• Benji Sills

Blockhouse No. 1

Paige was confident that an early 1800’s war fort stood resolutely on the sloping hills of Morningside Park. “I’ve seen it!” she proclaimed with complete certainty, as we scaled the blistering terrain of the park. Eventually we arrived at the Google Maps location landmarked as Blockhouse Number 2, only to find a quaint green pasture - one that was definitively empty. “You’re confident that what you saw was definitely a totally real and not made up fort?” I pressed. After confirming with a quick Google search that Blockhouse Number 2 was dissembled eons ago and Paige had simply been confusing it for a nearby staircase, we giggled and moved on.

We’d decided to go hunting for Blockhouse Number 2 because one of our very favorite adventures was over at the hidden, secretive and very real Blockhouse Number 1. Amidst the thick brambles of Central Park’s North Woods hides the stone building, originally built for the war of 1812. Embarrassingly however, neither this fort nor the other three that no longer stand were ever used. This is because by the time the war was ending in 1815, it seemed likely that any incoming British attack would be overland. To avoid this, Blockhouse Number 1 and its companions were hastily erected in northern Manhattan. By the time they were finished however, the war was over and so they instead stood there awkwardly without purpose - just like we did when we visited.

With no knowledge at the time of what the fort was built for, we went searching for it solely for the allure of a mysterious structure hidden within the trees. It was a relatively easy find however and before long we were taking daft pictures, completely ignorant of the structure’s historical significance. At the time, we were still on a kick where we found it hysterical to pretend to be asleep aside every site we visited, so I lay face down uncomfortably on the Blockhouse’s stairs for a photo. The stairs lead up to a locked gate - the only entrance into the structure - but we got a clear view of all the nothing inside from a quick peak.

One thing that you can see however is the beautiful forest views. The fortification overlooks the North Woods and just behind it is a rock outcrop offering spectacular and grossly unprotected views of the surroundings. I nearly fell to my death multiple times trying to grab a decent view and became thrilled at the idea of tossing a twig off into the abyss, but thankfully was stopped by a sensible and nervous Paige who pointed out potential hikers in the woods below.

After curbing my senseless violence, we stood around noting that even if the Blockhouse had been finished on time, it seemed to be effectively useless. Even on a hill, the surrounding trees towered over it, meaning you don’t get much of a lookout on the rest of the city. There is a large flag however and Paige suggested that perhaps the army had a resident flagpole sitter on watch. Realistically, the trees were probably just shorter in 1812 - as I hear that allegedly they grow - but the image of a fully clad bluecoat crouching awkwardly on a flagpole is more important than a logical interpretation of historic circumstance.

Our first visit in August of 2018 was quiet, despite the summer warmth. Recently we went back for a return visit with far different results. Amidst the Coronavirus, New Yorkers have become bored and restless and now seem mostly to be meandering aimlessly around the parks. On this visit we helped a woman chase her gross patchy dog away from the cliff face and watched in bewilderment as two hooligans wandered around with crossbows. Given the strange crowd drawn by the ever-present war with pandemic, now might not be the time to wander these mysterious woods. But you can always take a page from Blockhouse’s book and show up after the battle is long over!

Blockhouse No. 1 is landmarked on Google Maps and relatively easy to find - following the main paths through Central Park's North Woods will get you to the clearing where it stands.

Central Park doesn't close and therefore you can visit the Blockhouse any time you like!

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