Picturing a New Future for Fort Lee The Best of Both Worlds

Fort Lee, a quaint town of two-and-a-half square miles perched on the Palisades above the mighty Hudson River, is often overlooked. Millions of people have passed through Fort Lee—indeed, anyone who has ever crossed the George Washington Bridge has breached the town's borders—but of those, only a fraction have stopped to smell the proverbial roses.

But that's is changing. This rocky town, known primarily for the mammoth bridge that dominates the landscape, is forcing people to take a longer look, and being recognized at last for its many charms.

Fort Lee History

Originally a vast, secluded redoubt for the colonial Bourdette family, Fort Lee assumed its military importance in 1776, one of the more tumultuous years of the Revolutionary War. In that year, General George Washington had Fort Lee—and Fort Washington, its twin across the river—built to bolster the colonial defense of the Hudson.

Unfortunately, his plan was unsuccessful. Despite the best efforts of Washington (and his junior general, Charles Lee, for whom the town is named) the British launched a massive naval assault and seized New York. The fort was abandoned soon after it was constructed.

The town drifted into pleasant obscurity for more than a century, until the nascent film industry began using its rocky terrain as sets. Some of the biggest film stars of the silent-film era, including John Barrymore (who lived in the town), Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Theda Bara, and the original America's Sweetheart, Mary Pickford lived and/or worked in Fort Lee. The term cliffhanger, denoting a suspenseful first-act ending of a two-part serial, actually derives from the cliffs of Fort Lee, where many of those early serials were shot.

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