Fort Lee history is housed in a wonderful 1922 Palisade bluestone exterior building between Parker and Palisade Avenues and adjacent to historic Monument Park.
Every season seems to bring new and different beauty to the unique architecture of this borough gem. The Fort Lee Historic Site Committee is currently at work with the Mayor & Council on getting a local landmark status for this structure. This is the first step in making sure future generations will enjoy the treasures of its exterior but also the treasure chest of history hidden and stored away in its alcoves and corridors.
This history rushes through this edifice as it truly is the building’s lifeblood. This history is preserved and archived by the Fort Lee Historical Society, a non-profit devoted to the preservation and promotion of Fort Lee’s rich history from the American Revolution to the 21st century.
The building itself was built by Judge Moore, a local attorney, in 1922. He added a garage to the house in 1931. The Moore family lived and owned this house through the 1970s.
Once sold, the house became home to various businesses and time took its toll on this magical building. The fates seemed to have conspired to destroy the building as in 1989 it was sold and the owner applied and received a variance from the Fort Lee Zoning Board to tear down the building and erect a strip mall.
Mind you this strip mall would sit on land occupied by General George Washington and his army from the summer of 1776 through Nov. 20 of that same fateful year. Washington and his army of over 2,000 troops encamped in and around Monument Park, which at the time was an open body of water called Parker’s Pond.
The pond survived until it was filled in for the establishment of Monument Park in 1908. Washington’s soldiers marched each morning from their huts to the Fort Lee bluff atop the Palisades where they fired mortars and cannons to impede British shipping on the Hudson River below. Among the troops in Fort Lee was patriot and writer Thomas Paine who began his most famous work, The American Crisis, atop this very same bluff in Fort Lee in the fall of 1776.
In the early 1970s I recall joining my Coytesville compatriots on our Schwinn bicycles as we rode to Monument Park. There we witnessed the struggle of history against progress in the form of a lone woman who tried to save Washington’s oven. This oven, which sat in the vicinity of The Century high-rise today, was a large stone carved out and used as an oven by Washington’s army in 1776.
As most tales of attempts to save history, this one failed and the stone was blasted into so many pebbles as the old Judge Moore house stood silently nearby. That moment in time for me was an awakening for even as a 10-year-old kid on a Schwinn I could visualize the importance of history and the damage that occurs when people forget and neglect their history.
Back to the future and 1989 … the residents of the high-rises that sit on the sacred soil of the American Revolution became soldiers in a struggle to save history and that history was the lonely little abandoned Judge Moore House.
Rather than sit idly by as the wrecking ball swatted at the bones of the Moore House, the residents of the high-Rises on Parker Avenue petitioned the Mayor & Council to purchase the property to prevent its destruction and to thus prevent the encroachment of a strip mall into this neighborhood.
Thankfully for all of us present-day Fort Lee residents, they succeeded and the borough bonded for the purchase of said property and the Moore House was saved. Here is where the fun begins. As a member of the Fort Lee Historical Society I was one of a group who petitioned then Councilman and soon to be Mayor Jack Alter for use of the building as a museum to be operated by the Fort Lee Historical Society.
Jack being a history buff in his own right, and one who loved the history of his town, became our champion in our effort to turn the sad, lonely forgotten Moore House into a shining proud Fort Lee Museum. Did it happen overnight? Hell no! There were very difficult days ahead in the next decade – from 1992 through 1999 we worked with the borough and volunteers to restore the building and create a new use for it, one that we hope can last as long as there is a Fort Lee.
Finally in 1999, the Museum opened and since that time the Fort Lee Historical Society, along with the Fort Lee Film Commission, house their archives on the second floor and run four exhibits each year on the main floor. The borough maintains ownership of the building and the Historical Society and the Fort Lee Film Commission, via volunteer members, operates the museum and handles the archive.
Thus this little stone building has become the grandest and proudest structure in Fort Lee for the soul within it stores the history of our Revolutionary borough.
Currently the museum exhibit is dedicated to the Centennial of Universal Studio, born in Fort Lee in 1912. However even during major exhibits we also display other eras of Fort Lee history. The former garage of the Moore House is now a meeting room and also used as a polling place during elections. If you vote in this district please take some time before or after you vote to view the photos on the walls and the artifacts in this building as they include remnants of the Fort Lee Athletic Club which sat on Lemoine Avenue for almost a century. Also, observe the angles and shadows of the exterior of our museum and watch how it catches the fall sunlight around its arches and its gables.
I truly believe this special building is our own time machine where we can travel back to a Fort Lee of George Washington or one of Universal Studios with a stop at Palisades Amusement Park and a visit to the Riviera Nightclub with its million-dollar view of the George Washington Bridge. In this hurried life of ours atop the Palisades not only must we make time to smell the roses, we also must take time to refresh our perspective of the place we call home and there is no better place to do that than the Fort Lee Museum so set your GPS to Fort Lee’s house of history!