50 miles north of New York City is the United States Military Academy at West Point, or simply West Point. With its location perched high above the Hudson River, what began as a key military installation during the Revolutionary War has since risen to become one of the great military academies in the world. An interesting combination of military academy meets college campus, West Point makes for a great day trip and a lesson in American history.
Here is what you need to know to make the most of your visit!
When the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and the colonies the location of West Point proved to be an extremely valuable location as it sits above a narrow section of the Hudson River. The British plan of attack was to sail up the Hudson River and split the colonies in two, separating the Northeast colonies and then working on dividing and conquering. Realizing the strategic value of the Hudson River, the Continental Army occupied this area beginning in January 1778 and built up the defenses along this “S” curve in the river. These defenses, including cannons and a heavy iron chain stretched across the river, prevented British ships from sailing up the Hudson and succeeding in their original battle plan.
West Point is also known to history as the location where General Benedict Arnold committed his infamous act of treason when he switched sides to the British and attempted to hand over the fort. Luckily the plan was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André and revealed the plot between him and General Arnold. With the betrayal thwarted, the Americans kept control of the vital fort and which sent Benedict Arnold fleeing to Great Britain, destined to live in infamy as a traitor to the United States. After the war, American military remained at West Point where artillery training and engineering began being taught in 1794 and the formal establishment of the United States Military Academy by Congress occurred 1802.
Tour & Visitors Center
Due to security restrictions, visitors are not allowed to simply walk onto campus by themselves. Tours can be reserved through West Point Tours with your choice of either a one hour ($14) or two hour ($16) tour. Both tours are a combination of bus and walking and will give you a history of the campus as you visit sites such as the Old Cadet Chapel, Trophy Point, Battle Monument and the Plain (parade field). The two hour tour also includes a visit to the West Point Cemetery to where you will learn about some historical figures in American history and their final resting place among their fellow colleagues of the Military Academy. A few notable figures buried here include:
- Daniel Butterfield – Medal of Honor recipient and composer of the bugle call “Taps”
- George Custer – Brevet major general during the Civil War and most well-known for the infamous Last Stand at the battle of Little Big Horn
- Ed White II – First American to Walk in Space
- George Washington Goethals – Chief Engineer/builder of the Panama Canal
- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. – Commander of coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War
- Brigadier General John T. Thompson – Inventor of the Thompson submachine gun, aka Tommy Gun
Tours leave from the Visitor Center and you should arrive early to give yourself some time to explore. There are some interesting exhibits set up that provide a glimpse into cadet life and attending the US Military Academy. There are also restrooms and a gift shop located here. Right next door to the Visitor Center is the West Point Museum which has large collection of items from the United States Military Academy, the United States Army and the Military profession. I particularly liked the History of the US Army exhibit and viewing how equipment and uniforms have changed from pre-Revolutionary War up to modern day. I did not have nearly enough time to view everything this museum had to offer so make sure you take this museum into account when planning your visit.
Hotel & Restaurant
For those of you looking to turn a day trip into a weekend adventure, The Thayer Hotel is located on campus with a nice view of the Hudson River. Also located within the Thayer are several restaurants including MacArthur’s Riverview Restaurant and Zulu Time roofbar and lounge, the only rooftop bar between Manhattan and Albany that overlooks the Hudson. We were visiting on a Sunday and were able get reservations for the weekly Sunday Champagne Brunch to enjoy a carving station, build your own omelets, and unlimited mimosas and Bloody Marys. Fun Fact: If you dine at the MacArthurs on the outdoor porch (or if you are simply close to the river) and look across the river up on the ridge you will see Castle Rock which rumor has it was the inspiration for the castle in The Wizard of Oz.
Visiting the United States Military Academy at West Point is a great way to see where tomorrow’s military leaders get their start with the Army. It is amazing to think that all the history associated with these grounds originally stems from the importance of a few turns in a river and where that has led our country hundreds of years later. I will definitely try to get back here again to give myself more time at the museum or catch a football game in the fall.