“People often think of New York as a city, a concrete jungle with soaring skyscrapers and yellow taxis and the bright lights of Times Square. And it is that, in part. But beyond that, it’s rolling hills of fruit orchards and fields of grain and ice-cold waters brimming with oysters.” ~ Daniel Humm
Wanderlusting Again: Governor’s Island
Hello, hello dear friends! I am so excited to share this post with you, which is making me a tad nostalgic to go back, as well as craving my beloved Concrete Jungle. (Soon!) I know this is kind of a departure since all my travel posts have been about Maine recently, but hey it is an island, so is it really a departure? It is also in my ol’ stomping ground. Even though I no longer live in New York, and will be calling another city home very, very soon (Eeek!) I will always have an incredibly special place in my heart for the Concrete Jungle and I try to visit whenever I can. You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl! Especially when we are talking about New York!
Many people know the tourist spots in the city, but New York is filled with hidden gems, and I got to explore one of them, which I also happen to have a family connection in its very expansive history! Can I claim fame? Governor’s Island is a ten minute ferry ride from the Southern tip of Manhattan, which also happens to give you gorgeous views of the skyline! The ferry drops you off right on the island, and you don’t have to wait to begin your adventure!
Governor’s Island History
Governor’s Island has an extensive history. I wasn’t even aware of how expansive it was, but thanks to the Trust of Governor’s Island, they have not only preserved the history of the island, but worked hard to educate and share it with all of us. Governor’s Island, which was called Paggank (Nut Island) was used as a fishing retreat by the Lenape. in 1624 when the Dutch West India Company first travelled to the America’s, Governor’s Island was where they settled first, weary to step foot on the wild main land of what is now Manhattan, though a year later they did settle there, and about ten years later, they finally purchased the island from the Lenape.
In 1664 the British made their arrival on the island and for the next few years, the Dutch and British fought over who controlled it, until the British were the victors. The British renamed it Governor’s Island and retained it exclusively for “His Majesty’s Governors.” It was a playground of sorts for the British governors, army, and British elite until the Revolutionary War, when after the uprising of the colonies, the British were force to withdraw and the Continental Army was able to take control. They began to fortify the base. Unfortunately during the Battle of Brooklyn the British once again regained control and used it as their headquarters for North America for the duration of the war.
After the war the American government knew they needed to fortify their harbors and began building a military fort known as Fort Jay in the middle of the island, this helped save the City of New York during the war of 1812. It continued to serve as a military outpost, until it cemented it’s position as a military base and played pivotal rolls in wars, such as being housed as a prison for confederate troops during the Civil War, and served as added protection to the supply chain during World War I and during World War II it served as headquarters for the First Army and was where they planned the D-Day Invasion. Over the centuries, the base expanded to house families as well as military personal. It continued to serve as an army post until changing technology (as well as budget cuts) led to the closures of Governor’s Island AND the Brooklyn Navy Shipyard.
Coast Guard Base
Instead of closing the base permanently, the Coast Guard took over in 1966, and Governor’s Island became the largest Coast Guard Base in the US, home to the Atlantic Area Command, the Maintenance and Logistics Command, and the Captain of the Port of New York. It was a community on an island which even included Burger King, a theater, and a bowling alley.
As I mentioned I have a family connection to the island. Both of my cousins were born and lived here as my Uncle who was in the Coast Guard was based here. The building, building twelve where they lived (also known as base housing) is still standing, and while you can’t go in, I did get to see the outside of the corner apartment that was their first home.
In 1995 the Coast Guard shut the base down and relocated all personal and families. The following year it was designated as a local landmark and five years later, in 2001 it was handed over to the National Parks Service to maintain. despite the multiple efforts to revamp, and preserve the history of the island, which has played such a pivotal roll in our country’s history, the island seemed to flounder, unsure what to do with this piece of history. It wasn’t until the city took over management in 2010 and The Trust of Governor’s Island was formed that the Island found a new purpose and renovations began. Governor’s Island is now an oasis for green spaces, promoting green energy and sustainability, education, art and culture, as well as a place to come to exercise on the many paved foot paths, picnic, on the various grassy fields, explore the buildings, and even camp.
With fall in the air, on a cloudy early October Day, it was actually the perfect time to visit, as it wasn’t to crowded. I hopped on the Ferry at the Maritime Building by Wall Street, and even enjoyed a rose cider to kick off the adventure. But be warned you HAVE to chug, it is a short ten minute ferry ride, that s very picturesque, but blink and you will miss it, and have an unfinished brew!
The ferry terminal is centrally located, so you aren’t having to walk to look for activities to do. There are also bikes you can rent to help get around the island more easily. We decided to walk though. And it was fun to walk through the old army buildings the gorgeous courtyards with brick facade. We got hungry and decided to grab some food. There are various food trucks that make the island their home during the season and you can get everything from tacos, to burgers, to more eclectic cravings. They even have a Starbucks on the island! They also serve alcohol, though you have to stay in the designated areas. After grabbing food, we visited Liggett Terrace which gives stunning panoramic views of the city as well as Lady Liberty. They have lawn games and as I mentioned you can CAMP on the island which is now on my bucket list and I am not even a camper.
We made our way back to where more of the base use to be and explored some of the older buildings and even went into what was once the ballroom and where they held parties, as well as an old church that was housing an art exhibit. We also walked past where my family use to live, which was fun to see. It was such a fun day and something that wasn’t the typical New York tourist attraction, but yet fully embodies what New York is, with its extensive history. There really is something for everyone and it is so easy to get around. If you are looking for something to do that is very New York, yet NOT the typical New York experience, I highly recommend taking a few hours and exploring Governor’s Island. I for one, can not wait to go back, and yes to even camp! Governor’s Island is open until October 30, and you can catch the three dollar ten minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn. Happy exploring!
Have you been to Governor’s Island?