The accuracy of the History written below may be challenged by many current residents as well as friends and natives across the country and around the world. As with most "recollections"; this history must be considered as but one opinion or remembrance of the past. Amendments or other family recollections are welcomed.
History of Highlands, NY (the origin of the people and the area now known as Highland Falls and the Town of Highlands)
From: The History of Orange County, New York Edited by: Russel Headley Published by: Van Deusen and Elms Middletown, New York, 1908
TOWN OF HIGHLANDS By CAPTAIN THEODORE FAUROT.
THIS is one of the younger towns of Orange County, only those of Tuxedo and Woodbury having been born later. It is, in fact, only about thirty five years old. But for scenic beauty and native charm it easily outranks every other town in this county, if not all others on the Hudson River. The fame of the Hudson River Highlands is worldwide, and it is in this little town that the culmination of this native grandeur and picturesque beauty is reached. No one who has ever sailed up or down the Hudson, and who has not, will spend a moment wondering why this township was thus named.
The general shape or contour of the town, laterally, may be roughly classed as triangular. But the topographical surface is far more difficult to classify. It has the most extended river frontage of any town in the country, it being some nine or ten miles, beginning at Cro Nest, in the town of Cornwall on the north, and reaching below Fort Montgomery, to the Rockland County line.
It is bounded on the north by the town of Cornwall, on the east by the Hudson River, on the south by Rockland county and the town of Woodbury, and on the west by Woodbury.
The area of this young town, as now estimated by the Orange supervisors, is 15,514 acres. In 1879 it was placed at 9,324 1/2 acres. This fractional total would seem to indicate that a very careful survey had been made previous to that time. But nobody has been quite able to explain just how this unique engineering feat was accomplished. Looking at the town from the river, the task presents many features of serious import, even to the mountain engineer.
The whole thing was valued at $330,600 by the assessors of 1879. But of course there was nothing allowed for sentiment or native grandeur in that cold, business estimate. Perhaps such things really had no cash value at that time, if indeed they have now. The tax of the town that year amounted to $2,896.67. In 1906 the total value of this real estate was placed at $857,112. Upon this amount a tax of $8,610.67 was levied. This was made up as follows: $3,474.20, general fund; $4,423.37, town audits $250.02, sworn off taxes; and $9.33, treasurer's credits.
TITLE TO THE LANDS.
Concerning these, previous to the Revolution, little is definitely known. The lands around the Point, from which West Point takes its name, and to the north and west thereof, were originally granted by the British Crown to Captain John Evans. In 1723 these lands, having been reassumed by the Crown, the larger portion was granted to Charles Congreve upon condition that he, or his heirs and assigns, should settle there and cultivate at least three acres out of every fifty acres of land conveyed to him in the grant. The inference is, therefore, that the first buildings at West Point were erected about that time.
This Congreve tract comprised some 1,463 acres, which included the northern portion of the Point. But the records do not give the names of these early white settlers. In March, 1747, another portion of this John Evans tract, covering 332 acres, was granted to John Moore, on the same conditions contained in the first grant to Congreve. This tract adjoined the southwest corner of the Congreve Patent. John Moore afterward purchased the Congreve tract and thus became the owner of 1,790 acres in the vicinity of the Point. This he subsequently devised to his son, Stephen Moore, a merchant of Caswell, N. C. Then after a forty year tenure of this land by the Moore family it was finally sold to the United States Government, pursuant to an act of Congress passed July 5, 1790. The deed of transfer was executed by Moore, December 10, of the same year. The price paid was $11,085. The necessity of this purchase was urged upon Congress by Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, and also by Henry Knox, who was then Secretary of War, who finally conducted the negotiations for the purchase. for the Government.
Captain John Evans obtained his original grant on petition, March, 1694, from Governor Dongan, who had purchased the land from the Esopus Indians. It was described as extending "from Murderer's Creek back." This stream finds the Hudson at Cornwall Captain Gee, of the ancient sloop Federal, who brought stores to West Point between 1790 and 1810, seems to have owned a dwelling house near the Point about that time, when it was known as Gee's Point.
Adjoining the Congreve Patent on the south was one of the six tracts originally granted to Gabriel and William Ludlow, October 18, 1731, under the conditions of settlement already named. This tract seems to have passed to many successive owners, as follows:
Richard Williams, of Cornwall; Robert Armstrong, of Sussex County, N. J.; Benjamin Rose, December 1, 1785; John Dunlap, of Ulster County, September 6, 1788; and Thomas North, of Cornwall, November 22, 1794. North also purchased an adjoining tract on the south from Isaiah Smith, June 3, 1790, and he held the whole tract for nearly thirty years. Then it passed to Oliver Gridley, of Bergen County, N. J., December 28, 1819, who deeded the same to the United States, May 13, 1824, in accordance with the act of Congress, approved March Io, of that year.
At the time of the purchase of the Congreve and Moore grants by the Government, Hugh McClellan, a Revolutionary soldier, occupied a small house on the property. In recognition of his patriotic services in that war he was permitted to remain and cultivate his garden by Secretary of War John Knox. The old soldier spent the rest of his life there, leaving a wife and a daughter on the premises. They finally claimed the domicile by right of undisputed possession under the laws of the State. But they were finally dispossessed by the National Government in 1839, in an action for ejectment.
In addition to the patents already named the following list of grants, covering other parts of this town of Highlands, are found on the record: Gabriel and William Ludlow, 991 acres. October 13, 1731; Alexander Phoenix, 1,000 acres, July 13, 1750; Thomas Moore and Lewis Pintard, 1,100 acres, December 23, 1762; Samuel Stoats, 400 acres, June 5, 1712; Thomas Ellison, 770 acres, November 12, 1750; Richard Bradley, 800 acres, July 30, 1743; Gabriel and William Ludlow, 407 acres, October 18, 1731; Vincent and David Matthews, 1,000 acres, November 26, 1761; Gabriel and William Ludlow, 1,437 acres, October 18, 1731; Bradley children, 4,290 acres, October 30, 1749; Vincent and David Matthews, 800 acres, November 26, 1768; William and Edward Vilkin, 1,305 acres, April 150, 1768; John Osborne, 1,85o acres, March 14, 1775; Thomas Moore and Lewis Pintard, 2,900 acres, December 23, 1762; Smith and Wilkin, 100 acres, April 15, 1768; Moore and Osborne, 150 acres, March 14, 1775; Smith and Within, 190 acres, April 15, 1768; John Nelson. 550 acres, October 4, 1752; Henry Townsend, 2,000 acres; Thomas Smith, 250 acres, June 14, 1750; the Hassenclever & Co.'s tract, 1,000 acres, 1765.
Captain Horace M. Reeve, of the general staff of the United States Army, in his history of West Point during the Revolution, says: "Until the American troops began to cut timber for military purposes, and to crown the surrounding hills with forts and redoubts, West Point and the neighboring Highlands were little else than a wilderness of rugged hills and virgin forests, presenting about the same appearance as first greeted Hendrik Hudson when, in 1609, he sailed up the river which now bears his name."
Hudson anchored near West Point September 14, 1609, and he was probably the first European that ever saw that section.
Continuing, Captain Reeve says: "Although this tract of country could never lend itself kindly to the agriculturist, yet before the advent of the American soldier there were several houses standing at or near West Point, which were subsequently used for purposes very foreign to the peaceful intentions of their builders. Two of these became noted. One was 'Moore's House' at West Point, used by Washington as his headquarters during the whole, or a part, of the time he was stationed at West Point, from July 21, 1779, until November 28. The other was the 'Robinson House,' and was situated on the eastern shore of the Hudson, about two miles below West Point. It was used as a military hospital and afterward as the headquarters of several successive general officers, among whom was Benedict Arnold, who was in this house when apprised of Andre's capture. It was from this house that Arnold made his escape."
The Moore house stood in Washington Valley, near the river, a short distance from the northeast corner of the present cemetery. It was built prior to 1749, and was a pretentious structure for that period, being known as "Moore's Folly."
Every foot of land in these Highlands has its memories of the Revolutionary War, and this town contains the culminating features of native grandeur not only, but also the vital strategic point on the famous river which figured so conspicuously in the war for independence and will continue to fill so many important pages of our national history for all time to come.
These great hills of grandeur and beauty extend along the entire river front from Stony Point on the south to old Storm King on the north. Scientists tell us that these vast mountains of primitive rock are composed of granite, gneiss and syenite, with veins of trap. But regarding the formation of these towering masses of rock both geologists and laymen have only speculated and guessed for more than a century, as their descendants and successors will continue to do for ages to come, and leave the maze of mystery as dark and deep as ever. We can only wonder and admire, while scientists wrestle with the mighty problem of creation here presented.
Just now, as the writer is gathering these data for this connected record, he finds that the great mystery concerning the formation of this particular region has become even more obscure than ever through the developments of the vast engineering project now under way off Storm King Mountain. In the effort to find a solid rock bottom beneath the Hudson at this gate of the Highlands, through which to construct the great aqueduct which is to convey the Catskill Mountain water to New York City, the engineers have bored the river bottom to a depth of 700 feet, and are still baffled. Geologists predicted that this rock would be found at least at 500 feet. But now they are all at sea and frankly admit that their supposed knowledge as to the bed of the Hudson at this point was totally wrong. Some expected that rock would be reached even at 100 feet. But now the engineers say they may have to go down 4,000 feet before they can find proper rock through which to build their aqueduct which is to carry 800,000,000 gallons of water daily at a pressure of 200 feet per square inch. The old bed of the river is evidently covered with the drift and silt of ages. And who will say when and how this vast body of water broke through these adamantine hills, or by what cyclopean process of upheaval they were formed?
There are several small streams that flow into the Hudson at different points in this town; one just south of Cro' Nest, others at Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery. The pretty cataract, called "Buttermilk Falls," from its characteristic resemblance to that acidulous fluid, as it tumbles over the rocky shelves in fantastic glee in its haste to reach the river, is admired by every tourist. There are also other streams which become tributaries of Popolopens Creek, which finds the Hudson at Fort Montgomery.
The town also contains many inland ponds or small lakes, such as Bog Meadow Pond, Round Pond, Long Pond, Cranberry Pond, Mine Pond, Popolopen Lake and Highland Lake. Strangely enough, many of these ponds have been left without more appropriate names. This Highland Lake, just south of Fort Montgomery, is about 150 feet above the Hudson, and about half a mile long by one eighth of a mile wide, and is fed by its own springs. "Blood Lake" and "Hessian Lake" are some of its more ancient appellations, bestowed, according to Revolutionary tradition, because of a company of Hessians who were slain there when Sir Henry Clinton captured Fort Montgomery.
It is now proposed by the New York authorities to locate a new State Prison in the vicinity of this lake, which is northwest of Iona Island in the Hudson. Most of the region in that immediate section is a wild rocky forest, and sparsely populated. Half a mile or more west of the river, however, there is a comparatively level plateau, some 200 acres in extent, from which a fine view of both reaches of the Hudson is obtained. This is included in the site which has been selected for the prison. Part of it, however, extends over into Rockland County.
This property, which consists of some 500 acres, was purchased by the State for this prison site, in December, 1907, at a cost of $75,000. It is about six miles below Highland Falls, and it includes Highland Lake and its entire watershed. Whether the name of this new prison will be selected from the classic nomenclature which prevails in that locality, such as "Doodletown," or "Popolopen," remains to be seen.
"Doodletown Bight," is the classic name handed down from the Colonial period, which is here applied to a small bay in the Hudson where small water craft find a safe and pleasant harbor. The new State road which is to run from the New Jersey line to Albany, will pass through the eastern side of this new prison tract. Bear Mountain on the west, has an inexhaustible supply of granite well suited for building purposes.
Note from Kevin Childs: The prison was never built on the acquired tracts of land, and was subsequently built in the area of
As before stated, the ancient records are almost devoid of names of early settlers in this immediate region, and the presumption is that these settlers were comparatively few. Major Boynton, in his history of West Point, says: "The interval between the granting of the patents and the transfer of the titles, down to the period at which the American Revolution commenced, are blanks in historical literature. No traditions even of early settlers are extant, and the probabilities are that, beyond a settlement made to secure a site or grant, West Point, being in a region of stratified rocks, heavily covered with drift deposits, and without a suitable soil for cultivation, remained a mere woodland tract, possessing no higher value than attaches to similar adjoining points in the Highlands which have remained unsettled and uncultivated to this day."
It seems well settled, however, that John Moore, the patentee, really located upon his purchase about 1725. This homestead stood in what has since been known as Washington Valley, from the fact that Washington once occupied the same dwelling for a time. The original house, and even the second one, which replaced it, have long since disappeared, but the remains of the old cellar were visible for many years afterward. This, then, may be regarded as the first point of settlement in the town of Highlands. The Moore descendants, though inclined toward loyalism, at the outbreak of the war, could not have been outspoken or turbulent in their opposition to the American cause, as their lands were not confiscated. They, however, soon fled to Nova Scotia, but afterward returned to the State of North Carolina, where some of them became prominent, one being elected Governor of the State; and Stephen Moore sold the West Point reservation to the Government, as already stated. A daughter of John Moore married Hugh McClellan about the time the war broke out. Although not in the army, as a soldier, McClellan seems to have fought bravely against the invaders on his own hook, as it were, for the records contain many instances of his personal prowess. He was employed in hauling stone for the erection of Fort Putnam, and on one occasion he crossed the river alone and brought powder for the Continental Army at West Point at the risk of his life or capture.
James Denton, who came from Newburgh, seems to have settled at the Point some time afterward. He had married into the McClellan family and became active in pressing the claim against the Government for the title to the old homestead there by reason of possession. These descendants also claimed certain rights which came from the Moore family direct and were not reserved in the deed to the Government, although antedating that transaction, as they contended. Then, too, it may be added in their behalf, the suit for ejectment was terminated by a compromise, the widow of McClellan being paid a certain sum to surrender her claim.
In the vicinity of Highland Falls Cornelius Swim seems to have been the pioneer settler. This family originally came from England about 1686 and settled on the east side of the Hudson opposite West Point, forming part of a colony there. They were offered an extensive tract of land there at that time for ten cents an acre. But not being possessed even of this modest amount of money, they were afterward obliged to leave when a more fortunate immigrant took the tract at fifteen cents per acre. The Swims, Faurots and Roses came to Highlands in 1725. Cornelius Swim had six sons and six daughters, most of whom settled in the vicinity. He was finally killed by a British scout for refusing to tell where certain army supplies were hidden.
Cornelius Gee was another ante-Revolutionary settler at West Point, who came from the Colony opposite. He afterward established a ferry from West Point, then known as "Gee's Point," to Constitution Island opposite, being associated with Jacob Nelson in the enterprise. This was called "Nelson's Ferry. Nelson also lived in the colony on the east shore of the river opposite the Point and he had seven children. Only one of these, however, seems to have settled on the west side of the river. This ancient ferry is frequently mentioned in the Revolutionary annals; and Nelson's. Point opposite Fort Arnold, afterward Fort Clinton, was regarded as a most important strategic point by Washington. which he carefully guarded.
Tradition has a pleasant little Highland "tea story" connected with this Gee family which may as well be perpetuated here. "Aunt Sally Gee" was the happy possessor of half a pound of this most delectable and very scarce beverage that caused so much trouble between the mother country and her dependent Colonies on this side of the Atlantic at the outbreak of hostilities. It is said that while the flames that were destroying Fort Montgomery illuminated this entire region, announcing the triumph of the British forces, "Aunt Sally", giving up all as lost, resolved upon having a final cup of tea to assuage her grief before fleeing for her life. Grabbing the old teapot from the shelf, she tossed the entire, half pound of tea into it in her haste, determined that none should be left for the redcoats. But the decoction proved all too strong and bitter even for her teastained palate.
An early pioneer in the West Grove section was John Kronkhite, who came, about the opening of the war, from Westchester County, N. Y. Some of his descendants are still in that region. Moses Clark was another early settler there, whose name appears in the Cornwall records between 1765 and 1765, which would indicate that he arrived some years before the war. Tobias Weygant is also mentioned as an early Vest Grove settler. Among other early settlers in the town were Thomas and Joseph Collins, William Cooper, who lived near Fort Montgomery, Thomas Cooper, Isaac Garrison, who lived in the Middle Highlands section, Jonas Garrison, William Horton, Zaccheus Horton, Maurice Havens, David June, who lived near the Rockland county line, D. Lancaster, John Parker. Israel Rose, Samuel Rockwell, S. Sheldon, Birdseye Young and James Stout. Isaac Faurot was also an ancient resident in the Highland Falls section, who was a deckhand on the first steamboat "Claremont" that went up the Hudson under Captain Wiswell in 1807. Captain Faurot, a descendant, is still a resident of Highland Falls.
ORGANIZATION OF THE TOWN.
Like several other of the younger towns in Orange county, Highlands was the offspring of convenience and expediency. Its formation became in fact almost a matter of public necessity owing to the peculiar conditions prevailing. The old town of Cornwall consisted of a thickly settled region north of the mountains, and the widely separated localities of Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery far to the south. Communication between these two ends of the township was in those days very slow and inconvenient. The transaction of official business of the town was very expensive and almost impracticable. Boats had to be chartered to carry voters to the town meetings. Thus the division of the town, which was authorized by the county supervisors in 1872, met with little opposition.
The first town meeting of the new town was held at the house of Charles Engleskircher, March 4, 1873. William Avery was then chosen the first Supervisor, and a full list of town officials was selected. Avery was succeeded by Jeremiah Drew in 1874, who continued in the office several years. John A. Cook held the office one term and was followed by Hon. Louis F. Goodsell, who was supervisor eighteen years. Jacob L. Hicks was elected in 1905 and was succeeded by John F. Pierce in the closely contested election of 1907.
VILLAGES OF THE TOWN.
Of these, West Point, if it can be called a village, is the more important. A post office was established here at an early period of the nation's history. Major Roger Alden was the postmaster for some years, and was followed by Mr. Holt. In 1835 Prof. Claudius Berard succeeded to the office and held it until his death in 1848. His widow was then appointed and remained in office until 1870 when she was succeeded by A. B. Berard, who was still there in 1880.
The place is composed almost entirely of the great Military School of the nation in all its varied departments and imposing structures. Aside from this there is very little business, except that arising from the extensive improvements now in progress by the government. The noted old West Point hotel is still standing, and in operation, although even this is soon to be demolished under the plans for the modern reconstruction of the post, which are being carried out on a vast scale and at great expense.
The importance of West Point during the Revolutionary period is too well understood by every student of our national history to need any further emphasis or exemplification in this connection. It is visited by thousands from every land annually as the great show place of the nation and river. And the rare native charm of its location enshrines it as the beauty spot of America.
Busy Highland Falls, adjoining West Point on the south, was incorporated in 19o7. It is located on the Big Meadow Brook which tumbles over the rocks into the Hudson at this point in a most attractive cataract, which gave the village its name. It was first known as "Buttermilk Falls," under which name the post office was established there July 14, 1849. Cornelius Nelson was the first postmaster, but President Buchanan removed him and appointed Timothy O'Leary in his place. He was reinstated, however, at the close of Buchanan's term, and held the office in all about thirty years. Joseph F. Stephens, the present postmaster was appointed in 1901. Although still invested with much historic charm because of its 200 years' existence, the village now presents a pleasing modern aspect. There are many business houses, stores and shops. There are two national banks, both organized in 1907. A library and reading room, and a village improvement society. A weekly newspaper was established in 1891. South of the village overlooking the Hudson are some charming private residences including those of John Bigelow, Major General Roe, ex Senator Goodsell and J. Pierpont Morgan. The place is a favored summer region because of its picturesque natural environment. The most imposing structure in the village is Ladycliff Academy conducted by the Franciscan Sisters. This property was originally Cozzen's and later Cranston's Hotel, and was purchased and opened for its present purpose in 1900. Extensive additions and improvements have since been made. The enclosed grounds cover an area of twenty two acres. There is an average attendance of one hundred and ninety pupils, and the regular courses give the education acquired in advanced high schools.
The old Revolutionary Fort Montgomery, which stood on Popolopens Creek, where the stream empties into the Hudson, is perpetuated by a small hamlet with the same name. It makes no boast of its business importance and points only to its patriotic history. It is, however, the shipping point of large quantities of iron ore from the Forest of Dean Mines some six miles west of this point.
West Grove is a pretty hamlet in the mountain section northwest of Highland Falls. It was settled at an early date and the environment is among some of the attractive lakes and ponds of the town.
SCHOOLS AND CHURCHES.
For the school records pertaining to this specific region between 1813 and 1856, the reader is referred to the parent town of Cornwall. There are three common school districts in the present town, in addition to the Post school at West Point which is maintained for the children of the soldiers and officers of the post. District No. 2 comprises the Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery schools. George W. Flood, school commissioner for the eastern district of Orange County, is a resident of Highland Falls.
The First Presbyterian Society was incorporated October 12, 1830 with William Howe, of Buttermilk Falls, Samuel Spencer of West Point and Peter Meeks of West Grove as trustees. It was decided to erect two churches for the better convenience of the separate settlements, one near Buttermilk Falls, and the other in the Fort Montgomery section. These churches were open to other denominations under certain regulations. In 1850 the society was reorganized tinder the name of "The First Presbyterian Church of the Highlands." The following trustees were then chosen: David Parry, Cornelius Nelson, Charles P. Smith, Alexander Mearns, and John M. Hall. The Rev. E. P. Roe, the famous novelist, who then lived on his fruit farm in Cornwall, was the pastor of this church for several years, being succeeded by Rev. Mr. Williams.
The First Methodist Church at Fort Montgomery was incorporated January 11, 1831, with the following trustees: Thomas Potter, Ebenezer Bull, Michael Jaquish, Hiram Tyler and Silas Rockwell. A comfortable house of worship was built soon afterward.
The First Methodist Church at Buttermilk Falls began its career March 4, 1845, with Andrew Swim, David Parry, James Thackara, Charles P. Smith and Wright Dusenbury as trustees. But for some reason the society disbanded soon afterward and the members united with other churches.
The present Methodist Church at the Falls came into existence some years later, and it continues in a flourishing condition.
The Church of the Holy Innocents (Episcopal), at Highland Falls, was incorporated September 13, 1850, Robert W. Weir and Thomas Webb being chosen wardens, and Dennis M. Mahar, W. H. C. Bartlett, A. E. Church, Francis Rider, R. S. Agnew, Thomas Corns, B. R. Alden and R. S. Smith, vestrymen. The church building, which was erected largely through the liberality of Prof. Weir of the Military Academy, was completed in July, 1847, being constructed of the native granite.
The Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart was erected opposite the old Cozzens Hotel, at the Falls, in 1875, at a cost of $19,000. Rev. T. J. Early became the first settled pastor.
The oft told story of this stout, freckle faced young Irish patriot of the Revolution is so closely identified with the ancient history of this locality, where she lived and died, that its omission here, even in this modern history, would be noted with regret.
At the capture of Fort Clinton by the British in October, 1777, "Molly" was "in at the finish." When the enemy scaled the parapet, her husband, an artilleryman, dropped his portfire and fled. But Molly caught it up and discharged the last gun fired. Nine months later, at the Monmouth battle, while she was devotedly bringing water to her husband, who was serving a gun, he fell dead at her feet from a British shot. Although the officer in command ordered the piece withdrawn, Molly dropped her water bucket, seized the rammer, and vowed she would fill her husband's place at the gun and thus avenge his death. Next morning, covered with dirt and blood, she was presented to Washington by General Greene, and was appointed a sergeant and placed upon the half pay list for life. She became a universal favorite with the army and usually appeared in artillery dress, with a cocked hat. She was afterward provided for at the Point by the Government authorities and died in that vicinity about the age of thirty three.
WEST POINT MILITARY ACADEMY.
Colonel Henry Knox, who was appointed chief of artillery by Washington in November, 1775, was the first to propose the establishment of a military academy, of the Woolwich type, in this country. In a letter to his wife, dated September 5, 1776, he said: "We must have a standing army. The militia get sick, or think themselves so, and run home." Later in the same month, in a letter to Adams, he wrote: "Military academies must be instituted at any expense. We are fighting against a people well acquainted with the theory and practice of war, and brave by discipline and habit."
Here was the germ of the Military Academy of this nation In the following October a committee was appointed to "prepare and bring in a plan of a military academy at the army." The Post of West Point received its first garrison January 20, 1778, and work on Fort Clinton was begun at once. There seems no room for doubt that in the very midst of the Revolutionary War, at least as early as 178o, and possibly two years before, an engineer school was in operation at West Point. There were also a laboratory and library, which was the parent of the present Academy Library, the oldest Government library in the United States. It is clear that military instruction of some sort had then begun. Early in 1783, when the success of the American Revolution was apparent, the necessity for this permanent school of military education was still recognized. Genzral Washington and his officers were agreed upon the importance of some such school, and West Point was generally regarded as the "key to the United States." In 1783 the necessity of retaining West Point for this purpose was urged upon Congress. General Knox, Secretary of War in 1790, again advocated the scheme in his report, which was approved by Washington. But it was not until March 16, 1802, that the organic act for the establishment of the United States Military Academy was finally passed. This authorized the President to organize and establish a corps of engineers at West Point which should constitute a Military Academy.
Thus in 1802 ten Cadets of engineers were stationed at West Point with their officers, which constituted the Military Academy there until 1812. This force was increased from time to time, and the sum of $25,000 was finally appropriated for the erection of suitable buildings, and the provision of the library, apparatus and necessary instruments for the use of the school.
Previous to this, however, while Washington, Randolph, Knox and Hamilton strongly favored the West Point Academy plan, Jefferson doubted the constitutionality of the scheme. But Washington was inclined to take the risk, and at his recommendation the West Point School was practically started in 1794, it being then held in the old provost prison building, which was burned in April, 1796. The school seems to have begun in earnest, however, in February of that year. The fire, which had destroyed all the books and apparatus, was thought to have been of incendiary origin, induced perhaps by opposition to the school. In the following May a parapet for the practice of field pieces, and some of the early wooden fortifications were constructed.
In September, 1799, the superintendency of this academy, which however had not yet been legally established, was offered by President Adams to Count Rumford, the founder of the Royal Military Academy of Munich. But nothing came of this ill advised proposition. For nearly 25 years Washington had labored to establish a National Military Academy, which he considered of primary importance.
On December 14, 1801, Major Williams, a grand nephew of Benjamin Franklin, took charge of the school as superintendent. Cadet John Lillie, writing of his life there from 1802 to 1805, said: "All order and regulation, either moral or religious, gave way to idleness, dissipation and irreligion. No control over the conduct of the officers and cadets was exercised."
As already stated the academy was legally instituted March 16, 1802, and the school went into full operation on the 4th of the following July. But its ancient history really dates from 1776. The act of 1812 established its present form, the main features of which have been practically adhered to to this day. Washington is still regarded as its founder, while Knox first proposed and strongly advocated a military school of this very type, and Hamilton outlined the well considered plan of military education that was finally adopted and has been pursued ever since.