The Palisades Interstate Park is a National Historic Landmark.
Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey


Half Moon at Alpine Half Moon at Alpine

“’09” was first published in the January-February 2009 issue of “Cliff Notes.”

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1609. Three thousand ocean miles and half a year from home, the sailing vessel Halve Maen out of Amsterdam, about 85 feet long and with perhaps eighteen souls on board, noses through a narrow passage and into “a very good Harbour for all windes.” Two mornings later, Halve Maen begins up a river that, generations from now, will be named for the ill-fated English sea captain who commands her: Hudson. (The native peoples who watch from the wooded shores or paddle out to the strange craft have their own names for this river, of course. Muhheakantuck. Θkahnéhtati.) High in the masts canvas sails bloom and heavy lines of hemp creak — and the world changes forever.

As the four-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage nears, commemorations of various kinds are being planned up and down the river and beyond. It should make for an exciting year for those with a passion for the river and its rich history — a story reaching far beyond that September afternoon the “Half Moon” slipped through the Narrows and into what we know as New York Harbor.

Here at the park, however, ’09 is a double anniversary year. On September 27, 1909, the Palisades Interstate Park was dedicated. The dedication was part of that year’s commemoration of the three-hundredth anniversary of Hudson’s voyage, a week-long regional extravaganza that combined the approximate centennial (August 1807) of the maiden voyage of Robert Fulton’s Hudson River steamboat with the ’09 Hudson anniversary. The dedication was conducted from a newly constructed second-floor porch at what was then called the “Old Cornwallis Headquarters” — what we now call the Kearney House.

As reported in the Evening Record and Bergen County Herald:

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Hudson-Fulton demonstration to New Jersey was the dedication of the Palisades Interstate park, which occurred at Alpine today. By this dedication a strip of land along the west side of the river, thirteen miles long and containing 700 acres, was formally turned over to the people by the commission. … Standing on historic ground the governors of two states and invited guests dedicated the park to the use of the people as a pleasure ground forever…

Plans had already been well underway a year earlier. On November 22, 1908, a full-page illustrated article in the New York Times announced, “the ‘half moon’ to sail the hudson again — Exact Replicas of the Famous Vessel and Fulton’s Clermont to be Centre of a Gorgeous Pageant.” Along with details of the efforts to build the replica vessels, the article explained that,

Present plans contemplate that the celebration begin on Sept. 25 of next year [1909], and that it continue throughout eight days—eight days of gorgeous pageantry, with parades on land and water, and eight nights of fireworks and brilliant illuminations. The Half Moon ascended the Hudson to the present site of Albany and a bit beyond, and it is expected that all of the river towns between New York and that point will join in the noisemaking, the illuminations, and the general gayety.

The excitement kept mounting in the months to come, as more groups and individuals found ways to participate in the proposed festivities. Take this piece from the Times from January 31, 1909:

Cortlandt Field Bishop, President of the Aero Club of America, announced yesterday that a prize of $10,000 has been offered for a contest for heavier-than-air machines from this city [New York] to Albany, to be held in October, as one of the features of the Hudson-Fulton centenary exercises…

“The purpose of this event,” said Mr. Bishop, “is to duplicate so far as possible through the air the memorable steamboat trip made by Robert Fulton up the Hudson in the Claremont in 1807. The distance will be about 140 miles … The race will start at a convenient locality in Greater New York, but possibly it may be necessary to send the machines off from the Jersey Heights. … We have no machines now in this country that could accomplish such a trip successfully. … There are, however, three or four dirigibles in Europe that could perform the journey, and it is barely possible that one or more of them may be induced to come over. The Wright brothers, also, are going to be asked to compete.”

In March, the Interstate Park Commission released its annual report for the previous year, 1908, which in turn leaves us with a kind of verbal snapshot of what the park was like on the eve of the Hudson-Fulton event. “The problem of properly policing a park of twelve miles shore frontage, covered with thick woods, and used during the summer months by thousands of campers,” the report began, “has had the careful study and consideration of the Commissioners.” In response, the Commissioners established a “beach patrol” of five men to patrol the busiest parts of the park, while a “police launch in charge of the chief marshal” kept an eye on the whole of the park, including the more remote sections. This two-pronged patrol method was deemed a success. Among the main concerns of the patrols were safeguarding the springs that supplied water to the park’s visitors and monitoring the general sanitary practices in the campgrounds. The report gratefully acknowledged the park’s ability to draw upon men from neighboring communities in the event of emergencies.

The Commissioners fretted that “the number of persons who are enjoying the privileges of camping and day picnicking is increasing so rapidly that [we] have found it necessary to make further limitations of this nature.” Over a thousand permits had been issued for camping and picnicking in 1908 — nearly doubling the number from the previous year. “In the past,” the report stated, “campers have been permitted to choose their own camping sites, if not otherwise appropriated. The Commissioners are now considering the advisability of restricting such camping to one section of the Park, leaving the other portion of the Park open to day picnickers and visitors.”

A “highway” — what we know as the park’s scenic Henry Hudson Drive — was proposed in the report, among other improvements. The report concluded by noting that “the Commissioners hope the Legislature [in Trenton] will indicate its policy towards the development of the Park, and they feel that the year 1909 is peculiarly appropriate for such declaration of intention…”

As 2009 unfolds, we hope in this space to present more stories that highlight the theme of “’09.” We also look forward to scheduling some hikes and “tavern” events and such that also tie into the theme — and some fun surprises along the way, too. (It’s not every year that you get to turn a hundred!) Looking back at 1909 as well as 1609, too, may help us reflect on how this year’s commemoration of Hudson’s voyage compares with that held a century ago. It could well be that more than just our flying machines have changed.