Autumn is perhaps the best time of year for scenic drives. As forests begin to glow with color, I find my usual preference for train or plane travel challenged. Traveling by car, after all, offers a flexibility to make multiple stops that other modes of transportation lack.
On Sunday, October 30, 2016, my family and I took a drive north along the Hudson River from the last spot we’d visited, Bear Mountain. Picking up US Route 9W at the traffic circle near the Bear Mountain Inn, I decided to stop nearby on a whim at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site.
Rachel and Baby Dana snoozed in the car while I took a quick look around. The site contains a small visitor center and the ruins of a Revolutionary War fort built by the Colonials in 1776 and demolished by the British following a battle the following year. A pair of re-enactors were giving a demonstration. One, wearing the green coat of a Loyalist soldier, fired off a musket.
I spent a few minutes walking the trail that loops through the grounds. Although the buildings at the site are little more than foundations, placards identify each and illustrate how they appeared over two centuries ago.
Towards the end of the visit, the Sun began to peek through the clouds, giving some hope for beautiful foliage on the drive ahead. North of West Point (home of the United States Military Academy), we picked up the Storm King Highway (part of New York State Route 218), which runs along the slopes of its namesake, Storm King Mountain.
A pullout just north of West Point gave us a view of the steep, rocky south face of Storm King, decorated by a carpet of handsome trees. The pullout featured views of the east bank of the Hudson River.
We got back on the road. The road climbed steeply, exiting the forest and winding along the mountainside. Although narrow, the road has a substantial stone wall on the cliff side. Similar to our experience driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only real danger was from oncoming drivers whose nerves gave them a tendency to swing across the center line.
The most coveted spot on the Storm King Highway is a sliver of a pullout on the northbound portion of the road (41°26’06.0″N 73°59’07.8″W) which features exceptional views of the Hudson River and surrounding hills. The pullout can comfortably accommodate only three cars and some motorcycles; we had to turn around and come back in order to find enough room to park. Unfortunately, our arrival coincided with the Sun beginning to fade back behind a blanket of clouds, rendering the forest colors subdued.
To the north, Pollepel Island was visible in the distance. This uninhabited island is home to a truly strange building complex known as Bannerman’s Castle. Arms dealer Francis Bannerman had a Scottish-style castle built there beginning in 1901, in order to serve as a warehouse for his business.
Since the arsenal closed decades ago, the site has fallen into decay and its buildings gradually fell victim to fire and collapses. With the telephoto capabilities of a superzoom camera, I could see that some of the remaining walls have been shored up. One of these days I’d like to take one of the tours run by the Bannerman Castle Trust . The island and ruins are otherwise off limits.
We continued from the pullout down the mountain into the small town of Cornwall-on-Hudson. While eating lunch at the Hudson Street Café, heavy rain arrived, heralding a cold front passing through. We got back on the road and headed to our last stop of the afternoon.
My parents had suggested we stop at George Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, located in the historic Hasbrouck House. It was one of many headquarters occupied by Washington during the American Revolution, albeit for a longer duration than the others. Admission to the Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site is $4 for adults and includes a tour of the building. The nearby museum building has a collection of artifacts and exhibits, including obstacles that the Colonials used to prevent British vessels from sailing the Hudson River at will.
According to our guide, it was extremely rare for a mid-18th century house to have a second story. The upper floor was not furnished and according to our guide, it was built strictly to show that the owner was wealthy enough to afford it!