Exploring NYC: Governors Island

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Checking out Manhattan from atop Castle Williams, Governors Island.

Over the time we’ve gotten to know each other, New York and I, it has become apparent that some of my favourite things about her are peripheral to what makes her so well known. Perhaps it is that I am a little older now, but while the hustle and bustle of Manhattan enthralled me when I visited previously, as I make the city my home I have found a special place in my heart for some of the smaller spots. Our neighbourhood of Sunnyside, which I will introduce you to properly soon, exemplifies that. Another highlight has been visiting Governors Island, a 172-acre island in the middle of New York Harbour.

There are a couple of ferries that run to the island, but when we decided to go one weekend in late summer we jumped aboard the East River Ferry. A crowded journey down the river allowed for entertaining people watching alongside some impressive views. I finally got to see one spot where Ashby has done a bit of work, and enjoyed the new view of the city.

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Brooklyn Bridge from the ferry.

The island itself has had a long history, and the National Park Service do a great job of summing that up here. I was particularly interested in the role it played in establishing the defence of New York following the America’s victory in the Revolutionary War. Two fortifications were built on the island – Fort Jay and Castle Williams – and they successfully acted as a deterrent for the British Navy in the War of 1812. We managed to sneak onto the final tour of the day through Castle Williams when we visited, and learning about the history and unusual design of the fortification was another testament to how good the National Park Service is at preserving America’s history. By 1830, the defensive efforts of Governors Island were so successful that the fortifications were now redundant. As a result, Castle Williams has gone through a host of different roles. During a period of guardianship by the U.S. Coast Guard the castle itself was mostly used as storage, but apparently once a year hosted a most epic haunted house for Halloween! Now a good chunk of the island, include the fortifications, have been declared a National Historic Landmark District, and the island as a whole is a public space operated by the City of New York. There is masses of green space, and spectacular views of the city skyline.

There has also been a move to use the old fortifications in new ways, and they housed a variety of art installations when we visited. Certainly a different setting than what I am used to.

Governors Island only operates during the summer, but it was such a great way to spend a Saturday as the weather got just a little bit cooler. After our visit, we took a different ferry back, heading towards Manhattan. A few drinks and nibbles along the waterfront capped off a beautiful day in NYC.

 

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