In Fort Washington Park under the George Washington Bridge and located on a hill overlooking the Little Red Lighthouse at Jeffrey’s Hook there is a monument constructed of boulders whose emplacement and history is known to but only a few of the residents of the community. Its appointment in the park has chronicled a significant meaning to the history of Washington Heights and Inwood.
During the pre-Colonial period, Jeffrey’s Hook was used as a fishing station. Proof of this was a deposit of shells and charcoal from campfires in an area dug up in archaeological research in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1918 arrowheads were found in rock crevices by Alanson Skinner and Amos Oneroad.
These artifacts, which are now part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, were attributed to the Wiechquaesgeck tribal group of the Lenape (or Delaware) Indian Confederacy. This group had a territory of northern Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Jeffrey’s Hook was named for Captain Richard Jeffrey, who commanded various small vessels and privateers from 1744 to 1747. In 1789 the area was purchased by Blazius Moore, who owned land north of the hook. Five years later Moore gave his share of the property to his son Jacob, who was the owner of the Blue Bell Tavern on 181st Street and Broadway. In time (1810) the land was foreclosed and was taken over by William and Gerardus Post.
The Battle of Fort Washington, which had occurred on November 16, 1776, had been a military disaster for the Patriot Army. The fort located in Bennett Park on Fort Washington Avenue between 183rd and 185th Streets had many outerworks and defenses. One of these defensive areas was a cannon battery located near the Hudson River. The Jeffrey’s Hook battery was also known as Fort Washington Point.
The site was selected by the American Army staff as the site to create an obstruction across the Hudson River. It was a well-suited location because the Hook juts out into the river, reducing the width by one-third. This barricade was an iron chain that worked in conjunction with sunken ships called Chevaux de Fris that was extended from Jeffrey’s Hook to the base of the Palisades in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The battery had help from a rifle redoubt for Rebel sharpshooters to pick off the crews of the British ships that sailed up the Hudson. The cannon at the shore of the Hudson had been used for added firepower by shelling the hulls of the ships, for protection of the redoubt and Fort Washington.
In 1910 the Fort Washington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) erected a stone monument honoring the western defense of the main fortification. Even though part of the wording has faded, it reads, “American Redoubt … Washington Chapter DAR 1910.”
The Fort Washington Chapter was also involved in the placement of other memorials in the community. One such memorial was a plaque located on the Broadway mall between 147th and 148th Streets designating it as the site of the first line of defense for Fort Washington. The original plaque had disappeared and was replaced by local activists who wanted to preserve the community’s history.
The Chapter was one of the founding organizations that formed the Washington Headquarters Association, which in its present form supervises the Morris-Jumel Mansion. The Fort Washington Chapter was disbanded as an entity on October 12, 1960.
Since few people come to Fort Washington Park, the monument is hard to find and is easily overlooked. It is about 100 yards northeast of the Little Red Lighthouse. When there are tours of the lighthouse by the Urban Park Rangers, the monument is mentioned as part of the tour and its significance to the Battle of Fort Washington in November of 1776.
The area surrounding the monument is overgrown with weeds, shrubs and relics of fireplaces that have been deteriorated by the elements. In the 1970s the area was a hub for abandoned cars, but the Department of Parks and Recreation has seen to it that the wrecks were disposed of properly and the area has been maintained. The monument is in slight disrepair and has graffiti on it. Access can be made to the monument, but the terrain is steep and the climb difficult.
The DAR monument and the Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park can be reached from 181st Street and Riverside Drive by crossing the footbridge over the Henry Hudson Parkway and following the pedestrian pathway down to the Hudson River. Once over the bridge at the railroad tracks, look to your left going up the hill. The access is steep but you can reach the top and see the monument.
For more information on tours of the Little Red Lighthouse, call the Urban Park Rangers at (212) 304-2365. For more information on Fort Washington Park, log on to the Parks Department Web site. For information on the Daughters of the American Revolution, log on to their Web site.