Palisades Lit. 101
- First published March 2007.
“Palisades Lit. 101” was first published in the March-April 2007 issue of "Cliff Notes."
Since the creation of the Interstate Park Commission in 1900, the Palisades have — as they must have before the park appeared — inspired a fairly impressive collection of literature about them. In addition to innumerable articles and short pieces, a number of book-length studies have been written about the Palisades and the park that calls them home. All of this literature serves as a reminder of the kind of interest and passion that the Palisades have inspired over the years, both as a natural landmark and as a park. A quick review of the more significant titles follows.
One of the first of these pieces appeared shortly after the creation of the park, when in 1909, the same year the park was formally dedicated, Arthur C. Mack wrote The Palisades of the Hudson, whose subtitle gave a pretty thorough overview of the contents of his 58-page account: Their Formation, Tradition, Romance, Historical Associations, Natural Wonders and Preservation. Obviously, some of the information in it has become a bit dated, but it’s still a nice little work, available as a reprint if you’re willing to poke around some. (Originally published by the Palisades Press, it was reissued in 1982 by Walking News, Inc.)
Five years later, in 1914, Arthur P. Abbott penned a poetic (literally: there are several long poems mixed in with the text), 64-page work whose title can still make us blush: The Greatest Park in the World (published by Historian Publishing Company in New York). Though it deals mostly with the Commission’s New York State holdings — then brand new — the early chapters record the development of the Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey. (So we can stop blushing: Abbott’s contention was that there may be parks with grander scenery or what have you, but no large park such as ours can be found so close to a major urban center, and thus capable of providing its benefits to so great a number, including the impoverished. Seen in such a light, the argument still holds some merit, we feel.)
It’s unfortunately hard to come by these days, but perhaps the finest of this first generation of Palisades books — certainly the most attractive — was the beautifully hand-illustrated Palisades Interstate Park, written in 1921 for the American Geographical Society of New York by Robert Latou Dickinson. Dickinson’s maps, in particular, are outstanding. (See “Putting the Park on Paper” for more on Dickinson’s book. Just as an interesting historical footnote, besides being a great outdoors enthusiast and sketch artist, Dickinson, when not penning maps of the park, worked as a gynecologist, regarded today as a pioneer in the study of human sexuality, the direct forebear to Alfred Kinsey.)
The Commission, meanwhile, produced several book-length histories of itself over the decades, the most substantial of these appearing in 1929, 1947, and 1960.
In 1986, John Serrao, then the naturalist-director at Greenbrook Sanctuary, raised the bar by writing The Wild Palisades of the Hudson, a handsome coffee-table type book, brimming with Serrao’s own beautiful photography, much of it in color. Twenty years after its publication, Serrao’s work remains the most comprehensive account of the Palisades, with a wealth of information on topics ranging from geology to human history to flora and fauna.
In 2000, Robert O. Binnewies, capping his career as executive director of the Commission, wrote Palisades: 100,000 Acres in 100 Years, a scholarly yet readable work that is likely to remain for some time the most definitive history of the Commission and its work in the first century of its existence. (It is published by Fordham University Press and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.)
We are happy to report that since the turn of the millennium, a pair of new books has hit the shelves — or are about to in 2007. The first, in 2006, was A Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Palisades by Nancy Slowik, the present naturalist-director at Greenbrook. This handy field guide is a must-have for any Palisades hiker who is curious about the wildlife she or he will find along the trails. Five guided hike descriptions (four in the New Jersey Palisades, the fifth in Tallman Mountain State Park in New York), accompanied by maps and color photographs, fill the first half of the book. The second half is a field guide to the more common plant species encountered, including dozens of color photographs to help in identification, as well as a full-length pull-out map at the end of the book.
Due to be released in mid-April, New Jersey’s Palisades Interstate Park by historical interpreters E. Emory Davis and Eric Nelsen will be the latest in this line of “Palisades Lit.” Part of Arcadia Publishing’s popular “Images of America” series, the book features around 200 photographs of the Palisades and the park, most of them from our Scanned Image Library of over 3,000 historic images. With chapters that range from the Colonial period through the nineteenth-century riverfront settlements, to the Gilded Age estates that once adorned the cliff top and the initial push to close down the immense quarries that once tore into the cliffs, to the story of the park’s heyday in the 1930s and the work of the New Deal agencies during that time, the book provides, we hope, a comprehensive overview of the Palisades in New Jersey — not to mention some stunning photographs.