It’s tough being a tourist in New York.
In a city that is constantly changing, evolving, and generating new talent, there’s bound to be an exhibition, restaurant, or landmark that you’ll jot down on the To Do – Next NY Visit list; it’s too hard to see and do it all in a matter of a couple of weeks, let alone – a few days.
Strolling from East to West; subwaying Uptown and Downtown; taxiing from hotel to restaurant to bar, and back to hotel; you’ll find yourself hard pressed to even make it to the northernmost part of Central Park.
That said, it’s pretty fair to say that the area that constitutes Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters, located in the Far North of Manhattan, doesn’t make it on many traveler-radars. Speaking from experience, I only visited the area today – as a resident – and I first visited NYC as a tourist in 2001.
Originally inhabited by the Weckquaesgeek Tribe, who lived in the area until the early 17th century, this densely forested high ground at the northern end of Manhattan was “Lang Bergh” or Long Hill to the early Dutch colonists. The Continental Army called the strategic series of posts along the Hudson River “Fort Washington” during the summer of 1776, until Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British forced the troops to retreat. The British then renamed the area for Sir William Tryon (1729–1788), Major General and the last British governor of colonial New York.*
Land initially purchased by John D. Rockefeller in 1917, in 1935 he donated it to New York City when his vision for the Park was completed; it took 4 years for head designer, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. – son of the architect of Central Park – to design and create the space that is the Fort Tryon Park we are able to enjoy today.
Despite the twisting pathways, stonewalled terraces, steps upon steps, and steepish slopes, this is a manageable and relaxing park to explore. You’ll enjoy views of the Hudson River and the Palisades State Park, located on the other side – Rockefeller also purchased this parkland in order to preserve Fort Tryon’s views.
I was so upset; I didn’t sleep for weeks… People were throwing their garbage out the window, leaving their lunches on the ground. Finally, I realized I needed to actually do something – even if it meant picking up trash with my own two hands. ~ Bette Midler, Good Housekeeping Magazine
Initially recruiting friends and family, Bette set about removing garbage from Fort Tryon Park and Fort Washington Park in Upper Manhattan. What began as a grass roots effort led to her founding the non-profit New York Restoration Project (www.nyrp.org).
What a testament to the spirit of New York. Regeneration, restoration, revival, rebirth – reverberations of these words are constant in an ever-changing city.
Stretch the legs and take in the beauty on a stroll through the English-inspired Heather Garden; spring has surely sprung. Listen to the chirping of its birds. It’s all about looking down, rather than skyscraper-up; flowers in purples, yellows, whites beckon buzzing bees and announce the onset of a new season.
Pause at the plaque dedications on those Garden’s benches located in the seating alcoves that punctuate Stan Michels Promenade. It’s impossible not to notice a clay head sculpture, or two, or more; part of a proposed public art project, they flank the Promenade’s benches and demand attention.
The Cloisters opened in the north end of Fort Tryon Park in 1938 after Rockefeller bought sculptor George Grey Barnard’s (1863–1938) collection of medieval art. Inspired by Romanesque monasteries, the museum includes several cloisters, or courtyards, from actual French monasteries. Now a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was designated an official New York City landmark in 1974.*