“Welcome to Lookout Inn”
- First published January 2007.
“Welcome to Lookout Inn” was first published in the January-February 2007 issue of “Cliff Notes.”
The Park Commission’s Annual Report for 1937 noted, “A refreshment stand is under construction by the WPA [Works Progress Administration] at Point Lookout [State Line Lookout] on top of the Palisades overlooking the Hudson River at Alpine. This stand, which will be opened to the public early in the season of 1938, is of unusual and attractive appearance, has two open fireplaces and will be equipped for year round service.” The report also noted that the WPA was cutting dead trees “to create new and improved existing vistas.” (The dead trees were mostly American chestnuts, which had been killed by blight more than a decade earlier.)
The following year’s Report duly noted, “In the spring of 1938, the new refreshment stand, gas station and parking space … was opened for the use of the public. The refreshment stand is of attractive architecture, built with trap-rock and chestnut logs. The adjacent parking area is spacious enough to accommodate a large number of cars and completely to relieve the nuisance of indiscriminate parking along the highway that previously existed.” The highway referred to was the northbound lanes of U.S. Route 9W, which at that time split from the southbound lanes for about 2 miles south of the state line to swing eastward, running directly beside Point Lookout, at 532 feet the highest point on the Palisades in New Jersey. “Point Lookout,” the Report continued, “providing, as it does, a glorious view of the River and Westchester County, invites the presence of many visitors who may now enjoy the view in safety, as the highway which all visitors have to cross to get the view and re-cross to return to their cars is guarded by park police. Safety of the public at this point has been further secured by the building with WPA labor of a wall along the edge of the Palisades.”
Furthermore, “seven miles of bridle trails [intended for horseback riding] and fire breaks between Point Lookout and the former Ringling property (now part of the park) were completed; a water line to run from Ringling’s to Point Lookout was started and the water-tank on the former Ringling estate was painted.” The water tower mentioned had supplied the needs of John and Mable Ringling’s Alpine estate in the 1920s and had a 50,000 gallon capacity. Despite being two miles to the south of the Lookout, this source — probably fed by ground water and small streams — seems to have been the most promising solution to the vexing issue of how to get water to a refreshment stand sitting atop hundreds of feet of solid bedrock and miles from any city water lines.
There were about a dozen refreshment stands operating in the park when the new one at Lookout Point opened, including a pair of motorized vans that traveled along portions of the Shore Trail. The menus boasted a wide variety of sandwiches, snacks, and ice cream, as well as such items as “fresh tomato juice” (10¢), “vegetable soup” (10¢), “hamburger steak” (35¢), “corn beef & cabbage” (50¢), “italian spaghetti & meat sauce” (35¢), and “spring lamb”(50¢). In addition to soft drinks, beer was typically served (to those over 21), and cigarettes and cigars were also available for purchase. During the warm weather months, the Point Lookout stand was designed to be operated open-air, with wooden shutters that swung down into brass notch-holes in the counter at night to seal it up. During the winter, floor-to-ceiling window panels were installed around the serving area.
With the onset of World War II, many of the park’s facilities closed — including the refreshment stand at Point Lookout. It was reopened after the war, but changes were in store for it. A new system for providing water was devised to replace the line from Ringling’s, and the park began trucking water to a tank at the Lookout in 1947. A traffic signal was installed in 1948 at the intersection of 9W and the parking lot, which could be manually operated by the policeman directing the traffic at the busy location. By 1950, an addition had been built onto the rear of the refreshment stand, the glass-panel walls had been made permanent, and the gas station in the parking lot had been removed. But the biggest changes would come with the construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway in the 1950s. The northbound lanes of 9W were taken away from the cliff edge and moved beside the southbound lanes, about a mile to the west. The abandoned section of highway became an entrance road from the new parkway.
After the construction of the parkway, few changes took place at the Lookout area until 1980, when the park, after three decades of trucking water to the stand — often many truckloads a week — once again sought a new way to provide water for the refreshment stand. This time, however, its plans were much more ambitious: a 1,205-foot well was drilled through the bedrock of the cliffs to fresh water almost a quarter of a mile beneath the summit.
Around that same time, the park tried leasing the refreshment operation to private concessionaires, but this arrangement eventually proved unsatisfactory, and in 1996, the park once again took over its management.
Today known as “Lookout Inn,” the little stand is open seven days a week during daylight hours, and serves a wide and tasty selection of snacks and breakfast and lunch items (but no spring lamb…or beer). In addition, Lookout Inn sells maps and gift items, as well as a variety of books of interest to connoisseurs of the Hudson River Valley and the outdoors. Old photographs suggest that for a time the park did indeed offer “Saddle Horses for Hire,” though the experiment seems not to have worked out, and the impressive array of bridle paths laid out by the WPA seven decades ago are now used by hikers and walkers year-round, and by cross-country skiers in snowy weather. When they come back to the Inn, the skiers — and other visitors — can enjoy a cup of hot cocoa by the pair of open fireplaces that are still in use on most cold weekend days. (As they place their orders at the chestnut-wood counter, attentive patrons may notice the brass notch holes from where the wooden shutters used to come down at night.)
The view from Point Lookout is today as “glorious” as ever and provides an opportunity both to enjoy the vistas offered and to get a sense of the nature and geology of this National Natural Landmark known as the Palisades. As they go from their cars to Point Lookout, thousands stop by Lookout Inn annually as well. Some are passing through on their way to other destinations, but the Inn has its regulars, too, who come by more or less every week for a bite to eat, a view, and a friendly break in their day.