Governors Island is located at the mouth of the East River, a beautifully almost untouched island with spectacular views of manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. It was previously used as a base for the United States Army and later for the Coast Guard, but ceased all its’ operations in 1996 leaving the island in an idle state. In 2003, New York noticed the potential of the island and purchased most the island from the federal government.
The Island has always been something of a mystery. As I passed by it the other day while on my ferry ride back home, I told my boyfriend it reminded me a lot of Shutter Island – a sizeable island with no visible activity full of old houses and deteriorating apartment buildings (though I doubt it’s an insane asylum like the movie). We even spotted a old navy cannon position strategically on top of a sort of defensive bulwark.
For most of its colonial and post-colonial history, it was a military outpost little known by the citizens of the growing metropolis across the bay. Sparsely populated since early settlement by the Dutch and then the British, it first became known as Governors Island in 1698, when the British colonial assembly set it aside for the “benefit and accommodation of his majestie’s governors.” In the years before the War of 1812, the U.S. Army built a castle and a battery; later it constructed a bulkhead for protection from storm surges, as well as other facilities such as piers, helicopter pads and a rail line.
Strings were attached to the federal deed transfer to New York. The Trust for Governors Island (a division responsible for operations, planning and redevelopment of the island) is required to design a public space in hopes the island will become self-sustaining. The federal deed specifies prohibited uses, required uses and a range of allowable uses for public benefit – recreational, educational, and hospitality for example. A sample map of the redeveloped Governors Island can be found HERE.
The Governors Island website is very helpful offering ideas as to the types of things you may be able to accomplish during your trip to the island (by free ferry ride):
- Rent a bike from Bike and Roll, and go for a bike ride along the promenade. Or bring your own bike over to explore.
- Bring a picnic and explore the island, find a quite or remote spot to have a calm lunch.
- The Big Apple Circus will be on the island until Labor Day weekend with their Family Fun Fest. You can learn how to do circus tricks with the professionals.
- The Trapeze School will also be on the island until Labor Day. Here, professional Trapeze artists will teach you how to perform a trapeze stunt for all to watch.
- The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has and exhibit space in Building 110, the upper level. Visitors can visit the space to see various artists’ work.
- The National Park Service is on the island all season long, with a large amount of programming for visitors to participate in. They have tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as private tours of the island on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
- Visit any one of the various exhibitions and activities we have throughout the season, including: The Sculptors Guild, No Longer Empty, The Sixth Borough, the Children’s Museum of the Arts, The NewNew Esty Shop, FIGMENT SculptorGarden, FIGMENT Miniature Golf, Lisa Kereszi and Andrew Moore’s Photos in the Admirals House, Free Kayaking by the Downtown Boathouse, 4heads ArtExhibition, and many more
I am particularly excited to see this project come into fruition – the New York harbor could really use this green and lively area. I pass by the Governors Island ferry terminal almost everyday and seldom have I seen any type of movement. I believe infusing life back into Governors Island will show to be very beneficial not only to the city but to city dwellers alike.