The Palisades are the name that we give to the breathtaking line of rocky cliffs along the west bank of the lower Hudson River stretching from Jersey City, N.J. to Nyack, N.Y. They rise from near the edge of the river to a height of approximately 300 feet at Weehawken, N.J., and gradually to a height of 540 feet near their northern terminus. Primordially these spectacular cliffs may have reached 1,000 feet in height! Thus, they are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of our great metropolis. North of Fort Lee, N.J. they form part of the Palisades Interstate Park, designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Parks Service in 1983.
The native Lanape people indeed called this imposing natural wonder “Weehawken — rocks that look like rows of trees.” The town of Weehawken itself sites at the top of the lower cliffs, directly across the Hudson from the isle of Manhattan.
Modern efforts to preserve, protect and defend the Palisades began late in the 19th century, when quarrying for railroad ballast, and billboards, threatened to destroy the scenic cliffs. In 1898 alone, tons of dynamite brought down the Washington Head and Indian Head sections of the cliffs at Fort Lee. As a reaction to this devastation, The New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs led the creation of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which was authorized to acquire the land between Fort Lee, N.J. and Piermont, N.Y., and then, in 1906, the land up to Stony Point, N.Y.
In the 1930s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 700 acres atop a 13-mile stretch of the Palisades for the express purpose of preserving, protecting and defending that land from any and all uses inconsistent with the Palisades Interstate Park and the preservation of the Palisades themselves. At the same time, he donated the acreage for Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters, the world famous medieval art museum in the park that forms part of our Metropolitan Museum of Art.