Governors Island--History and Hammocks
By Karen and Erica
Governors Island. What a magical place. You must go.
The experience starts with the trip. A ferry that operates during the summer for a nominal fee leaves its stunning terminal (which could stand a renovation) every half hour on weekends. It whisks visitors 800 yards over water to a place of history and beauty with the most amazing backdrop on earth--New York City.
The island itself seems to live in a different space and time. The history is palpable. Native Americans were first, though little evidence of their tenure remains. The Dutch were next, then the island passed between the British and the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Castle Williams, which looks toward the City, is a sibling of Castle Clinton in the Battery. Together, these forts kept the British out during the war of 1812. Castle Williams then housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. In the 1870s, the Army built six beautiful houses for its generals, and barracks for enlisted men and their families, and the island was the Army's headquarters during World War II. Its last role in the military was as Coast Guard headquarters, during which time it housed 3,000 people and had a commuting population of 1,500. The Coast Guard era ended in 1996, and the National Park Service took responsibility for part of the Island in 2001. The rest was transferred to New York in 2003.
The New York grounds await a complete development plan, but marvelous changes are already underway. One set of old buildings was demolished and used to create The Hills, sculptural mounds covered in wild flowers and sculpture, offering closeups of the Statue of Liberty. Winding paths of waving grasses and blue cornflowers take you to an enclave of red hammocks. Walkways along the water lead to sculptures, and bells, and ferries. And everywhere you see the extraordinary juxtaposition of this pastoral and historic landscape with the spires of Manhattan, as when the top of the Freedom Tower peeks over the rounded summit of one of the Hills.
And that is not all. You can walk or bike around 172 mostly bucolic acres, laid out like an ice cream cone. An outdoor food court features Brooklyn's finest, and umbrellaed seating areas sit gracefully in the sun. Art and music. Imaginative playgrounds. Abandoned buildings housing art exhibitions that you can see only through the windows. And--a place you can learn composting. (No, we didn't.)
Governors Island will close for winter at the end of October, but not before the Night of a Thousand Jack O' Lanterns. Don't miss it!