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September 30, 2012 / TAB

New York- Governors Island

It was the last day for a visit this season to this ice cream cone shaped island,  a short free ferry ride from Battery Maritime terminal. There was some blue patches of sky so I decided it was a go and ignored the prediction of rain later in the day.

 Governors Island was one of the longest occupied military installations in the US. My first stop was Castle Williams which has only this summer opened for visits after a 3 year restoration project. Along with Fort Jay in the center of the island, it protected the New York harbor in time for the War of 1812. It was commissioned in reaction to the long British occupation during the Revolutionary War.

Its round design was highly controversial but John Williams proved that it was very practical. He hired a military ship to fire on the castle and the cannon balls were easily deflected off the round “sides” leaving only 3 inch dents in the 8 foot sandstone walls. The castle was never battle tested and New York was saved from the British invasions suffered from other less protected cities such as Washington DC and New Orleans. 

sandstone blocks like those used for the walls

 The Army used it for various purposes including prisons. As many as 60 prisoners were housed along with the cannons in each of the barrel vaulted rooms with no heat, light, running water, or sanitation. Prisoners had to take turns sleeping while the others stood because of lack of space. Illness caused many deaths in the over crowded conditions. Later it became a model disciplinary prison, bunks, a sink, and toilet were added to each room and the population was reduced. 

After the Army left, the Coast Guard took it over and used it for a community center. Some of the “living history” project participants tell of the emotional scars left after visits to the yearly Haunted House exhibits especially in the solitary confinement cells. 

 We were able to climb the narrow spiral staircase to enjoy the views of the harbor from the walkway where the cannons had a 320° firing range. 

After touring the castle, I walked down to Picnic Point at the other end of the island. Around the island are various large art installations by Marc di Suvero. There is also a community compost resource center open for visitors.



wild geese, their “evidence” is everywhere. Watch your step!

The housing reminded me of Fort Douglas in Salt Lake. Some of the buildings house art centers but most are closed to the public. There is also a pretty little chapel.








 Bikes are available for rent and many people took the opportunity to explore the island that way. It was a good day despite the intermittent downpours.

After several hours of wandering around, I returned to Manhattan and walked down to the South Street Seaport.

Titanic Memorial Lighthouse


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