Mention Fort Lee, New Jersey and two things come to mind. One is its proximity to the George Washington Bridge, and secondly, its heritage as the birthplace of the modern film industry and of the Palisades amusement park.
The borough of Fort Lee is located in Bergen County in northeastern New Jersey. Nestled between Leonia and Palisades Park, you’ll find yourself on the banks of the Hudson River, one bridge (the George Washington, to be exact) away from New York City—and home to Fort Lee.
Fort Lee History 101
According to the borough’s website, the first people known to have settled in the Fort Lee area were the Lenni Lenape Indians. The first recorded reference to the area atop the Palisades which is now Fort Lee was by Captain Henry Hudson in 1609. In 1664, the British gained control of the Dutch lands in New Jersey and New York. Nearly a century later in 1756, Stephen Bourdette purchased 400 acres of wooded land north of present-day Edgewater; meaning that present-day Fort Lee was actually part of his property. The stone house he built was the only one for nearly a mile around and this same edifice later became General George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution.
Fort Lee’s role in the Revolutionary War is noteworthy as it was a crucial strategic location during the 1776 British campaign to control New York City and the Hudson River. After the siege of Boston, Washington fortified his defenses in New York and the Hudson Valley. The British plan was to control the length of the Hudson with the dominance of its Royal Navy. The plan, if successful, would have split the colonies in half and hopefully bring an early end to the war. In July of 1776, work was begun on a fort that would eventually be named for General Charles Lee, who assisted in the defense of New York City. On the opposite New York shoreline, Fort Washington was built.
Following the fall of New York to the British occupation, the Continental Army crossed the Hudson River and scaled the Palisades to man the fortifications on the bluffs of Fort Lee. Washington designated the area of what is now Monument Park and the Fort Lee Museum as an encampment for his troops, the borough’s website noted. Huts were constructed around Parker’s Pond and ovens carved of stone. However, with the war in New York going badly, Washington soon abandoned the fort and made preparations to evacuate his remaining army through New Jersey.