Before I visited West Point, I had no idea that the Benedict Arnold story was part of the history of West Point. Did you know that he was in charge of West Point and made a deal to sell plans for the fortification to the British in exchange for land? The plot was foiled by chance when George Washington was about to make a surprise inspection visit to West Point just as the deal was being consummated. The rest is history, as they say. Had Arnold succeeded in his plan, we’d all be British citizens today. West Point was crucial to America’s winning independence.
For this reason, I am surprised that West Point isn’t really on the tourist map. Stopping at a highway roadside rest stop, a room full of tourist brochures contained nary a single mention of West Point. I visited during the summer. Once off the highway, I was the only car on the road for miles until I reached the base. Once on base, I did encounter a few Japanese tourists, but mainly it was deserted. Even cadets, who don’t have school during the summer, were away on military exercises in the nearby woods.
Nevertheless, West Point should be on your list of places to visit. The Thayer Hotel, facing the Hudson River, is on base and open to the public. It would be a great place to get away for a weekend. West Point is only about one and one quarter hour drive north of New York City, so you can also visit without staying overnight, as I did. I want to go back, however, because there is a lot to see and learn.
As you approach the base, a visitor center does a quick security check. Complete a second check as you enter the base, and immediately to the left are the sports fields and dormitories (“barracks” here). The Army-Navy football stadium is in another location on base. West Point is one of our best academic institutions; some say on par with Harvard. Only nine percent of applicants are accepted and there is a 25 percent failure rate from a beginning class of about 1,200.
From the main gate, ahead to the right is the Hudson River—the reason why West Point is here. The Americans had no navy to fight the mighty British war ships. Picked by military strategists of the time as the best strategic location to defend the Hudson River, West Point is at a bend in the river where ships had to slow down. The Continental Congress commissioned a five-square mile base to be built on the west bank of the river on land jutting into the river. A smaller fort had already occupied the east bank. The British controlled New York City throughout the Revolutionary War. They also controlled Canada. If they could control the Hudson River, they could isolate the rebels of New England. West Point prevented that.
At West Point, you will be able to see the fortifications at Fort Putnam that gave the Americans the high ground to protect against oncoming ships. The high ground also allowed the Americans to protect against an attack by land over the mountains to the west. The remnants of an ingenious chain link across the river that prevented ship passage is on display at Trophy Hill on base.
During a winter visit to West Point, you can use its ski slope open to the public. The West Point golf course is also open to the public. The setting is beautiful as the Hudson River’s lush shores provide scenic views in all directions. The base includes many hiking trails that range from easy to difficult.
Whether you’re a history buff, want great outdoor activities or want a beautiful place to spend a weekend, West Point is a wonderful place to visit.