Governors Island National Monument

Governors Island

Governors Island is a 172-acre island in Upper New York Bay, half a mile from the southern tip of Manhattan Island, and is considered a part of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Governors Island is separated from Brooklyn by the Buttermilk Channel. Land reclamation has expanded its size by approximately 82 acres (33 ha) when the Lexington Avenue subway was excavated in the early 1900s.

Governors Island, view of Manhattan
Governors Island, view of Manhattan Author: Fbehnke (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Governors Island was originally called Noten Eylant by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block from 1611 to 1784. Then, From 1783 to 1966, it was a United States Army post. From 1966 to 1996 the island served as a major United States Coast Guard installation. The present name of the island stems from British colonial times when the colonial assembly reserved the island for the exclusive use of New York’s royal governors.

There are two forts on Governors Island, namely Fort Jay and Castle Williams. These heritage structures were made a national monument in 2001. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel passes underwater and off Governors Island. Governors Island is accessible only by a free ferry from the turn-of-the-century-era Battery Maritime Building at South and Whitehall Streets at the southern tip of Manhattan.

Governors Island National Monument

The Governors Island National Monument was proclaimed by President Bill Clinton on 19 January, 2001 and concluded by President George W Bush.

Governors Island National Monument is a historic site off the southern tip of Manhattan, New York City. It covers 22 acres (89,000 sq m) of the 172-acre Governors Island, at the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers, in New York Harbor.

Governors Island had a for the US Army at Fort Jay, which they occupied from 1794 until 1965. It served as an outpost to defend New York City against any attacked approaching from the sea. Fort Jay and Castle William are fortifications on Governors Island erected for this purpose.

After the army vacated the island, it was taken over by the US Coast Guard, which managed a facility there until October 1995, when they too had to pull out as a cost-savings measure.

Castle William, Governors Island
Land-side view of Castle William, Governors Island Author: Jim.henderson (public domain)

With the closure of the Coast Guard base, President Bill Clinton and New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had an informal agreement to transfer the island to the city and state of New York, for a token sum of $1.00, so that it could be redeveloped for public benefit. On 19 January, 2001, as he was about to leave office with no resolution of the island’s future in hand, President Clinton established the Governors Island National Monument. In-coming President George W Bush pointed out technical errors in the proclamation, but did not revoke or invalidate it.

Castle Williams

Castle Williams is a red sandstone fort on Governors Island in the New York Harbor. It was designed and built between 1807 and 1811 under the direction of Colonel (later Lieutenant) Jonathan Williams. Castle William, at that time was called East Battery, and was part of the defense system that includes Fort Columbus (now Fort Jay) also on Governors Island, Castle Clinton at the south tip of Manhattan, Fort Wood on Liberty Island, and Fort Gibson on Ellis Island.
Castle Williams, Governors Island Author: Jim.henderson (public domain)

Fort William was renamed from East Battery after its designer builder, by Colonel Henry Burbeck on 24 November 1810. It is part of the Governors Island National Monument.

Fort Jay

Fort Jay is the oldest structure on Governors Island in New York Harbor. The original earthen fort was built before 1776. It was taken over by the British in that year. After peace was signed in 1783, the fort reverted back to American hands, and was completed in 1808. Its entrance gates dates from 1801. Within its walls were barracks erected in 1834, and family housing dating from 1930s to 1996. There are also cannons in Fort Jay dating to the American Civil War, around 1864.

Fort Jay, New York City
Fort Jay, New York City Author: Theinfo (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Fort Jay was named after John Jay, one of the founding fathers of the United States. In 1808, when the reconstruction was completed, it was renamed Fort Columbus because at that time Jay lost favor among the public for helping to draft the peace treaty with Great Britain. It has since been named back to Fort Jay.

Visiting Governors Island

Take the Governors Island Ferry from the Battery Maritime Building. There are also guided tours at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm seasonally. The Battery Maritime Building site is where ferry services between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn were operated from 1909 to 1938. The building was constructed in 1907. There was a small wharf here called Schreijers Hoek. This was where Dutch colonial ships ply between Manhattan and the Netherlands. Today only the Coast Guard use the piers here for services to Governors Island.

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