kids encyclopedia robot

Governors Island facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Governors Island
Noten Eylandt
Nutten Island
Governors Island from One World Observatory 2017.jpg
Governors Island viewed from One World Trade Center in 2017
  • "Paggank" and "Noten Eylandt" from nut trees
  • "Governors Island" from New York colonial governors
Location New York Harbor
Coordinates 40°41′29″N 74°0′58″W / 40.69139°N 74.01611°W / 40.69139; -74.01611
Area 172 acres (70 ha)
Highest elevation 70 ft (21 m)
Highest point Outlook Hill
State New York
City New York City
Borough Manhattan
Population 0 (2010)
Additional information
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
ZIP code 10004
Official website The Trust for Governors Island website
The Governors Island National Monument website
Governors Island
Location New York City, New York, U.S.
Area 172 acres (70 ha)
Architectural style Colonial Revival, Greek Revival
Visitation 800,000 (2018)
NRHP reference No. 85002435
Significant dates
Added to NRHP February 4, 1985
Designated NHL February 4, 1985
Designated NMON January 19, 2001

Governors Island is a 172-acre (70 ha) island in New York Harbor, within the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is located approximately 800 yards (732 m) south of Manhattan Island, and is separated from Brooklyn to the east by the 400-yard-wide (370 m) Buttermilk Channel. The National Park Service administers a small portion of the north end of the island as the Governors Island National Monument, including two former military fortifications named Fort Jay and Castle Williams. The Trust for Governors Island operates the remaining 150 acres (61 ha), including 52 historic buildings, as a public park. About 103 acres (42 ha) of the land area is fill, added in the early 1900s to the south of the original island.

The native Lenape originally referred to Governors Island as Paggank ("nut island") because of the area's rich collection of chestnut, hickory, and oak trees, and because it is believed that this space was originally used for seasonal foraging and hunting. The name was translated into the Dutch Noten Eylandt, then Anglicized into Nutten Island, before being renamed Governor's Island by the late 18th century. The island's use as a military installation dates to 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, when Continental Army troops raised defensive works on the island. From 1783 to 1966, the island was a United States Army post, serving mainly as a training ground for troops, though it also served as a strategic defense point during wartime. The island then served as a major United States Coast Guard installation until 1996. Following its decommissioning as a military base, there were several plans for redeveloping Governors Island. It was sold to the public for a nominal sum in 2003, and opened for public use in 2005.

Governors Island has become a popular destination for the public, attracting more than 800,000 visitors per year as of 2018. In addition to the 43-acre (17 ha) public park, Governors Island includes free arts and cultural events, as well as recreational activities. The New York Harbor School, a public high school with a maritime-focused curriculum, has been on the island since 2010. The island can only be accessed by ferries from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Until 2021, the island was only accessible to the public during the summer.


Admiral's House
The Admiral's House

Colonial period

In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano saw the island, becoming the first European to do so. It was then called Paggank (Island of Nuts; described above) by the Native Americans.

In May 1624, Noten Eylandt ("Island of Nuts"; officially renamed Governors Island in 1784) was the landing place of the first settlers in New Netherland. They had arrived from the Dutch Republic with the ship New Netherland under the command of Cornelius Jacobsen May, who disembarked on the island with thirty families in order to take legal possession of the New Netherland territory. As such, the New York State Senate and Assembly recognize Governors Island as the birthplace of the state of New York, and also certify the island as the place on which the planting of the "legal-political guaranty of tolerance onto the North American continent" took place.

In 1633, the fifth director of New Netherland, Wouter van Twiller, arrived with a 104-man regiment on Governors Island—its first use as a military base. Later he operated a farm on the island. He secured his farm by drawing up a deed on June 16, 1637, which was signed by two Lenape, Cacapeteyno and Pewihas, on behalf of their community at Keshaechquereren, situated in what today is New Jersey.

New Netherland was conditionally ceded to the English in 1664, and the English renamed the settlement New York in June 1665. By 1674, the British had total control of the island.

American Revolution

After the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, in one night, April 9, 1776, Continental Army General Israel Putnam fortified the island with earthworks and 40 cannons in anticipation of the return of the British Army and navy who had quit New York City the year before. The harbor defenses on the island continued to be improved over the summer, and on July 12, 1776, engaged HMS Phoenix and HMS Rose as they made a run up the Hudson River to the Tappan Zee. The colonists' cannon inflicted enough damage to make the British commanders cautious of entering the East River, which later contributed to the success of General George Washington's retreat across it from Brooklyn into Manhattan after the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn), the British Army effort to take Brooklyn Heights overlooking Manhattan and the largest battle of the entire war.

The Continental Army forces collapsed after being flanked and eventually withdrew from Brooklyn and from Governors Island as well, and the British occupied it in late August. From September 2 to 14, the new British garrison would engage volleys with Washington's guns on the battery in front of Fort George in Manhattan. The fort, along with the rest of New York City, was held by the British for the rest of the war until Evacuation Day at the end of the war in 1783.

Late 18th through 19th centuries

At the end of the Revolution, the island, as a former holding of the Crown, came into ownership by the state of New York and saw no military usage. Prompted by the unsettled international situation between the warring powers of France and Great Britain and the need for more substantial harbor fortifications, the Revolutionary War-era earthworks were rehabilitated into harbor defenses by the city and state of New York.

Noten (in pidgin language, "Nutten") Island was renamed Governors Island in 1784 as the island, in earlier times, had been reserved by the British colonial assembly for the exclusive use of New York's royal governors. The Governor's House (perhaps ca 1703, with additions) survives as the oldest structure on the island.

By the late 1790s, the Quasi-War with France prompted a national program of harbor fortifications and the state of New York began improvements as a credit for its Revolutionary War debt. In February 1800, the island was conveyed to the federal government, which undertook the reconstruction of Fort Jay and new construction of two waterfront batteries, Castle Williams and South or Half Moon Battery.

Two forts were built. The first, Fort Jay, was built in 1794 by the state of New York on the site of the earlier Revolutionary War earthworks, and was originally a square four-bastioned fort of earthworks and timber. A sandstone and brick gate house topped with a sculpture of an eagle dates to that time and is the oldest structure on the island. From 1806 to 1809, Fort Jay, then renamed Fort Columbus was reconstructed in more substantial brick and granite with the addition of a ravelin on its north face, giving the fort its current five-point-star appearance, to better protect the fort from a Manhattan-based attack and to more directly place cannon fire on to the East and Hudson Rivers. The second major fortification, Castle Williams, was based on a design by Colonel Jonathan Williams; construction started in 1807 and substantially completed in November 1811. Located on a rocky shoal extending from the northwest corner of the island, it was inspired by then-modern French thinking on fortifications, but a pioneering design for American fortification. It was a designed as a circular structure that could project a 320 degree arc of cannon fire from three levels of casemates (bomb-proof rooms holding two cannons each) and roof, holding 103 cannon gun emplacements.

Fort Jay and Castle Williams are considered among the best remaining examples of First System (Fort Jay) and Second System (Castle Williams) American coastal fortification. They proved useful soon after completion, as they were used to defend the city in the War of 1812. However, within two decades, their defenses were antiquated and the forts' usages needed to be downsized. Therefore, part of Governors Island was repurposed for civilian use. However, the Army still retained military operations, with an "administrative and training center" on the island and a muster station throughout the Mexican–American War and American Civil War; in addition, there was an arsenal and Army-operated music school located on the island.

Liggett Hall jeh
Liggett Hall, former barracks for a regiment
St Cornelius Governors Island jeh
Episcopal Chapel of St. Cornelius

During the American Civil War, Castle Williams held Confederate prisoners of war and Fort Jay held captured Confederate officers. After the war, Castle Williams was used as a military stockade and became the east coast counterpart to military prisons at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Alcatraz Island, California. In 1878, the military installation on the island, then known collectively as Fort Columbus, became a major Army administrative center. Army officers' families started to move in, and resources, such as a movie theater, a YMCA, an "officer’s club," a public school, and three chapels, were built. In 1885, the first incinerator in the U.S. was built on Governors Island.

20th century

Using material excavated from the first New York City subway line (the IRT Lexington Avenue Line under Lexington Avenue), the Army Corps of Engineers supervised the deposit of 4,787,000 cubic yards (3,660,000 m3) of fill on the south side of Governors Island, adding 103 acres (42 ha) of flat, treeless land by 1912 and bringing the total acreage of the island to 172.

By 1912, the island's administrative leaders included General Tasker H. Bliss, who would become Army Chief of Staff in 1917. In 1939, the island became the headquarters of the U.S. First Army. Throughout this period, the army culture on the island grew.

The Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel passes underwater and off-shore of the island's northeast corner, its location marked by a ventilation building connected to the island by a causeway. At one point prior to World War II, Robert Moses proposed a bridge across the harbor, with a base located on Governors Island. The intervention of the War Department quashed the plan, calling it a possible navigational threat to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Prior to the construction of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, the island was considered as a site for a municipal airport, and it held a small grass strip, the Governors Island Army Airfield, from the 1950s until the 1960s.

After a yearlong study of by the Department of Defense to cut costs and reduce the number of military installations, the Army announced in November 1964 that Fort Jay and Brooklyn Navy Yard were to be closed by 1966.

Coast Guard era

When the Army left Governors Island in 1966, the installation became a United States Coast Guard base. The Coast Guard saw the island as an opportunity to consolidate and provide more facilities for its schools, and as a base for its regional and Atlantic Ocean operations. This was the Coast Guard's largest installation, and for them as the Army, served both as a self-contained residential community, with an on-island population of approximately 3,500, and as a base of operations for the Atlantic Area Command, its regional Third District command, Maintenance and Logistics Command, various schools which were relocated from Coast Guard Station New London in New London, Connecticut, and the local office of the Captain of the Port of New York.

It was also homeport for several U.S. Coast Guard cutters including USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716), USCGC Gallatin (WHEC-721), USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166) and USCGC Sorrel (WLB-296).

In the thirty years of occupation on the island, the Coast Guard began a long, slow process of upgrading facilities and infrastructure that had been little improved upon since the 1930s. This effort also prompted a recognition of the island's military heritage by having 92 acres (370,000 m2) recognized as a National Historic Landmark on February 4, 1985, recognizing its wide range and representation of Army fortification, administrative and residential architecture dating from the early days of the nation.

Fort Jay Governors Island and Lower Manhattan skyline
Looking north across Fort Jay with Lower Manhattan skyscrapers in the background

During this time, Governors Island has served as the backdrop for a number of historic events. In 1986, the island was the setting for the relighting of the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty by President Ronald Reagan. On December 8, 1988, along with Vice President and President elect George Bush, President Ronald Reagan held his final meeting as president with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Commanding Officer's quarters. In July 1993, the United Nations sponsored talks at the South Battery Officer's Club to help restore democratic rule in Haiti resulting in the Governors Island Accord, signed between Haitian political leaders.

Like the Army 30 years before, the U.S. Department of Transportation, then parent of the Coast Guard, was compelled to cut costs as other federal agencies in the early 1990s. Because of its high operating costs and remote location from most of its activity in Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, the Governors Island base was identified for closure in 1995. The closure was an agency initiative and not part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) process that impacted numerous Department of Defense installations at that time.

By September 1996 the Coast Guard had relocated all functions and residential personnel to offices and bases in Rhode Island and Virginia. The Coast Guard left a caretaker detachment to maintain the island along with the General Services Administration (GSA) while its future was determined. With the departure of the Coast Guard, almost two centuries of the island's use as a federal military reservation concluded. The disposal of the island as excess federal property was outlined in the Budget Reduction Act of 1996. The legislation set a deadline and directed that the island be sold at a fair market value by GSA by 2002, but gave the city and state of New York a right of first refusal, a provision that was inserted into the legislation by New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who envisioned the island with great potential as a public and civic resource.

Redevelopment and future uses

Early proposals

With the announcement of the Coast Guard base closure and departure, city and state officials along with private developers and civic planners began to offer opinions and ideas on the island's future that included housing, parks, education and private development.

In 1996, Van Alen Institute hosted an ideas competition called "Public Property" which asked designers "to consider the urban potential of Governors Island in terms of spatial adjacencies and experiential overlaps between a range of actions, actors, events, and ecologies... to acknowledge the physical reality of cities and their historic programmatic complexity as fundamental to the survival of a vital public realm." The competition was open to anyone who registered. More than 200 entries from students, faculty, and landscape architects in 14 different countries were received. The jury members included: Andrea Kahn, Christine Boyer, Miriam Gusevich, Judith Henitz, Carlos Jimenez, and Enric Miralles.

A proposal to adaptively reuse Castle Williams for a New Globe Theater was designed by architect Norman Foster. The non-profit organization worked in partnership with Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London to develop a proposal and seek backing for a cultural center and performance space in the Castle. With the completion of a National Park Service general management plan for Castle Williams and Fort Jay in 2009, it was determined that the proposed use of the Castle for the theater was not congruous with its historical significance.

In a last-minute act while in office, President Bill Clinton designated 22 acres of the island, including the two great forts, as Governors Island National Monument on January 19, 2001. In the next year on April 1, 2002, President George W. Bush, Governor Pataki, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the federal government would sell Governors Island to the people of New York for a nominal cost, and that the island would be used for public benefit. At the time of the transfer, deed restrictions were created that prohibit permanent housing and casinos on the island. On January 31, 2003, 150 acres of Governors Island were transferred to the people of New York, to be administered by a joint city-state agency, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC). The remaining 22 acres was legally reaffirmed by presidential proclamation on February 7, 2003 as the Governors Island National Monument, to be administered by the National Park Service.

On January 19, 2001, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, two of the island's three historical fortifications, were proclaimed a National Monument. On January 31, 2003, 150 acres (61 ha) of the island was transferred to the State and City of New York for $1. The remainder, a 22 acres (9 ha) portion, was transferred to the United States Department of the Interior as the Governors Island National Monument, administered by the National Park Service. The 150-acre portion of the island not included in the National Monument is administered by The Trust for Governors Island, an entity of the City of New York and the successor of the joint city/state established redevelopment entity, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation. The transfer included deed restrictions which prohibit permanent housing or casinos on the island.

On February 15, 2006, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for "visionary ideas to redevelop and preserve Governors Island" to be submitted to Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC). The announcement said proposals should "enhance New York's place as a center of culture, business, education and innovation," include public parkland, contribute to the harbor's vitality and stress "environmentally sustainable development." Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said whatever group or entity is selected to develop the island would assume the $12 million annual maintenance costs that are now split between the city and state. In early 2007, GIPEC paused in the search for developers, focusing on the development of a major park on the island as called for in the deed that conveyed the island from the federal government to the city and state of New York.

Governors Island aerial
Governors Island in 2009 from the air, seen roughly from west to east

Early redevelopment efforts and construction

In 2007, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation announced five finalist design teams that were chosen to submit their ideas for the future park and Great Promenade; the GIPEC had awarded leases to its first two tenants a year before. The corporation appointed West 8, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Rogers Marvel Architects, Quennell Rothschild & Partners, and SMWM to design a development plan for Governors Island. The plan included 87 acres (35 ha) of open space on the island, as well as provided for the restoration of the historic district and a new park on the southern half of the island. Each firm was asked their visions for the new park. West 8 proposed free bicycle rentals around the island; also, since the island is windy, they also proposed a design where the landscape would make people feel safe from the wind. With transportation to and from the island, one idea considered was an aerial gondola system designed by Santiago Calatrava.

There are very few tenants on the island. Fewer than 1,000 workers, artists, and students work or live on the island. However, in 2009, a 3-acre (12,000 m2) commercial organic farm, operated by the non-profit organization, Added Value, was launched. In 2010, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a small public high school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, was relocated to the Island, remodeling the former Coast Guard clinic in Building 555. Also that year, artist studios run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and housed in a portion of Building 110 opened, and New York University announced an expansion plan that included a campus on the Island, "complete with dorms and faculty housing."

In April 2010, the city entered an agreement to take full control of the island's development from the state of New York through a newly established Trust for Governors Island, and unveiled a new master development plan. Under the plan, the historic northern end will remain structurally unchanged. The middle of the island would be developed into a park stretching to the southern tip. Areas on the east and west sides of the island will be privately developed to generate revenue, and the entire island will be edged by a circumferential promenade. The 40-acre (160,000 m2) park, designed by Adriaan Geuze of the Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8 would feature playing fields, woodland, and hills built of the rubble of the disused 20th-century buildings sculpted to frame views of the Statue of Liberty and other New York landmarks. The southern end of the park would meet the water in a series of wetlands.

In November 2011, the Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE) at Columbia University proposed a fanciful idea of using fill to physically connect Manhattan to Governors Island. CURE proposed "a 92-acre national historic district on the island, 3.9 million square feet for public buildings like schools and 270 acres of open space" in their plan. This proposal, called LoLo, would require 23 million cubic yards of landfill and allow for up to 88 million square feet of new development, while providing new subway stations from the extension of the 1 and 6 trains. and a bridge to Red Hook, Brooklyn. The proposed landfill bridge would also serve as a storm surge barrier.

Western meadow Gov Is jeh
Liggett Terrace in the newly redone southern portion of Governors Island

On May 24, 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke ground on the new park and public spaces designed by the landscape design firm West 8, along with announcing the opening of the rehabilitated Castle Williams.

The Bloomberg administration's ten-year capital plan had provided funding for the first phase of construction, which began in the summer of 2012. As part of phase 1 of the master plan:

  • Soissons Landing was upgraded to improve access to the island. The ferry docks were rehabilitated, the old ferry waiting room demolished and a new entry plaza completed in 2013.
  • The Parade Ground would be re-graded for lawn sports.
  • The Historic District would gain park amenities.
  • A new potable water connection would be established and the seawall would be repaired. There had been no potable water since the island passed to city ownership in 2003, and the locally illegal connection from Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel was severed. Both year-long projects commenced in 2013.
  • As part of the South Island park, Liggett Terrace, a 6 acres (2.4 ha) courtyard with seasonal plantings near the Liggett Hall, would be added, as was Hammock Grove, a new shaded, wooded area containing hammocks for visitors and a Play Lawn will with 2 new baseball fields. Work commenced in 2012 with demolition of 1960s and 1970s military housing complexes, and while both opened in late 2013, they were finished in early 2014.
  • A parking lot and road surrounding the historic fortification, South Battery, was converted into a lawn in 2013.
  • Another 33 acres (13 ha) in that area may be rezoned for commercial use, including a hotel.

On June 6, 2015, the Oyster Pavilion was set to open. The 10-acre (4.0 ha) Hills section of the park was the last piece of the newly redeveloped island to open. The Hills opened on July 21, 2016, and consist of four hills that are 26 to 70 feet (7.9 to 21.3 m)* high, including a hill that contains four long slides.


Governors Island Alliance

Since the decision by the US Coast Guard to vacate the 172-acre (0.70 km2) Island in 1995, the Governors Island Alliance has worked collaboratively and successfully to help secure its return to New York and to ensure that the public interest determine its reuse. The Alliance and its 50 member organizations led a campaign to see Governors Island returned to New York for public purposes, a mandate embodied in GIPEC's 2003 charter to create "an educational, recreational, and cultural center that will offer a broad range of public uses", create about 90 acres (360,000 m2) of parks and public spaces, and abide by design restrictions in the National Landmark Historic District.

The Governors Island Alliance is working with its many partners to make these commitments a reality, and engage the public in their planning. The Alliance publishes a monthly electronic newsletter that provides the latest information on Island happenings. Equally important, the Alliance is working to enliven the Island with a variety of recreation and arts programs so that visitors can enjoy this harbor destination.

Tolerance Park Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of organizations and individuals working to celebrate the Island's unique history as the place on which the New World's first lawful expression of religious tolerance as an individual right took place in 1624. It aims to create a memorable museum-park-to-tolerance as a destination for all Americans on 30% of the island, and ensure a fitting and sustainable reuse of New York State's birthplace as "The Island at the Center of the New World." According to the Alliance, as Liberty Island's thematic complement, Governors Island serves as a primary symbol in New York Harbor and beacon to humanity whereas its historic message – the Lifeblood of American liberty – endures for future generations. It supposedly helped to preserve the island for education when it was vacated by the Coast Guard in 1998.

Public access

Governors Island - Brooklyn Bridge Park Ferry
Passengers board and alight a Brooklyn Ferry docked at Pier 101 on Governors Island

Since its transfer in 2003, Governors Island has been open to the public on weekends during the summer. Beginning in 2016, the island is open seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend through the last weekend in September.

Starting in 2010, weekend ferry service commenced between Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue. On the island, passengers depart and arrive at Yankee Pier. Commercial summer weekend ferry service operated by NY Waterway's East River Ferry between Governors Island and DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint began in 2011 with a $4 each way with an additional fee of $1 for bikes. A summer Friday-only loop serves Governors Island, Manhattan, Atlantic Avenue, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Access from Manhattan is from the Battery Maritime Building in the Financial District. The 1908 cast-iron structure, located next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, was restored between 2001-2006. Service is half-hourly. The departure and arrival dock on Governors Island is the Soissons Dock at the north tip of the island. The ride is about 7 minutes in duration. This ferry is only accessible during the late spring and the summer. However, Governors Island is expected to be served by the Citywide Ferry Service year-round at a date not yet determined.

Activities on the island include free National Park Service walking tours, bike riding, picnicking, art installations, fairs, drone races, festivals, and concerts. Bicycle, tandem, and quadcycle rental is provided on the island by Bike and Roll at hourly and daily rates. New York Water Taxi operates an artificial beach on the northern tip of the island. The island is roughly divided in half by a street called Division Road. The northeastern half is currently open to the public. The southwestern half, which contains the abandoned U.S. Coast Guard housing and service areas, is still in redevelopment and some sections remain closed to the public. However, three sections of the park are open: the southern end Picnic Point, the central Hammock Grove as of 2014, and The Hills on the southwestern corner as of 2016. The island's circumferential drive along the waterfront is also open to the public. Demolition of the U.S. Coast Guard housing began in 2008. It is on the grounds of the former Liberty Village housing area that was used by Coast Guard families between 1988 and 1996. There are still Coast Guard buildings and barracks, not of historical significance, in areas yet to be redeveloped.

The Governors Island Art Fair has taken place annually on the island during weekends in September since 2007. Originally located in buildings on Colonel’s Row, the event has grown to include Castle Williams and Fort Jay as artist venues. The 2015 season saw an expansion in the number and variety of exhibits, held in the former officers' quarters and other buildings, some redeveloped, some not.

The "World Trade Center Run to Remember" has been run annually on the island since 2009 on the first Sunday of September. The activities include a 5K Run, 3K Family Fun Run/Walk, Children's Fun Run, and other activities to benefit organizations associated with 9/11 related services.

Notable structures


Several fortifications were built on Governors Island to protect New York Harbor. These worked in conjunction with Castle Clinton at the southern tip of Manhattan, as well as Fort Wood on Liberty Island, and Fort Gibson on Ellis Island. The existing fortifications were meant to protect the city during the War of 1812.

Fort Jay, located at the center of the original (northern) portion of Governors Island, is the oldest, having been built in 1794. It was built on the highest point of the island, with a glacis sloping down from all sides. The initial fortifications degraded to such a point that they were replaced in 1806. Fort Jay was initially named for New York governor John Jay, but after being rebuilt, was known as Fort Columbus until about 1904. The rebuilt fort, which reused the original glacis and many of the original walls, comprised "an enclosed pentagonal work, with four bastions of masonry, calculated for one hundred guns", and initially included a 230-person brick barracks. Though Fort Jay has been renovated multiple times throughout its history, its current appearance largely stems from renovations in the 1830s. The walls of Fort Jay are made of sandstone and granite, with an arrow-shaped ravelin on the northern wall. The fortification is surrounded by a moat that is now dry.

Castle Williams was built from 1807 through 1811 on the northwestern corner of the island, on what was then a submerged rock. Named for USACE chief engineer Jonathan Williams, it is a cylindrical four-tiered sandstone building measuring 40 feet (12 m) high by 210 feet (64 m) in diameter. The walls taper from 8 to 7 feet (2.4 to 2.1 m) from bottom to top. The building is four-tiered, with 13 casemates on each tier each having a capacity of two cannons, for a total capacity of 104 cannons. Two structures inside the southern side of the fort were removed in 1900.

A third structure, called the South Battery or Half-Moon Battery, is located at the southeast corner of the original island near Buttermilk Channel, and was built before the War of 1812. The arrowhead-shaped South Battery contained 13 barbette guns, mounted on the parapet and facing Buttermilk Channel, as well as a barracks inside. It was then used as an officer's mess and Catholic chapel by 1878; as a court-martial room by the 1880s; and as an amusement hall after a 1904 renovation. From the 1930s, South Battery was also used as an officers' club.

Open landscapes

Northern portion

Fort Jay Governors Island and Lower Manhattan skyline
Fort Jay's glacis (left) and barracks (right), looking toward Manhattan

There are four open landscapes in the historic northern part of Governors Island. The northernmost is the glacis of Fort Jay, a treeless grassy area that slopes down from all sides of the fort. The glacis formed a buffer between the walls of Fort Jay and the moat at the bottom of the slope. The glacis contained a polo field, as well as the Governors Island Golf Course.

To the southeast of Fort Jay is Nolan Park, a formal trapezoidal area with tree-lined walks that is surrounded by former officers' quarters and administrative buildings. The park's eastern border curves southwest toward the southern end of the area, while the western and northern borders are roughly perpendicular to each other. Nolan Park's current configuration dates to the 1870s, and it was named after Major General Dennis E. Nolan, who was First Army's commander from 1933 to 1936. A bandstand formerly existed on the site.

The fourth open landscape is the triangle between Clayton and Hay Roads, also known as Colonels Row Green or Hay Park, located southwest of Fort Jay and northeast of Liggett Hall. It was created in the early 20th century and forms a wedge shape between Hay Road to the east, which forms the island's original southwest shoreline, and Clayton Road and Liggett Hall to the southwest.

Southern portion

Governors Island's southern half including new parkland.

The southern portion of Governors Island includes a park that covers more than 43 acres (17 ha). The north end of the park contains Hammock Grove, a landscaped area of rolling hills with over 60 tree species. The grove's hills are located up to 27 feet (8.2 m) above mean sea level, preventing it from flooding. The grove itself is 10 acres (4.0 ha) and contains 50 hammocks. Immediately to the west is the 14-acre (5.7 ha) Play Lawn, which contains two turf fields that can be used for baseball. The paths in this portion of Governors Island are meandering, in a style similar to Frederick Law Olmsted's designs of Central Park and Prospect Park, which incorporate winding paths to reinforce a secluded atmosphere.

Governors Island (36045954543)
A view of the new parklands. Manhattan's Financial District is visible in the distance.

The south end of the park contains the Hills section of Governors Island, which covers 10 acres. The Hills consists of four hills that are 26 to 70 feet (7.9 to 21.3 m) high, and are made partially of reclaimed debris from the demolition of the island's former residential towers. From shortest to tallest, the hills are the 26-foot Grassy Hill; the 40-foot (12 m) Discovery Hill, with site-specific artwork; the 40-foot Slide Hill, which contains four long slides; and the 70-foot Outlook Hill, which contains an observation area with view of New York Harbor. The Hills includes over 41,000 shrubs and 860 new trees. The Hills cost $70 million to build; the construction of the Hills was funded in part by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who donated $15 million.

At the southernmost tip of Governors Island is Picnic Point. This area contains grills and picnic tables close to the waterfront.

Other structures

When the Coast Guard abandoned Governors Island in 1996, there were 49 buildings built before 1917, mostly in the northern part of the island, and 121 buildings built after 1917, mostly in the southern part. The southern part was mostly residential and industrial, while the northern part was mixed-use. The island was relatively low-density with extensive open space.


Governors Island Old Post Hospital
The Block House in Nolan Park

Governors Island contains several clusters of low-rise officers' housing, now mostly unoccupied, though some structures are used as exhibits or for administrative purposes. The two largest sections of housing in the historical northern part of the island are Colonel's Row (buildings 403–410), as well as the structures around Nolan Park (buildings 1–20).

Nolan Park contains several structures that are historical in their own right. The Admiral's House/Commanding Officer's Quarters (building 1), a two-story Colonial Revival brick house built in 1843, is listed separately on the NRHP and as a city landmark. To the north is the Governor's House (building 2), a two-story Georgian brick house built c. 1805–1813. The southeast corner of Nolan Park contains the Block House (building 9), a two-story Greek Revival building built in 1843, which served initially as a post hospital and later as administrative offices and officers' quarters. Buildings 3-5 (built in the 1850s), 6-11 and 14-18 (built in 1878–1879), and 19-20 (built in the 1890s) all served as two-company officers' quarters. Building 12, a three-story Georgian Revival brick apartment complex, was constructed in 1928 or 1931 to house the 16th Infantry Regiment.

The eastern side of Colonel's Row contains eight individual officers' quarters numbered 403 from north to south, which initially faced the original shoreline southwest of Hays Road. The first structures to be built, buildings 405–408, were designed in accordance with the same Quartermaster General plans, and were built in 1893-1895 as two-family duplexes. This was followed by buildings 403–404, built in 1904-1906 also to the same plan. The two-and-a-half-story building 409, a Colonial Revival structure, was designed as Bachelor Officers' Quarters and was completed in 1910, while building 410 was built as a duplex officer's quarters in 1917 and is the only structure of the Modified Arts and Crafts design on the island.

Governors Island New York September 2016 004
Building 550, now the New York Harbor School

The southwestern side of Colonel's Row is dominated by Liggett Hall (building 400), a three-to-four-story barracks that spans nearly the entire width of Governors Island, measuring 1,023 feet (312 m) long with two 225-foot-long (69 m) wings extending south. Initially built in 1930 for the 16th Infantry, it was among the largest military barracks in the world when completed, and was the first Army building intended to house an entire regiment. The building contains a ground-level arcade that bisects the first and second floors, as well as an annex to the southeast. Two nearly identical Georgian Revival structures, building 550 (now the New York Harbor School) to the north and building 333 to the south, are located directly adjacent to Liggett Hall. The three-story structures are both U-shaped with the wings surrounding a front courtyard; they were built in 1932 as detachment housing for the First Army before being used by the Coast Guard as classrooms. Nearby are a smaller pair of nearly identical 3+12-story family housing blocks for the 16th Regiment, built in 1940. These consist of building 555 to the north of building 550, and building 315 near the southern waterfront south of the YMCA and theater.

Several other residential structures exist throughout the northern part of Governors Island. Buildings 111 and 112, a pair of three-story neo-Georgian structures on the island's east side, were built in 1934 to a design by Rogers & Poor. These served as officers' quarters for the 16th Regiment, accommodating additional officers once Liggett Hall was full. Inside Fort Jay were four buildings numbered 202, 206, 210, and 214; these were nearly identical Greek Revival barracks that housed soldiers at the fort. The north side of the island, between Castle Williams to the west and Soissons Dock to the east, contains the Fort Jay Nurses' Quarters (building 114), a 2+12-story neo-Georgian brick-with-concrete structure designed by Rogers & Poor; this later became bachelor officers' quarters as well. Officers' quarters were also located in building 135, a former storehouse along the northeastern waterfront built in 1835.

Formerly, residential apartment blocks ranging up to 11 stories tall were located on the southern half of Governors Island. There were 594 total apartments each with 2 to 5 bedrooms, spread out across three apartment complexes. Unlike the housing on the island's north side, these structures were not historically protected. The largest of these structures, the 11-story, 165-unit Cunningham Apartments (building 877), was located on the island's north side. Built in 1968, it was imploded in 2013, something uncommon in the city.

Many of the former residences located in Nolan Park and Colonels Row now serve as seasonal homes to a variety of arts and culture organizations that typically offer free programs for visitors during the Island's public season. During the 2020 season, indoor programs were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. As a result, many of the organizations based in the former homes joined the Governors Island Residency Initiative to offer the houses as free workspace for artists and cultural workers.


St Cornelius Governors Island jeh
Episcopal Chapel of St. Cornelius

Religious practice on Governors Island dates to the opening of the first chapel in 1846. There later came to be three houses of worship on Governors Island. The Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion (building 13), a two-story limestone structure in the southern part of Nolan Park, was designed by Charles C. Haight and built in 1907, replacing the old 1846 chapel. Throughout the chapel's history, chaplains have been assigned by several different entities, namely the Army, Coast Guard, and Trinity Church. Maintenance was performed by Trinity Church until 1986, when it turned operations over to the Coast Guard under condition that Trinity Church would resume maintenance duties if and when the Coast Guard left the island.

A Catholic church called Our Lady, Star of the Sea was built in 1942. The one-story clapboard structure is located at Clayton and Comfort Roads on the north shore of Governors Island.

A synagogue housing Congregation Shaare Shomayim was established in 1960 in what is known as building S-40. The one-story clapboard building, located east of Barry Road on the island's east shore, was initially a "temporary" building used for storage.

Office and storage

Several buildings were built as part of the Arsenal but have not been used as residential structures, instead being utilized for office or storage space. These include buildings 104 and 107, originally used as storehouses; 105, a two-winged structure used as an armory and office; and 110, used as a quartermaster's depot and storehouse. Building 110 is now home to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Arts Center at Governors Island, which opened in September 2019. All were built in brick from the 1850s through 1870s. Buildings 106 (pump house) and 108 and 109 (offices) were built during the 1940s in the same style as the other structures, though building 109 replaced a wooden structure built in 1918. Pershing Hall (building 125), a three-story brick building north of buildings 107 and 108 on the northern waterfront, served as the headquarters for the First Army when built in 1934.

The waterfront contains several buildings, including building 130, the original Arsenal workshop, as well as building 134, a modern structure which hosted offices for USCG Group: Station New York.

Governors Island also has several small vehicular garages of varying styles. Most of these garages were built in the 1930s and 1940s during the WPA's renovations of the island.

Service structures

A628, Hospital, Governors Island, New York City, July 2019
Building 515/Post Hospital

The northwest side of the island hosts building 515, the former Post Hospital, later used as enlisted bachelors' housing. The three-story brick-and-limestone building was constructed in 1935 to a Neo-Georgian design by McKim, Mead & White. Nearby is the Tampa Memorial Library (building S-251), a one-story rectangular wooden building. Constructed in 1908, it originally served as a storehouse and was renamed after the sinking of the cutter Tampa in 1918.

The area around the South Battery, south of the Parade Ground, includes several former service structures. Building 301, a single-story brick building near the waterfront, housed an elementary school called PS 26. It was originally built in 1934, though two wings were added in 1959–1960. To the west is building 324, constructed in 1926 as the Army YMCA. The War Department Theater (building 330), a two-story 700-seat theater built in 1937–1939, is located west of the YMCA, facing the southern portion of Governors Island.

Formerly located near the South Battery was the former Governors Island Guest House/Super 8 Motel in building 293. The one-and-a-half-story brick building was originally a quarters built in 1871–1872. The abandoned motel was demolished in 2007–2008 to expand the Parade Ground. The southern part of Governors Island contained building 785, which included a Burger King and bowling alley. Building 902 houses several FDNY fire protection vehicles.


The Monumental Setting for Bronze Plaque, a brick monumental bench with stone trim between buildings 406 and 407, was built by the WPA in 1938. The Early Birds Monument, originally dedicated in 1954 south of Liggett Hall, is a bronze cast of a Wright Brothers' plane's propeller on a granite base that commemorates early aviation on the island.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Governors Island para niños

kids search engine
Governors Island Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.