With its high ground and expansive views to the north and east, it is clear why this spot was regarded as an important strategic position in two wars. In 1776, the British built a fortification here, following its invasion of Manhattan, as part of a defensive line extending west to the Hudson River. During the War of 1812, the American military rebuilt a fort in this location and named it Fort Clinton, in honor of Mayor DeWitt Clinton, then mayor of New York. In the 1860s, the designers of Central Park recognized the scenic and historic value of this location, and retained the remains of the fortification. They developed the site as a scenic overlook incorporating rustic fencing, benches, and a flagpole. The Central park Conservancy rebuilt the overlook in 2014, recreating some of these historic details and restoring the surrounding landscape.
The recent project by the Conservancy also involved reinstalling two cannons that had been in storage since the 1970s. The cannons have a rather curious history: they were never actually fired from this location. Recent research has confirmed that they originated on the Hussar, a British Royal Navy ship that ran aground on Hell gate in the East River in 1780 while delivering supplies for the Revolutionary War. The cannons were donated to the park in 1865 and put in display in a museum in the
former convent of Mount Saint Vincent, just south of this location. After the building was destroyed by fire in 1881, the cannons were unaccounted for until 1905, when Edward Hagaman Hall, a historian and preservationist, discovered them lying on the ground near Fort Clinton. Given the military history of the area, he assumed they were period artifacts and advocated to have them installed in this location. In 1906 the Parks Department installed the cannons at Fort Clinton on a granite base. In 2014 the Conservancy conserved the cannons and the base and returned them to this location.