New Jersey’s own ‘cliffhanger’
History of Palisades recounted at local ‘illustrated tour’
by Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Nov 17, 2013 | 8185 views | 0 0 comments | 102 102 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The creation and history of the Palisades were covered in a special presentation. Photo by Al Sullivan
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The rich history of The Palisades on the west bank of the Hudson River, and the cliffs’ place in New Jersey and Hudson County lore, were examined during an hour-plus presentation by author and photographer Kevin Woyce at a local nutrition center recently.

Many residents of Union City, North Bergen, Hoboken, West New York, and Weehawken live on the famous hills or in their shadow.

The event, sponsored by the Weehawken Library, was held at the township’s nutrition center on Highwood Avenue on Nov. 12.

“Exploring the Palisades” traced the history of the rock formations from prehistoric times, to their discovery by explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, to their heyday as an entertainment and movie-making center in the early 20th Century, to the present.

Woyce explained the derivation of the cliffs’ moniker, attributed to the voyage of Verrazzano, who described the geographical attribute as "a fence of stakes," or “Palisades.” Verrazzano, for whom a bridge in New York is named, was sailing under the banner of France, hoping to find from East Coast bays a quicker route to the West Coast, and way to trade with China.
Verrazzano described the geographical attribute as “a fence of stakes,” or “Palisades.”
“He quickly realized it would not be a shortcut to the Pacific,” Woyce said.

The Lyndhurst historian said that the Italian explorer was not the only one to recognize the unique appearance of the cliffs overlooking the Hudson River. The Manhattan Indians did as well, describing them as “the rocks that look like trees,” or in their language, “Weehawken.”

Revolutionary and fun

Woyce said that The Palisades are one of New Jersey's most impressive landmarks, from their formation and discovery, to the abandoned riverfront beaches and ferry landings, to a vanished cliff-top world of mansions and grand hotels.

The program also featured a virtual visit to Fort Lee, which was once the home of the silent movie industry, and the Palisades Amusement Park, the setting of the bestselling novel “Palisades Park” and for years a venue for music concerts.

Running to Jersey City

The speaker said the cliffs were formed 250 million years ago, when there was no Atlantic Ocean and the earth had just one big “supercontinent.”

Woyce surprised the crowd when he said The Palisades run from Piermont, N.Y., all the way down to Jersey City.

He also talked about moviemaking, a major industry in the area at the turn of the last century. The term “cliffhanger” originated here, because of the dangerous stunts filmed on the bluffs of The Palisades.

WNY and Guttenberg

Today the cliffs and waterfront are lined with luxury apartments, including those in West New York and Guttenberg. The 1970s saw the construction of the Galaxy Towers, one of the most densely populated places in the United States.

Positive response

Nearly 30 township residents attended the presentation, including Mayor Richard Turner. Several of the participants stayed after the program to ask additional questions of Woyce.

“I loved it. It was marvelous, just marvelous,” said resident Janet Crowley. “He told me things I didn’t know.”

“I thought it was really well done,” said John Newman, also of Weehawken. “It was very informative. I learned a lot.”

“We thought it was a great topic,” said Kevie Newman, John’s wife.

“[The Palisades] are a place I’ve always been interested in,” said Woyce, who first became aware of the area 30 years while a Boy Scout growing up in East Rutherford.

“Palisades” was the last of a trilogy of programs presented by Woyce for the township. The first two were “Jersey Shore” in June and “Lighthouses of New Jersey” in August.

For additional information on library programs, call (201) 863-7823.

Joseph Passantino may be reached at

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