise to temporarily plug gaps in barbed wire. Barbed wire chevaux de frise were used in jungle fighting on the South Pacific islands during World War II.

Fort Schuyler

Fort Schuyler is a preserved 19th century fortification in the New York City borough of the Bronx. It houses a museum, the Stephen B. Luce Library, and the Marine Transportation Department and Administrative offices of the State University of New York Maritime College. It is considered one of the finest examples of early 19th century fortifications. The fort was named in honor of Major General Philip Schuyler of the Continental Army.

Fort William and Mary United States historic place

Fort William and Mary was a colonial fortification in Britain's worldwide system of defenses, defended by soldiers of the Province of New Hampshire who reported directly to the royal governor. The fort, originally known as "The Castle," was situated on the island of New Castle, New Hampshire, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River estuary. It was renamed Fort William and Mary c. 1692, after the accession of the monarchs William III and Mary II to the British throne. It was captured by Patriot forces, recaptured, and later abandoned by the British in the Revolutionary War. The fort was renamed Fort Constitution in 1808 following rebuilding. The fort was further rebuilt and expanded through 1899 and served actively through World War II.

Hudson River Chains River barriers used during the American Revolutionary War

The Hudson River Chains were a series of chain booms constructed across the Hudson River at West Point by Continental Army forces from 1776 to 1778 during the American Revolutionary War. These served as defenses preventing British naval vessels from sailing upriver and were overseen by the Highlands Department of the Continental Army.

Fort Wadsworth Historic military installation in Staten Island, New York

Fort Wadsworth is a former United States military installation on Staten Island in New York City, situated on The Narrows which divide New York Bay into Upper and Lower halves, a natural point for defense of the Upper Bay and Manhattan beyond. Prior to closing in 1994 it claimed to be the longest continually garrisoned military installation in the United States. It comprises several fortifications, including Fort Tompkins and Battery Weed and was given its present name in 1865 to honor Brigadier General James Wadsworth, who had been killed in the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War. Fort Wadsworth is now part of the Staten Island Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, maintained by the National Park Service.

Hudson Highlands Mountains on either side of the Hudson River roughly 60 mi (100 km) north of New York City

The Hudson Highlands are mountains on both sides of the Hudson River in New York state lying primarily in Putnam County on its east bank and Orange County on its west. They continue somewhat to the south in Westchester County and Rockland County, respectively.

Redoubt Auxiliary defensive structure outside a larger fort

A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, although some are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a hastily constructed temporary fortification. The word means "a place of retreat". Redoubts were a component of the military strategies of most European empires during the colonial era, especially in the outer works of Vauban-style fortresses made popular during the 17th century, although the concept of redoubts has existed since medieval times. A redoubt differs from a redan in that the redan is open in the rear, whereas the redoubt was considered an enclosed work.

Fort Billingsport

Fort Billingsport, at Billingsport in Paulsboro, Gloucester County, New Jersey, United States, was an American Revolutionary War fort on the Delaware River. The site of the fort is now a public park of the same name, located at the Plains Terminal at the Port of Paulsboro between two oil refineries.

The Sterling Iron Works owned by Peter Townsend was one of the first steel and iron manufacturers in the Thirteen Colonies and the first steel producer in the Province of New York. The company was most famous for forging the Hudson River Chain that kept the British Navy from sailing up the Hudson during the American Revolution, and served to protect the strategically important fort at West Point. The works were operational from 1761 to 1842.

Fort Tompkins (Staten Island) Historic 19th century fort in Staten Island, New York

Fort Tompkins is a fort on Staten Island in New York City, within what is now Fort Wadsworth at the Narrows. Fort Tompkins guarded the landward approaches to other forts in the area from 1808 through circa 1898. The current fort was built 1847-1861, and was operational as a fort until superseded by new defenses circa 1898. It is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It is the last remaining of four forts in New York State named Fort Tompkins.

United States Military Academy grounds and facilities United States historic place

The United States Military Academy and grounds were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 due to the Revolutionary War history and the age and historic significance of the academy itself. The majority of the buildings in the central cadet area are historic.

The history of the United States Military Academy can be traced to fortifications constructed on the West Point of the Hudson River during the American Revolutionary War in 1778. Following the war, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy (USMA) on the site in 1802. In 1817 the academy was transformed by the appointment of Sylvanus Thayer who drastically reformed the curriculum.

Kosciuszkos Garden

Kosciuszko's Garden is a small retreat garden built by Tadeusz Kosciuszko on the side of a cliff overlooking the Hudson River at West Point, New York. First constructed in 1778, it still offers visitors and cadets a place of quiet tranquility during the warmer months. The "General Edward L. Rowny Family Endowment" was established to further sustain perpetual care and maintenance of the Garden and to dedicate a plaque commemorating the occasion.

Fort Clinton (West Point)

Fort Clinton was an American Revolutionary War fort located near West Point, New York. Commanded by and named after Benedict Arnold before his betrayal of the United States and defection to the British Army, the fortification was renamed after General James Clinton.

Fort Putnam

Fort Putnam was a military garrison during the Revolutionary War at West Point, New York, United States. Built by a regiment of Colonel Rufus Putnam's 5th Massachusetts Regiment, it was completed in 1778 with the purpose of supporting Fort Clinton, which sat on the edge of the Hudson River about 3/4 of a mile away. The fort was rebuilt and enlarged in 1794 before falling into disuse and disrepair as the military garrison at West Point became obsolete in the early mid-19th century. It underwent a major preservation as a historical site in 1909, and has been continually in the process of preservation since. Sitting at an altitude of 500 feet above sea level, it was West Point's largest garrison during the Revolutionary War. The Fort is under the supervision of the West Point Museum Director, David M. Reel, and is operated by the United States Army Garrison, West Point. Access to the Fort is seasonal and as summer staff are available.

Redoubt Four (West Point)

Redoubt Four was a supporting defensive position of Fort Putnam during the Revolutionary War defensive network at West Point. It was constructed under the command of Tadeusz Kosciuszko in 1778-1779. During the war, it was a key defensive overwatch position for Fort Putnam 300 feet below, which was in turn the key overwatch position for Fort Clinton. According to Benedict Arnold, the fort required approximately 100 soldiers to man it. The redoubt was partially restored in 1975-1976 as part of the bicentennial celebration. It can be accessed by foot year round from Patrick Trail (road) approximately .5 miles from the West Point Post Exchange complex.

Dozens of fortifications were built in Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula between the 1650s and the 1940s. Most have gone, but a few still stand.

Fort Stark

Fort Stark is a former military fortification in New Castle, New Hampshire, United States. Located at Jerry's Point on the southeastern tip of New Castle Island, most of the surviving fort was developed in the early 20th century, following the Spanish–American War, although there were several earlier fortifications on the site, portions of which survive. The fort was named for John Stark, a New Hampshire officer who distinguished himself at the Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution. The purpose of Fort Stark was to defend the harbor of nearby Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The fort remained in active use through the Second World War, after which it was used for reserve training by the US Navy. The property was partially turned over to the state of New Hampshire in 1979, which established Fort Stark Historic Site, and the remainder of the property was turned over in 1983. The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours.

References

  1. Lossing, Benson John. The Hudson, from the Wilderness to the Sea, New York, Virtue and Yorston, 1866
  2. "The Revolutionary War", Constitution Island Association
  3. "Fort Constitution", New York State Military Museum
  4. 1 2 Wade, William. Virtual Trip up the Hudson, 1846
  5. 1 2 ""Constitution Island", Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
  6. 1 2 Dunwell, F.F., 1991, The Hudson River highlands, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN   0231070438
  7. Storozynski, A., 2009, The Peasant Prince, New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN   9780312388027
  8. [ permanent dead link ]