Our Rockbound Highland Home
We’re honored to welcome you to Our Rockbound Highland Home.
Some of the visitors to this historic vacation rental house might be interested to know that cadets, graduates, and friends of West Point often refer to the Academy itself as their ‘Rockbound Highland Home’. This sentimental moniker comes from the lyrics of a very old, local pub song, which gained national prominence as a song about West Point and the Army in the years in and around the Civil War. The song is “Benny Havens, Oh!”
Who and what is Benny Havens? To explain, here below we’ve adapted the remarks of General John Gibbon, who spoke at length at the Iron Brigade Association Reunion, in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1885, regarding Benny Havens and our Rockbound Highland Home:
‘For some years prior to 1832, Benny Havens, who had served as a first lieutenant of the Highland Falls company in the War of 1812, occupied a one-story cottage a short distance west of the old cadet hospital. It was there that Edgar Allan Poe, who often remarked that Benny was the "sole congenial soul in the entire Godforsaken place," became devoted to him.’
‘At first Benny sold only ale, cider, and buckwheat cakes. But, subsequently, he dispensed a more potent beverage. As a result, in 1832, he was expelled from the military reservation. Shortly after his expulsion, Benny opened a tavern on the river's edge below the cliffs of Highland Falls, about a mile and a half from the cadet barracks. To this tavern, after taps and against regulation, came many cadets whose names were later to be written on their country's roll of honor. Many of our famous generals were fond of recalling the cold winter nights when they had slipped out of barracks and skated down the river to partake of the good cheer at Benny's. It is even recorded that Cadet Jefferson Davis, in attempting to evade some officers who had descended upon Benny's, once fell over a cliff and was nearly killed.’
‘The specialty drink of the house was the ‘hot flip’, made of rum or cider, beaten eggs, sugar and spices. It was heated by dousing a red-hot poker or ‘flip dog’ into an enormous flagon from which the drinks were served. The key to the ‘flip’ was knowing when to remove the ‘dog’ to produce the distinctive caramel-like flavor, a skill Old Benny had perfected.’
‘While Benny Havens was most notorious for serving alcohol, his tavern was truly a haven in many respects. There, Benny and his wife Letitia, a marvelous cook, dispensed good food and hot rum punches. Cadets enjoyed home-cooked meals, were able to relax, and spend a few hours free of the demands of the Academy.’
‘The song that perpetuated Benny's fame was originally composed by Lieutenant O'Brien of the Eighth Infantry. He had been an assistant surgeon in the army, but had just been commissioned in the infantry when, in 1838, he visited his friend Ripley A. Arnold of the First Class. Together they made many visits to Benny's where O’Brien composed the first few stanzas of the song and sang them to the tune of "The wearing of the Green". O'Brien died in a Florida campaign a few years later. But for many years after his death each graduating class added a verse to the song.'
'During the Civil War, the song was widely sung in the army, and many army verses were improvised. During the summer of 1865, when boatloads of returning soldiers were daily passing Benny's, the bands would strike up 'Benny Havens, Oh!' while hundreds of voices joined in the song.'
On May 29th 1877, in his ninetieth year, Benny Havens Died. He is buried at the Highland Union Cemetery in Highland Falls. A few years later the building of the railroad on the west shore of the Hudson necessitated moving Benny Havens’ tavern. It was carefully taken apart and carted about five miles back into the hills to a point near Long Pond Mountain, where it was re-erected. It has moved once or twice since, but little changed from the days when Benny Havens was its genial host.
Lyrics: Benny Havens, Oh!
Come, fill your glasses, fellows, and stand up in a row,
To singing sentimentally we're going for to go;
In the army there's sobriety, promoting's very slow,
So we'll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, oh!
Oh! Benny Havens, oh! Oh! Benny Havens, oh!
We'll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, oh!
To our kind old Alma Mater, our rock-bound highland home,
We'll cast back many a fond regret as o'er life's sea we roam;
Until on our last battle-field the lights of heaven shall glow,
We'll never fail to drink to her, and Benny Havens, oh!
May the Army be augmented, promotion be less slow,
May our country in the hour of need be ready for the foe;
May we find a soldier's resting-place beneath a soldier's blow,
With room enough beside our graves for Benny Haven’s, oh!
From Nevada's hoary ridges, from stormy coasts of Maine,
From lava beds and Yellowstone the story never waned;
Wherever duty called, they went, their steps were never slow,
With 'Alma Mater' on their lips and 'Benny Havens, oh.'
Let us toast our foster-father, the republic, as you know,Who in the paths of science taught us upward for to go;and the maidens of our native land, whose cheeks like roses glow,They're oft remembered in our cups at Benny Havens, oh!
To the ladies of our Army our cups shall ever flow,
Companions in our exile and our shield'gainst every woe;
May they see their husbands generals, with double pay also,
And join us in our choruses at Benny Havens’, oh!
Come fill up to our generals, God bless the brave heroes.
They're an honor to their country, and a terror to their foes;
May they long rest on their laurels, and troubles never know,
But live to see a thousand years at Benny Havens', oh!
And if amid the battle shock our honore'er should trail,
And hearts that beat beneath its folds should turn or basely quail;
Then may some son of Benny's, with quick avenging blow,
Lift up the flag we loved so well at Benny Havens', oh!
To our comrades who have fallen, one cup before we go,
They poured their life-blood freely out pro bono publico.
No marble points the stranger to where they rest below;
They lie neglected far away from Benny Havens', oh!
When this life's troubled sea is o'er and our last battle's through.
If God permits us mortals there his blest domain to view,
Then we shall see in glory crowned, in proud celestial row,
The friends we've known and loved so well at Benny Haven’s, oh!
When you and I and Benny, and all the others, too,
Are called before the "final board" our course in life to view,
May we never "fess" on any point, but straight be told to go,
And join the army of the blest at Benny Havens', oh!
But now the soften'd summer winds come whisp'ring to us low,
The he of whom we oft have sung, Death's hand lies on his brow.
These granite hills surrounding us, by sun all set aglow,
May they be guardian angels to our Benny Haven, Oh!"