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Fort Lee’s British Invasion 2012

The British are Coming to Fort Lee Again! But this time it is a welcome home of sorts.

A recent Patch archive piece centered on the Coytesville section of Fort Lee, which sits in the northernmost section of the borough atop the Palisades. Not to be repetitive, but some visitors from across the pond this week make a follow-up story on Coytesville unavoidable. Call it, if you will, the third British invasion in Fort Lee’s storied history.

British Invasion 1

Local history buffs are well aware that our very own Main Street served as General Washington’s retreat route, or as we call it, the "Retreat to Victory."

Washington and his troops were encamped in Fort Lee in the summer and fall of 1776. Their huts were built in and around ; the park was once a pond, Parker’s Pond, and the soldiers drew water from it. Here, 2,000 of Washington’s troops attempted to prevent the British from gaining control of the Hudson River. 

Once Fort Washington fell on Nov. 16, 1776, it was a matter of days before the British crossed the river, which they did on Nov. 20. Washington and his troops just barely escaped the first British invasion of Fort Lee.

British Invasion 2

The northern section of Fort Lee in the 1840s was quite rural and not very populated. The founding of Coytesville was the aftermath of a 1836 shipboard romance, featuring two sisters, Ellen and Caroline Hall, and two brothers, Benjamin and Joseph Coyte. 

According to our records and documentation in the Fort Lee Historical Society archive, when the four travelers arrived in New York in 1836, Joseph married Ellen, and Benjamin married Caroline. After living in Brooklyn at first, Joseph and his wife came to the west bank of the Hudson in 1847 and purchased all the land from the river to Overpeck Creek. Joseph and Ellen, five sons and two daughters, lived in a house on Linwood Avenue and Westview Place.

In a few years, Joseph Coyte managed to sell the land from the Overpeck Creek to the present line formed by Jones Road in the West Fort Lee – Englewood section of the county. The rest of the land east to the Hudson River then became the village of Coytesville.

Joseph Coyte soon took out advertisements promoting Coytesville, and among the first to answer his calls to move to the village were English boot makers from Joseph’s hometown of Devon, England. In later years, other Englishmen came to Coytesville and made cobblestones or were painters, carpenters and handy men.

British Invasion 3

(August 2012) 

Previous Patch pieces on the history of Fort Lee and Coytesville reached an eager reader in present day Devon, England. Julie Walker, a granddaughter of a Coyte (Violet) read with interest the various posts. Julie sent me an email recently asking if it would be possible to meet with her and show her present day Coytesville, as she and her family planned to be in New York City on holiday. 

This past week, I picked up Julie, her husband, Rodger, and their teenage daughter, Elizabeth, from the George Washington Bridge plaza as they traveled to Fort Lee from NYC by subway and bus. 

I first brought them to our , where they met Fort Lee Historical Society vice president Lou Azzollini. We brought down the Coytesville files from the Fort Lee Historical Society archive, and Julie and her family were amazed as they viewed photos and documents from a past that seemed to come alive for them within the confines of our museum. 

They viewed the Coytesville Marshall badge, our photos of the former Coytesville Park atop the Palisades and numerous photos of Coytesville from the 19th and 20th century.

I then took the Walkers on a tour of present day Coytesville. Among the stops was Coytesville Park on Sixth Street. Julie and her family posed by the Coytesville Park sign for photos and viewed the iconic Spanish-American War cannon moved to the park from the remnants of the original Coytesville Park some years ago. 

We also visited Woodland Cemetery just over the Coytesville border in Englewood Cliffs. Julie saw the tombstone of Coytesville founder Joseph Coyte. Here all roads came together from Devon, England to Coytesville (Fort Lee) New Jersey – from the 1840s to 2012 – all of these patches of history stitched together because of the articles that appear in Patch.

Julie, Rodger and Lizzie all were quite happy with their visit, as was I. They are most gracious and wonderful people, and I know that our little borough atop the Palisades represents a place now dear to their hearts and clear in their minds.

Baba O'Riley August 31, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Great article. It would be nice one day if the Woodland Cemetery could be cleaned as it is an overgrown tangle. Maybe a project for some of the Fort Lee Community based groups along with members of the Coyte Family?
William Mays August 31, 2012 at 04:12 PM
I want to buy that painting from Christie's.
Tom Meyers September 01, 2012 at 01:07 AM
We have worked in the past (Fort Lee Historical Society) re clean ups at Woodland Cemetery - we hope to work with the fairly new Englewood Cliffs Historical Committee to have regular clean ups with our volunteers and their volunteers.

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