Spotlight On: Governer’s Island

Miss Stephanie and I recently took the free ferry (which now also runs from DUMBO) out to Governer’s Island for an “art fair.” I use quote marks b/c this fair was really just a gathering of reject ravers, occasionally dressed as (aging) fairies, showcasing their handmade and performance art…all while trying their hardest to visually ruin any quality photos I wanted to take. Despite these obstacles, I prevailed with my usual array of naturey eye candy (along with a few official aerial views thrown in for good measure):

Since most are not familiar with the history of Governer’s Island, I have selected the events in the island’s timeline that I feel are most noteworthy (for a more thorough recap, click here):

Pre-Colonial Era
Lenape Indians settle on island they call “Pagganck” (“Nut Island”)
1637 Wouter Van Twiller, Dutch Governor of New Netherlands, privately acquires island from Native American owners, Cakapeteyno and Pehiwas, allegedly for two axe heads, a string of beads and a few nails.
1698 British officially acquire the island, thereafter called “Governors Island,” for the “benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors.”
June 1710 Thousands of German refugees, on epidemic-ridden ships, are quarantined on the Island.
April 1776 Continental troops under George Washington occupy and fortify Governors Island against British invasion.
The New Republic
1784-1794 Unused military facilities fall into disrepair and the island is leased for a racetrack and summer resort.
1797 Garrison is assigned to the new fort, consisting of “a major, a captain, a surgeon, 2 lieutenants, 3 sergeants, 4 musicians, 5 artificers, and 34 privates.”
1849-68 Periodic cholera epidemics sweep the Island.
April-June 1852 Ulysses S. Grant resides in the officers’ quarters known as the Block House.
The Civil War and Beyond
1861-1865 Civil War Governors Island is the central Army recruiting station for the Eastern Seaboard, and Castle Williams is a prison camp, sometimes holding over 1,000 Confederate soldiers.
February 24, 1865 Confederate Captain John Yates Beall is executed on Governors Island for piracy on Union shipping.
Yellow fever epidemic rages on the island.
1895 First squirrels are brought to Governors Island.
1897 Congress proposes a bill to convey Governors Island to the City of New York “for the purpose of a public park.” The Army Board of Engineers, citing the Island’s indispensability “for military purposes,” soundly rejects the proposal.
September 29, 1909 Wilbur Wright takes off from Governors Island on the first flight ever over American waters, circling the Statue of Liberty before returning. A few days later he flies from the island to Grant’s Tomb and back.
World Wars I and II
1918 “World’s shortest railroad” (a locomotive and three flat cars on 1 ¾ miles of track) carries coal, machinery and supplies from the pier to shops and warehouses.
1937-1938 Comedians Tommy and Dick Smothers are born at the base hospital while their father, Major Thomas Boyln Smothers, is stationed on the island.
1942 WAC detachment brings the island its first women soldiers.
1965 U.S. Army leaves Governors Island.
June 30, 1966 Rear Admiral I.J. Stephens accepts jurisdiction over Governors Island on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard.
July 4, 1976 Governors Island is opened to the public for the first time, hosting 20,000 residents and visitors for fireworks and a parade of tall ships for America’s Bicentennial.
1983 Burger King opens on the Island and serves beer. Other activities for officers and enlisted men include golf, tennis, swimming, bowling, bingo and movies.
December 7, 1988 Diplomatic meetings between Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held at the Admiral’s House.
September 1, 1996 Coast Guard leaves Governors Island.
April 1, 2002 President George W. Bush, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announce that the federal government will sell the island back to the people of New York for one dollar.
January 31, 2003 After 200 years, Governors Island is returned to the people of New York City and State through the Governors Island Preservation and Education Program (GIPEC).
February 7, 2003 Twenty-two acres of the island are transferred to the National Park Service.

A truly beautiful NYC destination, with an interesting history. I suggest bringing a picnic lunch and your bikes (although bike rentals are also available), and going on a day that doesn’t include an event of some kind. And no worries – I think the threat of an island-wide swine flu “epidemic” is slim to none…

Last 3 photos from the official website of Governer’s Island.


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