March 2, 2017
The Warner House on Constitution Island
For his last tour of duty before retiring from the Air Force, my husband was a professor at West Point Military Academy (West Point). During those months, I researched West Point and Constitution Island history, and led Constitution Island Association tours of the Warner House. The Warner House is an old home located on Constitution Island, across the river from West Point, where the Hudson River narrows and makes a sharp S-curve bend.
The original portion of the Warner House was a Revolutionary War barracks. In the early 1800s, Henry Warner, a successful New York City attorney, purchased the Constitution Island property, deciding to make it into a summer residence for himself, his sister and two daughters. They planned to keep their New York City residence as their permanent home.
In order to make it a comfortable summer home, Henry made additions to the Revolutionary War barracks: an enclosed porch overlooking the Hudson River, a study, a kitchen and dining area, a cellar/storage area off the kitchen, a library, a formal living room, and a formal dining room. The barracks would house their bedrooms, sewing room, and other rooms.
During the 1836 Depression, Henry lost his legal practice and their New York City home. The family moved to their “summer” home on Constitution Island — it became their “permanent” home.
The property stayed in the family until 1915, the year the youngest sister Anna died. She had arranged to give their home and property to the Constitution Island Association, which would be located at West Point. I worked for that association as a docent in the 1980s.
Home to military fortifications
During the Revolutionary War, Constitution Island (which actually wasn’t an island), became home to military fortifications and soldiers. The fortifications were placed there by Patriot forces — a perfect location, because at that point the Hudson River narrowed substantially and bent sharply around part of Constitution Island. The sharp turns in the river caused currents to meet and change directions, making navigation treacherous unless boats hung close to the shore lines. It was a perfect place for fortifications on both sides of the Hudson. On Constitution Island, our Patriot forces constructed a barracks, forts, redoubts and parapets intended to work together forces with fortifications on the West Point side of the Hudson.
In 1778, during the Revolutionary War, a Great Chain was built. It was a 500-yard-long iron chain built for Patriot forces. It’s heavy links floated on rafts, and spanned the narrowest point of the Hudson River. It was connected to the West Point side of the Hudson (where West Point Military Academy is located today, spanning across to the Constitution Island. The chain was intended to stop the British from sailing up the Hudson River. Read about the Great Chain here.
NOTE: There is a book written by a Revolutionary soldier, who was briefly stationed on Constitution Island. It is a uniquely valuable piece of history, written from the viewpoint of one of our brave American Revolutionary soldiers.
Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some of the Adverntures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (Eyewitness Accounts of the American Revolution)
An Underground Railroad stop
Years later, during the Civil War, the Warner home became a stop for the Underground Railroad. One of the slaves who escaped the South, ended up staying with the Warner family.
Derrick Wilburn wrote a piece about what it was like to escape on the Underground Railroad. See Blog 0186 for his description.
Note: Frederick Douglass (See Blog 0014) was a slave who learned how to read, escaped the South, and helped other slaves escape to freedom. He became one of the greatest orators (public speaker) in the 1800s, along with Abraham Lincoln.
Read Derrick’s email about men, women and children escaping slavery in the South, to become free.