My aunt called me out of the blue and said that she had an extra spot on a trip to Governors Island with her Retired Teachers Association group and I jumped at the chance. I had never been to the island before only having seen it from a distance so it was a chance to visit the island with a tour group. The nice part of the tour was that we could walk independently around the island, which my cousin, Bruce and I decided to do.
When going to Governor’s Island during the week, there is a $3.00 round trip fee to travel to the island, which is now open seven days a week. On the weekends, the ferry is free so it is a treat to go to the island as a type of ‘Staycation’. For people living in New York City, it is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the island of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.
Governor’s Island has been a public space since 1996 when the US Coast Guard left the island and part of the island reverted to the National Park system. Since then, twenty-two acres of the park where the forts are located have been part of the National Park system and the remaining one hundred and fifty acres of the landfill area are part of the Trust of Governor’s Island, which is an entity of the City of New York. Governor’s Island is now part of Manhattan. Since 2001, the island has reinvented itself and in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg broke ground on the master plan for the island. In the next six years, the island has developed into the park is has now become with more developments in the future (Wiki).
On a nice day, there is nothing like a boat ride out to the island. It only takes about ten minutes to leave from the Battery to the dock of the island. It’s a nice ride over to the island with the most spectacular views of Lower Manhattan, Jersey City, NJ, Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. These are all ‘must sees’ when you are visiting New York. The views of Lower Manhattan are most breathtaking when you reach the area around Castle Williams, one of the two forts on the island.
Once you arrive on the island, the gift shop and information booth is to your left up the hill and the public bathrooms are to your right. Make sure to make pit stops at both before venturing further on the island. At the gift shop you can get a map of the island to know where to walk and the public bathrooms at the dock is the best place to go on the island.
We started our walk of Governor’s Island on the path to Castle William, one of the two forts of the island and one of the last relics of ‘Old’ New York. Castle William is fort that protected New York Harbor for the War of 1812 and after that was used during the Civil War as a jail for prisoners of war and then during World Wars for training base.
The fort is made of red sand stone quarried in New York area and was designed by Lt. Colonial Jonathan Williams, who was the Chief Engineer of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The fort was designed in a innovative circular pattern, which protected the fort from all sides and was considered a prototype for a new form of coastal fortification (US National Park System).
The tour was very interesting as we started in the court yard, which had once been a training ground for the troops. They took us on a tour of the jail cells on the first floor, solitary confinement on the second floor and then took us to the roof to see where the cannons were located that protected the harbor during the War of 1812. The views were breathtaking of Lower Manhattan and Jersey City, NJ. One a clear day, the view is amazing with all the soaring towers, pleasure boats and helicopters above.
The tour took us all over the building and the guide told the story of how the fort supported the City during The War of 1812 and its use in later years for other military service. Since the City was surrounding by forts on the various islands protecting New York Harbor, the British did not venture to New York during the war.
As we left the Castle William, we walked the path toward Fort Jay, which is located in the middle of the island. The fort is currently being renovated and some of the walls were crumbling around us. The interior of the fort is open and there are rocking chairs around the porches that line the insides of the fort while the outside walls of the fort are being renovated and repaired.
Fort Jay has been altered and rebuilt since its inception around 1775, when defenses were made on the island by the Continental troops during the Revolutionary War. This fort and Governor’s Island was held by the British during the war and surrendered after the war in 1783. With renewed tensions abroad, the New York Legislature and United States Congress reconstructed the fort in 1794 as part of the First American System of Coastal Fortifications. The fort was called Fort Jay in 1798 for New York Governor John Jay (US National Park Services).
The fort went through extensive renovations between 1855-1921 with the brick barracks being replaced, interior remodeling and the addition of officer’s apartments and a golf course. Fort Jay has sat vacant with minimal upkeep since closure of the Coast Guard base in 1997 and you can see the current renovation going on now (US National Parks Services). There is also an art installation in this fort that is on view.
Both forts do close early for tours and viewing. Make sure you get to the island early so that you can take the tours or visit on your own to admire the architecture. They are interesting examples of early harbor defenses not just in New York but of the coastal cities that were established before the Revolutionary War.
Exiting the old fort, look up to see the statuary going through a renovation. The soft stone of the fort have been damaged by the sea air over the years and the eagle statues need extensive repairs. The pathway then leads to Nolan Park, home of the Officers Homes when they lived on the island. These are currently being renovated for non-profit organizations. I had a nice walk through of one of the homes on a second trip to the island and it is now part of the NY Audubon Society. There are a lot of interesting displays that the Society shows on both floors/
Most of the homes are still going through a renovation and are not open to the public but it is interesting to see the Victorian architecture and how the officers and their families must have lived when they were stationed here. Even when walking through the homes you can see that a lot of work is needed in these buildings with the sagging porches and peeling paint.
Leaving Nolan Park you head to the South Battery, where their is an active school and it leads to one of the three piers on the island. To the north of this is the Parade Ground where they were setting up for one of the summer movies that was going to be shown on the lawn with the last one being in mid-September.
We walked along the Yankee Pier on the southern part of the island and looked over the views from Brooklyn, which are not that exciting and then walked to Liggett Terrace to cool down and grab some lunch.
On the weekends in the warmer weather is there are a lot of food trucks on this side of the island and we stopped at Fauzia Jamaican Food truck stand right near the building for some Jerk Chicken sandwiches. This was an experience. I felt like I was sitting in a little restaurant in Kingston. They had the tables set up just so with colorful chairs and decorations and they were playing music by Luciano, a well known singer from Jamaica.
Fauzia’s Jamaican Food Truck
The food at Fauzia’s is really good. Their Jerk Chicken sandwich($8.00) has some kick to it and when you add their hot sauce, it ‘sets fire’ in your stomach. The sandwiches are a rather large so be prepared to have an appetite. The ladies are really nice and engaging to talk to and bring a warm island hospitality to the dining experience.
After lunch, we sat by the fountains near the building and I amused a bunch of ten year olds by taking off my shoes and socks and walking around the shooting fountains. The temperature had hit 98 degrees and was really humid and I could not take the heat. So I splashed around the fountain. The jumping and shooting of the fountains felt really good on my legs and feet and my cousin could not stop laughing.
The rest of the afternoon we explored the southern part of the island which is all landfill (from building the first subway system in the City and the island grew an additional 150 acres). Once you leave Liggett Terrance, you follow the paths to the southern (or western) part of the island which is all divided up park land by a series of paths.
We walked through the Hammock Grove and relaxed in the hammocks that are always in demand. It is a nice place to relax on a hot day but do spray yourself as the bugs can bite here. All along the paths there are local wild flowers and trees so that paths can be very colorful in season. The hammocks are a nice place to just lie back and relax. On a hot, humid day they were not as much fun but nice for a break. My second time to the island was after a rain storm and the bugs were biting me so I did not venture long.
The Play Lawn area around the south part of the island was booked for an event called “Pinknic”, a picnic where everyone wore pink and drank rose wines. On a 94 degree day with the humidity hitting almost 100 degrees drinking rose wine in that heat was the last thing I would want to do but my cousin and I watched as each wave of ferry riders became pinker in color in their dress and the place filled up.
We walked up The Hills section just below the Play Lawn and that is some exercise. Climbing up the rocks on the ‘Outlook Hill’, can be trying but the views are well work it. When the two of use reached the top neither of us took the time to notice that there was a path leading up the hill that was paved. When you reach the top of the hill, there are the most interesting and beauty views of the island and of the harbor region. Since Governor’s Island is in the heart of the harbor, you can see everything around the surrounding islands and Lower Manhattan.
Picnic Point was closed for private events on both trips I made to the island and the area surrounding The Hills is being developed for a future hotel or inn on the island from what one of the tour guides I over-heard talking to a group of tourists.
We traveled up the northern part of the island and noticed a tent village. The Collective Governor’s Island was having a soft opening the day we were there and just starting to receive guests. The Collective is an eco-friendly resort concept and the tents are hardly ‘roughing it’ with gourmet treats and meals, 1000 thread sheets and plush Turkish towels and some of the tents have private baths. The day were there was no one on the property yet and the second time I visited the island, it was not yet check in time and the place looked like a ghost town with no one there. I will have to revisit before it closes for the season.
On my second trip to explore the island, I attempted to slide down the two slides found in the ‘Slide Hill’ section of The Hills. Good luck on that. At 6:4, I had to push myself down the slides while the little kids slide down with no problems. The slides are hidden by trees on this part of the hill but just look for the little and big ‘kids’, who are laughing hard at each other.
As we traced out steps back to the Manhattan Ferry landing, we passed various restaurants that were open for the season. The Oyster House has a nice menu and the bar area was packed that afternoon and Taco Beach, a slightly more casual place was full of guests enjoying Mexican food. Those I will have to try on future trips.
I would like to point out the various public arts works on the island by in the Chapel of St. Cornelius, which is an old church on the island near the South Battery and the Liggett Archway in the middle of the Liggett Terrace. These sculptures are by artist Jacob Hasimoto, who currently lives in Queens, NY.
Mr. Hasimoto was born in 1973 in Greeley, CO and is a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Having shown in museums and galleries all over the world, this is the first major installation by the artist (Artist Bio)
Using sculpture and installation, the artist creates worlds from a range of modular components: bamboo and paper kites, model boats and even AstroTurf-covered blocks. His accretive, layered compositions reference video games, virtual environments and cosmology, while also remaining deeply rooted in art-historical traditions notably, landscaped-based abstraction, modernism and handcraft (Artist Bio).
In the historic Chapel of St. Cornelius which closed in 2013, the artist reopened it with a sculpture of 15,000 bamboo and paper kites done in white and black named ‘The Eclipse’. To me it looked more like a sunrise/sunset pattern in the sky than a full eclipse but the artist really captured the progressiveness of the color and light of the movement of the sun and moon. It blew me away of the intricate detail work the artist had to figure to get the placement just so to get this effect. It takes over the whole church and you have to see it from all sides to fully appreciate it.
In the Liggett Hall archway, his sculpture ‘Never comes Tomorrow’ contains hundreds of wooden cubes and two massive steel funnels which showcases the artists interest in architecture. To me I found it whimsical and fun showing a combination of a work straight out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’. It looked like a series of trumpets with the communication devise in the middle of the structure. Hurry though, these sculptures I read online will only be up until Halloween.
After a hot and sticky day on the island both times, it is a pleasurable trip back to Lower Manhattan. The breezes are really nice and the view unbelievably beautiful. When you hear the words “New York” this is what you would imagine it to be.
Governor’s Island is from May 1st until October 31st during the season from 10:00am-6:00pm Monday-Thursday and on Friday’s and Saturday’s there are late hours until 10:00pm but only until September 14th. The island is open on Sunday from 10:00am-7:00pm. The ferries run on the hour except extended on the weekends. The last ferry departs the island 6:00pm Monday-Thursday and 7:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The island closes after Halloween night.
Depending on the part of the season you visit, there is loads to do on the island from just walking around, biking, skate boarding, touring or just relaxing.
All restaurants and historical sites are located on Governor’s Island and you can see it all by accessing their website at http://www.govisland.com.