The village of Highland Falls (population 3,678) is part of the town of Highlands, which was founded by separation in 1873 from the larger town of Cornwall. The town of Highlands also includes Fort Montgomery and West Point. The village of Highland Falls was incorporated in 1906 and celebrated its 100th birthday in 2006.
Originally, this scenic portion of the Hudson Highlands was settled by the Indians of the Algonquin Tribe, sometimes known as the Delaware or the Leni Lanape. The first European settlers, the Dutch, named the area Buttermilk Falls, after the turbulent brook that fell into the Hudson River. The first grants were established as early as 1723.
The town’s historic role in the American Revolution pre-dated the town’s official formation. Because the Hudson River was a major thoroughfare and an integral part of the defense of the American colonies, small redoubts and forts were built along the banks of the river. Fortress West Point was one of these forts, and its geographical location was considered pivotal to the war efforts. Iron ore, mined locally, was used to forge massive iron links to form a chain that was floated across the Hudson River to deter ship travel up the river.
After the revolution, Fortress West Point became the nation’s first engineering school when the United States Military Academy was formed on March 16, 1802. As the Academy grew, the surrounding communities provided much needed support in materials and labor. In addition, the area became known for its beautiful scenery and boasted many grand hotels. Highland Falls was the summer home to financier J.P. Morgan, whose estate still graces the banks of the Hudson. The historic former Ladycliff Academy now serves as the West Point Visitors Center.
In 1981, Americans held hostage in Iran were enthusiastically welcomed back by the village of Highland Falls when they stayed at the Hotel Thayer for their first night on American soil. The village was dubbed “Hometown USA.” A collection of memorabilia sent to these hostages from people all over the world is on view for visitors.
The village of Highland Falls is a Certified Local Government and a Main Street Community. In 2003 it was one of three areas chosen to be part of an Army/Community Heritage Partnership Program as the “Historic Gateway to West Point.” A joint planning process led to the creation of a Local Development Corporation and accomplishments in revitalizing the local Main Street Historic District. Façade improvements, streetscaping, signage, special events, and other promotional efforts have all contributed to strengthening Highland Falls as a heritage tourism destination. The village created a Historic Walk of Fame program and most recently received a state grant to assist in the restoration of the interior of historic Main Street buildings.