What's in a name? High Tor important to Rockland history - 27 May, 2006
By IRENE PLAGIANOS
SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: May 27, 2006)
Rising 832 feet above the Hudson River, High Tor Mountain, with its striking views and its historic significance, has long been a valued site in Rockland's landscape.
American Indians first walked across the lofty mountain, whose name is derived from the Old English word "torr," meaning "rocky peak."
During the Revolutionary War, the mountain served as an important signaling post. According to County Historian Thomas F.X. Casey, American troops would light beacon fires atop High Tor to warn against impending British attacks.
In Clarkstown on the border with Haverstraw, High Tor was known as "Haverstraw's watchful eye," Casey said. Throughout the 1940s, before the prevalence of radar navigation, pilots used markers at the peak to help guide their flights.
High Tor, whose image is engraved on Clarkstown's town seal, was not only prized for its strategic usefulness and its beauty. During the late 1930s, according to a 1988 Journal News article, the New York Trap Rock Corp. had a plan to dig quarries into the mountain. The cliff's rock, which would make good crushed stone, was in high demand then for building roads, Casey said.
Elmer Van Orden owned much of High Tor at the time and refused to sell to the rock company.
In 1937, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and New City resident Maxwell Anderson wrote "High Tor," a play that dramatized the struggle to keep the peak from being quarried. The play, which opened on Broadway that year and won a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, centered on the character Van Van Doren's fight with the company that wanted to "chew the back right off this mountain."
Maxwell Anderson's daughter, Hersper Anderson, who wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the film "Children of a Lesser God," told The Journal News in 1988 that "in a sustained rage, my father wrote the play 'High Tor.' He depicted the trap rock company as a bunch of money-grubbing fools, trying to displace the rightful owner of the Tor."
Because of the play, Anderson, who lived on South Mountain Road, which runs along the base of High Tor, is largely credited with galvanizing the successful movement to save the mountain from excavation.
In 1943, after Van Orden's death, the Rockland County Conservation Association, through raised money, purchased 23 acres of his property and donated it to the Palisades Interstate Park.
Later, railroad tycoon Archer Huntington gave his 470-acre estate to the Palisades Interstate Park, forming a substantial portion of High Tor State Park, said park supervisor Tom Margiotta. The land includes the smaller Low Tor Mountain.
Little Tor Road, which intersects with South Mountain Road, is thought to be named for the smaller "tor."
Margiotta said that the more than 600-acre High Tor State Park includes a pool, hiking trails and picnic areas, which are all open to the public.
"High Tor is a wonderful backdrop for Haverstraw," Casey said. "We're very fortunate to still have this natural beauty in the area."
BACK TO TOP
A View for Generations
View Archived Newsletters