Governors Island, ZIP 10030
Governors Island is a 172-acre (70 ha) island in Upper New York Bay, approximately one-half mile (1 km) from the southern tip of Manhattan Island and separated from Brooklyn by Buttermilk Channel. It is legally part of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The island was expanded by approximately 82 acres (33 ha) of landfill on its southern side when the Lexington Avenue subway was excavated in the early 1900s.
First named by the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, it was called Noten Eylant (and later in pidgin language Nutten Island) from 1611 to 1784. The island's current name—made official eight years after the 1776 Declaration of Independence—stems from British colonial times when the colonial assembly reserved the island for the exclusive use of New York's royal governors.
Defensive works were raised on the island in 1776 by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, and fired upon British ships before falling into enemy hands. From 1783 to 1966, the island was a United States Army post. From 1966 to 1996 the island served as a major United States Coast Guard installation.
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, most of the island was transferred to the State of New York for a symbolic $1, but 13% of the island (22 acres or 9 ha) 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.
The national historic landmark district, approximately 92 acres (37 ha) of the northern half of the island, is open to the public for several months in the summer and early fall. Additionally the circumferential drive around the island is also open to the public. The island is accessed by free ferries from Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Jan Rodrigues from Saint-Domingue on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, a Latin-American of African ancestry and a free man, was the first person to summer on Governors Island, in 1613. He was employed as interpreter in trade negotiations with the Hudson River Indians by the private Amsterdam fur trader and explorer Adriaen Block. Rodrigues was left behind on the island in May 1613 to serve as on-the-spot factor to trade with the natives. Rodrigues and Block rendezvoused again in December that year.
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 Cornelis Jacobsz May, who disembarked on the island with thirty families in order to take legal possession of the New Netherland territory.
In 1633, the fifth director of New Netherland, Wouter van Twiller, arrived with a 104-men regiment on Governors Island — its first use as a military base. Later he operated a farm on the island. He secured his farm by creating 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.
After New Netherland was conditionally ceded to the English in 1664, New Amsterdam was renamed New York by the English in June 1665 but for its population it remained New Amsterdam.
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 New York State Senate and Assembly have recognized Governors Island as the birthplace, in 1624, of the state of New York. They have also acknowledged the island as the place on which the planting of the “legal-political guaranty of tolerance onto the North American continent” took place (Resolutions No. 5476 and No. 2708).
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 cannon in anticipation of the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn), to be the largest battle of the entire war. The harbor defenses on the island continued to be improved over the summer, and on July 12, 1776, engaged HMS Phoenix and HMS Rose. The Americans' 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. The Continental Army forces eventually withdrew from the 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.
After the war two fortifications were placed on Governors Island in the years preceding the War of 1812 as part of an extensive coastal defense system including Castle Clinton (or Fort Clinton) at the southern tip of Manhattan. The first, Fort Jay, is a square five bastioned fort started in 1794 on the site of the earlier earthworks. The second, Castle Williams, is a circular casemated work completed in 1811. The two forts are among the best remaining examples of First System (Fort Jay) and Second System (Castle Williams) American coastal fortification.
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.
By 1912, when it was known as Governors Island, 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. When the Army left Governors Island in 1966, the installation became a United States Coast Guard base, serving as headquarters for the Atlantic Area, the regional Third District, the local office of the Captain of the Port of New York, AMVER (Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System), TRACEN (Training Center), and the homeport for several U.S. Coast Guard Cutters including USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716), USCGC Gallatin (WHEC-721), USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), and USCGC Sorrel (WLB-296). Its closing in 1996 concluded almost two centuries of the island’s use as a federal reservation.
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 under Franklin D. Roosevelt quashed the plan as 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. It did hold a small grass strip, Governors Island Army Airfield, from the 1950s until the 1960s.
On February 4, 1985, 92 acres (370,000 m2) of Governors Island were designated a National Historic Landmark district.
The island was the site of a December 8, 1988 meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, President-elect George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Tom (1937) and Dick Smothers (1939), also known as the Smothers Brothers, were born on the island, as was comic book (Batman, Green Lantern) legend Neal Adams (1941).
In July 1993, the Governors Island Accord was signed between Haitian political leaders.
The question of what to do with Governors Island has been an issue which the mayor and governor have faced since 1996 when the Coast Guard closed the base located there since 1966 as a cost-savings measure.
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.
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.
With transportation to and from the island, one idea considered was an aerial gondola system designed by Santiago Calatrava.
A proposal has been tendered to adaptively reuse Castle Williams on the island for a New Globe Theater, designed by architect Norman Foster. Since the fortification was constructed for the War of 1812, to defend America against the British, the non-profit organization is working in partnership with Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London to create a cultural center. Ultimately, the National Park Service has determined that this use of the Castle is not congruous with its historical significance, and has not chosen to pursue any further discussions related to it.
In the Fall of 2006, GIPEC announced that The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a small public high school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, would relocate to Governors Island. The school is the island's first tenant and opens in 2010. Also opening in 2010 will be artist studios, run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. These studios will open in historic Building 110.
In 2007, GIPEC announced five finalist design teams that were chosen to submit their ideas for the future park and Great Promenade. In December 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the acclaimed team, Diller Scofidio + Renfro with West 8 and Rogers Marvel Architects, would design these new signature open spaces.
In 2009, a 3-acre (12,000 m2) commercial organic farm, operated by the non-profit organization Added Value, was launched.
In 2010, New York University, a private institution, announced a plan to expand its campuses, including building a campus on the Governors Island "complete with dorms and faculty housing."
In 2010, the city entered an agreement to take full control of the island's development from the State, and unveiled a new master development plan. Under the plan, the historic northern end will remain structurally unchanged, the middle of the island will be developed into a park stretching all the way 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 will 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 will meet the water in a series of wetlands.
Since the decision by the United States 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 back 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.
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 an unforgettable living 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.” Thus revealed as Liberty Island’s thematic complement, Governors Island serves as primary symbol in New York harbor and beacon to humanity whereas its historic message – the Lifeblood of American Liberty – endures for future generations.
Immediately following the Coast Guard’s departure from the Island in 1998, the Alliance’s Foundation collaborated with First Lady Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and American Ambassador to the Netherlands Cynthia Schneider in advancing the proposed Education and Preservation Project. The goal was to preserve the $1 State and City purchase option and to avoid the Island’s public auction past the Congressional legal deadline of September 2001. Based on the legal precedent of the 1785 Land Act, the Foundation succeeded in getting the White House to dedicate the Island to “education” on April 1, 2002. It was the basis for the American people’s surrender of the island’s “economic value” to the State and the City. Sixty-plus acres were set aside as “park” land prior to conveying the Island to the State for one dollar on February 1, 2003.
Since its transfer in 2003, Governors Island has been open to the public every summer. The island is currently open Friday through Sunday.
Weekend ferry service operated by NY Waterway between Governors Island and Brooklyn, crossing the Buttermilk Channel, launched at the start of the 2009 season. The free ferries run approximately every ten minutes from 11:00am to 7:00pm and the ride is less than three minutes. The departure and arrival dock in Brooklyn is Pier 6, at the southern-end of Brooklyn Bridge Park, located at the foot of Atlantic Avenue. The departure and arrival docks on Governors Island are Piers 101 and 102 in the northeast corner of the island.
During Governors Island's open season New York Water Taxi also serves Piers 101 and 102 on the island from Fulton Ferry and Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Fridays. Tickets for this service are $2 for a single-ride ticket and $3 for a round-trip ticket.
Access from Manhattan is via a free ferry operated jointly by the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation and NY Waterway from the Battery Maritime Building in the Financial District, Friday through Sunday. The 1908 cast-iron structure, located next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, was restored between 2001-2006. Service on Friday is hourly, while Saturday and Sunday it is half-hourly. The departure and arrival dock on Governors Island is the Soissons Dock at the north tip of the island. The ride duration is less than five minutes.
During Governors Island's open season New York Water Taxi also serves the island on Fridays from South Street Seaport. Tickets for this service are $2 for a single-ride ticket and $3 for a round-trip ticket.
To allow for late-night events at its Water Taxi Beach, New York Water Taxi provides service back to Manhattan after such events. The fare is included for paid events and provided for a $5 roundtrip charge for free events.
Two free shuttle tram lines operate on the island when it is open to the public. One line operates within the historic district in the northern half of the island while the other serves a small picnic area at the southwestern tip of the island.
Activities on the island include free National Park Service walking tours, bike riding, picnicking, art installations, fairs, 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 "World Trade Center Run to Remember" (WTCRTR) 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.
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 its interior sections remain closed to the public. However the island's circumferential drive along the waterfront is open to the public. Demolition of the U.S. Coast Guard housing began in 2008 and one small section has been opened to the public as a picnic area. It is on the grounds of the former Liberty Village housing area that was used by Coast Guard families between 1988 and 1996.
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