Since 1916, the National Park Service has been entrusted with the care of our national parks. National Parks in New York City? Yes! There are 11 parks with a total of 23 different sites you can visit in all five boroughs and parts of New Jersey.
From 1794 to 1966, the U.S. Army on Governors Island was part of the social, political, and economic tapestry of New York City. From its military beginnings as a home to a colonial militia in 1755, Governors Island became a major headquarters for the U.S. Army and Coast Guard, making it one of the longest continually operated military installations in the country, until its closure in 1996.
Initially, Governors Island was valued for its natural resources, trade opportunities, and plant and animal life. The British realized the area’s strategic potential, and by 1674, secured the region for themselves. Recognizing the island’s idyllic qualities, it was set aside for “the benefit and accommodation of his Majestie’s Governors” and from then on would be known as Governors Island.
General Washington's colonial army made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to secure New York against a siege by the British during the first battle of the Revolution, The Battle of Brooklyn. Although the British captured and occupied New York for the duration of the war, the memory of these events steeled the resolve of the young nation to protect its borders against foreign occupation.
Despite initial fears of a large central government and standing army, federal funds were provided to build fortifications around important harbors. Fort Jay and Castle Williams on Governors Island were two of the largest coastal fortifications in the harbor. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, these installations, along with others in the harbor, proved to be such a powerful deterrent that the British Navy chose to blockade the harbor rather than risk entering it.
In the 19th century, Governors Island served as an administrative and training center, a prison for Confederate prisoners of war, and a military stockade. By 1878, it evolved from a small outpost to the headquarters responsible for coordinating army activities for the eastern United States. The island played a significant role in both World Wars; early planning for the D-Day invasion and American landing in Normandy was done here. After the army evacuated in 1966, Governors Island served another 30 years as the largest Coast Guard base in the world.
While waiting for the 10-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brookyn to Governors Island National Monument, take a break from the view to enjoy a video about the history of this harbor and its parks. Because the video was produced prior to the 2016 election, it only mentions that one American president, Teddy Roosevelt, was born in New York City; President Donald Trump is the second.
Governor's Island is a great place to walk or ride your bike and enjoy breathtaking views of the New York skyline. Cars, motorcycles, and other motorized vehicles (except wheelchairs) are not permitted. In addition to exploring the fortifications and grounds, you can wander through the National Historic Landmark District where officers and their families dwelled, take a tour with a ranger, learn about the island's ecology, see a historic recreation, watch antique artillery being fired, enjoy lunch or a picnic, and much more.
Today, the island is a vibrant summer seasonal venue of art, culture, and performance against the backdrop of two centuries of military heritage.
Governors Island is generally open from May through the last weekend of September. Visiting hours are dependent on the ferry schedules.
Cover photo of Governors Island and Lower Manhattan. Credit: Nestor Rivera Jr. via Flickr.