Long before the construction of Central Park, the rock bluffs in the landscape just south of the Haarlem Meer played an important part in our city's - and nation's - history. Both British and American recognized these hills as a key strategic location during the Revolutionary War. They provided expansive views to the north and proximity to the Kingsbridge Road, the main road through Manhattan during the 1700s and early 1800s. In 1776, following the withdrawal of American forces to northern Manhattan, the British army constructed fortifications in this landscape, as part of a line of defenses extending to the west, and they built encampments and barracks for British and Hessian troops. For the duration of the war, there were typically around 500 soldiers stationed in the area. In 1782, fears of an American offensive prompted a buildup of troops, and there were as many as 10,00 troops encamped in the area.
During the War of 1812, the American army recognized the area as key to defending the city from a British invasion. In 1814, military engineers built on top of earlier fortifications, creating a defenses system that included three fortifications. Named Fort Fish, Fort Clinton and Nutter's Battery, they were linked by low earthen walls and a gatehouse to control access to the Kingsbridge Road. They also constructed additional defenses
on the hills to the west, including the structure know as the Blockhouse that still remains in the park.
The designers of Central Park retained the remnants of the fortifications in their development of this portion of the park, which was completed in 1867, and created an overlook at the location of Fort Clinton. In 1945 the Parks Department added new paths to the area, redeveloped Fort Clinton, and created a scenic overlook at Nutter's Battery. While the original fortifications have eroded over time, traces remain, and the expansive views of the surrounding landscape and the city are still part of the experience.
The area continues to be known as the Fort Landscape, and the names of the War of 1812 fortifications are still in use. Between 2014 and 2014, the Central Park Conservancy restored this landscape, including the reconstruction of the overlooks at Fort Clinton and Nutter's Battery. The work included historical research and archeological investigations that revealed new information and physical remnants of area's past, providing insights in the military events that unfolded here and a window into the pre-urban landscape of New York.