FISHKILL SUPPLY DEPOT HISTORIC SITE
From beginning to end of the American Revolutionary War, the dozen-mile course of the Hudson River through the Hudson Highlands was the conflict’s decisive strategic center. Both sides recognized that reality. The British objective was to divide the United States along the line of the Hudson River by holding both ends—New York City and Canada—and using its powerful navy to control the river. Having no navy, General Washington’s only counter was to defeat that plan by closing the river at its passage in the Highlands. He did so by erecting an impregnable defensive complex, anchored by the fortress at West Point. He called this complex “The Key of America.”
Now, some two-an-a-half centuries later, many parts of that complex still exist, comprising the most complete collection of Revolutionary War remnants in America. They include the Fishkill Supply Depot, Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, the New Windsor Cantonment, and numerous elements of Fortress West Point. Many of these hallowed sites have been restored as parks and museums to tell the story of their role in the Revolution. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Fishkill Supply Depot.
The Fishkill Supply Depot complex, which can best be visualized as a compact military city, is unique among other Revolutionary War sites in that it was in continuous use from October 1776 through April 1783, nearly the entire duration of the war. Thousands of Continental troops and Militiamen were stationed at the Depot, which then comprised multiple barracks, a stable, a post office, a saw mill, a clothing store, a blacksmith shop, a paymaster’s office, an ammunition magazine, several hospitals, and the Van Wyck Homestead. A captured British officer, brought to the Depot in 1778, described it as the principle depot of the American army, a center of communications linking the north, south and eastern colonies, and having a great number of huts to provide winter quarters for George Washington’s forces. The Depot is sometimes referred to as the Valley Forge of New York, because of the harsh winters so many endured there.
On 21 January 1974, the Department of Interior listed the Fishkill Supply Depot in the National Register of Historic Places. Nevertheless, that failed to prevent most of the site from being transformed into what is now an abandoned shopping mall area. All that remains of the original array of structures is the Van Wyck house, home to the Fishkill Historical Society.
In March of 2016, The National Park Service released a significant report combining historical and archeological research on the Fishkill Supply Depot. Called the Hunter report, it included evidence collected in 2007 that identified the site of a cemetery on the property that would be part of a currently proposed development project. Follow-on field studies using ground penetrating radar reinforced that finding by revealing hundreds of anomalies consistent with known graves in the immediate area. Moreover, old maps of Dutchess County refer to this burial site as a military cemetery. Researchers, archeologists, and historians have discovered numerous sources that link this military cemetery with the Fishkill Supply Depot during the American Revolution. This now almost unknown and unnoticed soldier burial ground has clearly been identified as holding not a few, but hundreds of soldiers who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. Sadly, the current owner of the property refuses to acknowledge it as a military burial site, and will not allow further tests or surveys.
The intention of the property owner of the military cemetery site is to build a motel and restaurant there, and to specifically use the graveyard as a tourist attraction. The Continental Commons Development Project, as it is being called, could permanently impact or destroy what many experts believe to be the largest Revolutionary War burial field ever identified, and one of the very earliest of United States Military Cemeteries. Continental Commons could also permanently destroy historical artifacts from the original military base, as well as foundations from some of the original structures.
The Fishkill Supply Depot Military Cemetery is a national treasure. It should be understood and cherished by all patriotic Americans. Furthermore, additional research will likely establish it as a multinational military cemetery. New York State records of those reported as having died there, as well as studies of the demographics of Hudson Valley residents at that time; identify many nationalities of soldiers serving in Washington’s army, including militiamen, and of POWs held there. Among them are British, French, German, Dutch, Canadian, and even Native Americans.
In 2016 the organization, Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot, which has been leading the fight to stop the Continental Commons Development Project, reached out to local veterans groups to draw attention to the negative impact such development would have on this historically significant military cemetery, especially the desecration that would be inflicted on the remnants of the archeological artifacts and building foundations remaining from the original military base. Thankfully, Veterans of the Hudson Valley have answered the call, teaming up with local historians and patriotic citizens to preserve and protect the Depot from further destruction. These veterans and citizens are working towards the establishment of the site as a permanent historical park which would complete the special triad of Fortress West Point, New Windsor Cantonment, and Fishkill Supply Depot.
Like Saratoga, Yorktown, and Arlington National Cemetery, the Fishkill Supply Depot Historic Site should be valued, revered, and protected by veterans and patriotic Americans in honor of Fishkill’s Continental Army soldiers who lie silently waiting to be protected. It is commendable to see current and former members of the modern day armed forces—representing all branches of military service—working together to establish such a site. I encourage all patriotic citizens of the Hudson Valley to join together in protecting and preserving the Fishkill Supply Depot as a national historic treasure, and establishing a permanent military park at the location of one of the most important military bases in the American Revolution.
Written by LtGen D. Palmer (Ret.) and Capt. N. Dillon (Ret.)