The list of American National Monuments can be found on a website maintained by Wm. Robert Johnston (Johnston). Of these national monuments, the Statue of Liberty may be the most famous but relatively few Americans are aware of another national monument near Statue of Liberty called Governors Island. Even though Governors Island has a long history, it has been off-limits to the general public for most of its history.

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Governors Island is a 172-acre island, located only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan. For about two centuries, the island served as a military base and had been a federal property until the federal government sold 150 acres of it to the people of New York in 2003. The remaining 22 acres of the island was declared a Governors Island National Monument. The Governors Island is now maintained by the City of New York through Trust for Governors Island. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration has been investing more than $250 million to build a park as well as update island’s infrastructure (The Trust for Governors Island).

The island was known to Native Americans as Pagganck which means “Nut Island”. In those times, the island was home to trees such as hickory, oak, and chestnut. The island was a seasonal destination for many Native Americans and was a popular fishing spot for local tribes. The Native Americans of Manahatas sold the island to the country of Holland’s representative, Wouter Van Twiller for his private use in June 1638 but the Dutch Government seized the island only a year later. The island switched hands between the British and the Dutch after English capture of modern day New York for about ten years before becoming England’s exclusive property (The Trust for Governors Island).

Governors Island first became a military post in 1755 (National Park Service). The island’s two forts named Fort Jay and Castle Williams were built between 1796 and 1811, to protect New York City from naval attacks (National Park Service). The island got its name in 17th century due to being home to British Majestie’s Governors. The island’s rich history is a reminder of the many important political and military events in America’s own history. During the War of 1812, Governors Island proved to be a powerful deterrent to British Navy. The island served as a mustering point for soldiers during Mexican and Civil Wars. Similarly, during WWII, Governors Island served as the headquarters of the U.S. First Army (National Park Service).

By September 1996, the Coast Guard had completely vacated the island. The island as well as its two forts was declared a National Monument by President Bill Clinton in January 2001. In 2009, the Governors Island welcomed a New York City public high school as well as an artist studio program. There are plans to develop a 40 acre park on the southern end as well as a 2.2 mile Great Promenade around the perimeter of the island. The island also hosts numerous arts, cultural, and recreational programs throughout public season from May through September (The Trust for Governors Island).

Governors Island is accessible through a ferry which leaves for and departs from Governors Island every half an hour between 10 am and 7 pm. The ferry departs for Governors Island from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street in Lower Manhattan and can be reached by subway trains 1, 4, 5 or R or buses M6, M9, or M15. Fortunately, lower Manhattan is not the only place from where visitors can depart for the Governors Island. A ferry service in Brooklyn may be accessed from Pier 6 at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Columbia Street which can be reached through subway trains A,C,F, 2, 3, 4, or 5 or bus B63 (The Trust for Governors Island).

The Governors Island has a wide range of activities and entertainment options for visitors. There is a bike rental service for bike lovers to ride along the promenade. Visitors may also take advantage of one-hour free rental on Fridays only or they can always bring their own bikes. The island is also a great picnic spot and the visitors are free to bring their own food and buy from one of the several vendors on the island. Art lovers may visit the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s exhibit in Building 110 to see works of various artists.

Those visiting the island for educational purpose may opt for a tour by the National Park Service on every Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The island even arranges for kayaking on specific weekends and is run by Downtown Boathouse. The food options on the island include hotdogs, ice creams, American Breakfast, and ethnic cuisine. There are also several beverage vendors but alcohol can only be purchased and consumed at a bar and grill at Water Taxi Beach (The Trust for Governors Island).

The Governors Island is not only a national monument but also one of the most interesting recreational options available to the residents of New York City. It has a rich history but had been off-limits to the public for most of it. The island has something for everyone including biking, picnic options, and art exhibitions. It is easily accessible through a free public ferry system which operates in Lower Manhattan.

  • Johnston, Robert. List of U.S. National Monuments. 26 March 2013. 3 July 2013 .
  • National Park Service. A Brief History of Governors Island. 3 July 2013 .
  • History & Culture. 3 July 2013 .
    The Trust for Governors Island. About Governors Island. 3 July 2013 .
  • Directions & Ferry Schedule. 3 July 2013 .
  • Governors Island FAQ. 3 July 2013 .