America's Rhine

The Palisades and the Hudson Highlands

Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, the Hudson River was a famous tourist destination. Its fame came largely from two dramatic geological features - the Palisades of New Jersey and southern New York, and the Hudson Highlands. These rocky cliffs and steep mountains led the Hudson to be called “America’s Rhine,” and was considered one of the most scenic rivers in America.

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Carpenter Brothers Quarry, the Palisades. Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

Quarrying

In the 1880s and ‘90s, New York City grew beyond the banks of Manhattan Island and onto artificial land, increasing the need for fill. As railroads expanded throughout New York State, more and more stone was needed as construction material. The strong basalt Palisades began to be blasted for stone. Daily blasting ruined tourism and destroyed some of the Palisades’ most iconic landmarks.

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Mount Taurus, as viewed from Cold Spring. New York Public Library.

Later, mountains in the Hudson Highlands were also quarried for stone, including Mount Taurus, which was visible from the famous military academy at West Point. These quarrying efforts were considered loud and ugly nuisances by people who cared about the historic scenic beauty of the river - previously untouched - and cared about its future.

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New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs members aboard the motor yacht of Harrison B. Moore, 1897. The women, along with male members of the American Conservation Society, were touring the quarries along the Palisades. Palisades Interstate Park Commission. 

New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs

Founded in 1894, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs gathered together independent clubs from all across the state under the auspices of the nationally organized General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Formed at a time when Progressive women were starting to influence public policy, the New Jersey Federation, along with male members of the America Scenic Conservation Society, took a boat tour up the Hudson to observe the quarries along the Palisades. Lobbying state government and partnering with the American Scenic Conservation Society, the women worked with state and local officials to foster the creation of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission - a first-of-its-kind partnership between New York and New Jersey to preserve the Palisades. The women helped fundraise and in 1909 the Palisades Interstate Park was opened to the public. In 1929 the Federation was honored for its service with the creation of Federation Park and the construction of a “watchtower” at the peak of Long Path.

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Aerial photograph of the Hotel Thayer at West Point. The foot of Mount Taurus is visible across the Hudson River. U.S. Military Academy Archives.

Hudson River Conservation Society

In 1937 a group of concerned citizens met for a tea at the Thayer Hotel at West Point, just opposite Mount Taurus, which was being quarried. With the express goal of protecting the scenic Highlands from further quarrying and educating the public about environmental conservation, the Hudson River Conservation Society was formed. It successfully halted quarrying on Mount Taurus and at High Tor (and neighboring Little Tor) and helped transform these properties into public parks under the auspices of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Using a mix of purchasing power, local organizing, and negotiation with landowners, the HRCS continued to work to preserve the Hudson Highlands and the river throughout the twentieth century.

In addition, the Society banded together with other groups to fight dam projects on the Upper Hudson and within Adirondack State Park, opposed highway and transmission line projects along the Hudson, and other development projects that would mar the scenic beauty or ecology of the Hudson River Valley.

America's Rhine