McGowan’s Pass is a name that refers to the history of the landscape before the Park was built. It marks the spot where the main road through Manhattan, known as the Kingsbridge Road, descended through a small valley in the rocky landscape. This road was also known as the Eastern Post Road, because it connected to the mail delivery routes to Albany and Boston. It was named for the McGowan family, local landowners who operated a popular tavern, one of many in the area built to serve travelers.
The presence of the road, as well as the hilly topography, influenced the choice of this area for military defense — first during the Revolutionary War, when the British built fortifications here, and again a few decades later during the War of 1812, when the Americans constructed a defense system. The Americans feared the British would launch an overland attack from the north, and thus they heavily guarded McGowan’s Pass with a stone gatehouse anchored to the rock outcrops controlling access to the road.