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Governors Island is a 172-acre (70 ha) island in New York Harbor within New York City, approximately 800 yards (732 m) from the southern tip of Manhattan Island and separated from Brooklyn by Buttermilk Channel, approximately 400 yards (366 m). It is part of the New York City borough of Manhattan. The National Park Service administers a small portion of the north of the island as the Governors Island National Monument, including a former military fortification named Fort Jay, while the Trust for Governors Island operates the remaining 150 acres (61 ha), including 52 historic buildings, as a public park.

Governors Island
Governors Island from One World Observatory 2017.jpg
Governors Island viewed from One World Observatory
Governors Island is located in New York City
Governors Island
Governors Island is located in New York
Governors Island
Governors Island is located in the United States
Governors Island
LocationNew York City, New York, U.S.
Coordinates40°41′29″N 74°0′58″W / 40.69139°N 74.01611°W / 40.69139; -74.01611Coordinates: 40°41′29″N 74°0′58″W / 40.69139°N 74.01611°W / 40.69139; -74.01611
Area172 acres (70 ha)
Architectural styleColonial Revival, Greek Revival
Visitation443,000 (2010)
NRHP reference #85002435
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 4, 1985[1]
Designated NHLFebruary 4, 1985[2]
Designated NMONJanuary 19, 2001

Governors Island was originally an island that the Lenape called Paggank ("nut island"). The name was transliterated into the Dutch Noten Eylant. then into the English Nutten Island, before being renamed Governor's Island by the late 18th century. The island's use as a military installation dates to 1776, during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), Continental Army troops raised defensive works on the island, which they used to fire upon British ships before they were taken. From 1783 to 1966, the island was a United States Army post, and later from 1966 to 1996, the island served as a major United States Coast Guard installation. About 103 acres (42 ha) of fill was added to the island by 1912, expanding the island's area to 172 acres (70 ha).[3]

Since its decommissioning as a military base, Governors Island has become a popular seasonal destination open to the public between May and September. It contains a 43-acre (17 ha) public park, free arts and cultural events, and recreational activities. The island is accessed by ferries from Brooklyn and Manhattan.



The native Lenape referred to the island as Paggank,[4][5] Pagganck,[6] or Pagganack.[7][8]:9 All of these names literally translated to "Nut Island", likely in reference to the island's plentiful hickory, oak, and chestnut trees.[4][7][8]:9 The Dutch explorer Adriaen Block called it Noten Eylandt, a translation,[4][5] and this was borrowed into English as Nutten Island, and this name continued to be used until the late 18th century.[6] The name "Governor's Island", with an apostrophe, stems from the British colonial era, when the colonial assembly reserved the island for the exclusive use of New York's royal governors.[9] The current name without apostrophe was made official in 1784.[6]

Historic useEdit

Colonial periodEdit

Governors Island was initially much smaller than it is today. It originally contained multiple inlets along its shoreline, as well as groves of hardwood trees, from which the island's native name is derived.[10] In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to observe what was then called Paggank, becoming the first European in record to do so.[11][12] Exactly one hundred years later, in May 1624, Noten Eylandt 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 Cornelius Jacobsen May, who disembarked on the island with thirty families in order to take possession of the New Netherland territory.[13] For this reason, the New York State Senate and Assembly recognize Governors Island as the birthplace of the state of New York, and also certify the island as the place on which the planting of the "legal-political guaranty of tolerance onto the North American continent" took place.[14]

In 1633, the fifth director of New Netherland, Wouter van Twiller, arrived with a 104-man regiment on Noten Eylandt, and later commandeered the island for his personal use.[7] He secured his farm by drawing up a deed on June 16, 1637, which was signed by two Lenape, Cacapeteyno and Pewihas, on behalf of their community at Keshaechquereren, situated in present-day New Jersey.[15][11] Van Twiller cultivated a farm on the island, even building a windmill on the land, until he returned to the Netherlands in 1642.[7] The windmill was demolished possibly by 1648, when colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant burned it down after seeing it in inoperable condition.[16] Following this, Noten Eylandt is said to have been used as a recreation ground by the Dutch between 1652 and 1664.[9] There is little other documentation on the use of the island during the Dutch colonial period, other than the fact that it has remained in public ownership since van Twiller left New Netherland.[10]

New Netherland was conditionally ceded to the English in 1664, and the English renamed the settlement New York in June 1665.[17][10] By 1674, the British had total control of the island.[18][11] At this point, the eastern shore of the island was separated from Brooklyn by a shallow channel that could be easily traversed at low tide. This became known as Buttermilk Channel, since women would use the channel to travel to Manhattan island and sell buttermilk.[9] By 1680, Nutten Island contained a single house and pasture to be used by colonial governors.[9]

The British started calling Nutten Island "Governor's Island" (with an apostrophe) in 1698, reserving it for the exclusive use of colonial governors.[19][9] Four years later, when Edward Hyde, Lord of Cornbury took office as New York colonial governor, he built a mansion on Governor's Island, though evidence of this mansion no longer exists.[10][9] The Governor's House, perhaps the oldest structure on the island, may possibly be Cornbury's house, but conflicting sources state that the two houses are wholly separate structures.[20][21] Later, governor William Cosby used the island as a preserve to breed and hunt pheasants.[10][22] Other governors leased out the island for profit,[19] but otherwise, Governor's Island mostly remained untouched until the American Revolutionary War started in 1875.[10][21]

American RevolutionEdit

A house in Nolan Park

The first plans for fortifications on Governor's Island were made in 1741, in anticipation of a war with France, but the fortifications were never built.[23] The island was first used by a military encampment in 1755 during the French and Indian War, when Sir William Pepperell led the 51st Regiment of Foot onto Governor's Island.[23][24][25] By the mid-1760s, there was documentation of a fort on the island as well as several surrounding earthworks.[23] Further plans to improve the fortifications on Governor's Island were devised in 1766 by British military engineer John Montresor.[26][27][28] These plans were never realized, even though the British had asked for funding for these fortifications in 1774.[26][29]

After the American Revolution started, Continental Army General George Washington assigned General Charles Lee to create a defensive plan for New York Harbor.[26] Lee's plan called for several defensive forts in Brooklyn, in Manhattan's Battery, and on Governor's Island.[30][31] On the night of April 9, 1776, Continental Army General Israel Putnam came to the island to add earthworks and 40 cannons, in anticipation of the return of the British, who had quit New York City the year before.[30][31][32][33] The island's defenses continued to be improved over the following months,[30][34][35] and on July 12, 1776, the defenses engaged HMS Phoenix and HMS Rose as they made a run up the Hudson River to the Tappan Zee.[30][31][35] Even though the British were able to travel as far north as the Tappan Zee, the colonists' cannon inflicted enough damage to make the British commanders cautious of entering the East River.[36] Still, the fortifications contributed to the success of Washington's retreat from Brooklyn to Manhattan after the Battle of Long Island, when the British Army attempted to take Brooklyn Heights during the largest battle of the entire war, around August 27, 1776.[34][35][36][37]

In what appeared to be a strategic miscalculation, the rebels' munitions caused little to no damage to the British ships that were waiting some 2 miles (3.2 km) downstream.[37][38][39] Two days after the British withdrawal to Manhattan, the Continental Army forces withdrew from Brooklyn and Governor's Island, and the British took back Governor's Island. From September 2 to 14, 1776, the new British garrison engaged volleys with Washington's guns on the Battery in front of Fort George in Manhattan.[40][38] On September 6, the Americans' unsuccessful attempt to detonate the submersible Turtle at the island was the first documented submarine attack in history.[39] 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.[38][39]

Late 18th through 19th centuriesEdit

Late 18th century to War of 1812Edit

At the end of the Revolution, Governor's Island was transferred from the Crown to the state of New York. The island saw no military usage, instead being used as a hotel and racetrack.[34] The quality of the fortifications, which were mostly made of earth, began to decline.[34][41] The name of Nutten Island was changed to "Governors Island" by act of the United States legislature on March 29, 1784.[42][6] Governors Island was conveyed to the New York State Board of Regents in 1790 "for the encouragement of education ... unless needed for military purposes."[19][42] However, little else is known about the island's use during this time.[43]

By the mid-1790s, increased military tensions renewed an interest in fortifying New York Harbor, and a U.S. congressional committee had drawn a map of possible locations for the First System of fortifications to protect major American urban centers.[43][44][45] Governors Island was one of the first locations where defenses were built.[46] As such, the agreement with the Board of Regents was voided in 1794,[19][42] and some $250,000 in federal funding was allocated to the construction of defenses on Governors Island in 1794 and 1795.[43][44][45] Fort Jay was built starting in 1794 on the site of the earlier Revolutionary War earthworks.[45][47] Work proceeded despite concerns that Fort Jay's low elevation made it vulnerable to being captured.[48] Fort Jay, a square four-bastioned fort, was made of earthworks and timber, two impermanent materials that deteriorated soon after the threat of war went away, and by 1805 it had significantly degraded.[47] Ownership of the island was transferred to the federal government on February 15, 1800.[42][49]

Lieutenant General Jonathan Williams, placed in charge of New York Harbor defenses in the early 1800s, proposed several new fortifications around the harbor as part of the Second System of fortifications. Unlike the First System defenses, the new fortifications were to be made of masonry to preclude deterioration, and they included increased firepower and improved weaponry.[47][50] Fort Jay was rebuilt from 1806 to 1809 in its current five-pointed star shape,[49][50][51][52] and was renamed Fort Columbus by 1810.[51][52][49] A second major fortification, Castle Williams, was a circular battery built between 1807 and 1811 on a rocky shoal extending from the northwest corner of the island, to the north of Fort Columbus.[50][52][53][49] A third fortification, the South Battery or Half-Moon Battery (now Building 298), was built to the south of Fort Columbus on the island's eastern shore in 1812.[54][55] The War of 1812 commenced shortly after the completion of these defenses, though the fortifications never saw combat.[54][56]

Mid-18th century and Civil WarEdit

After the War of 1812, a garrison of artillery troops was stationed on Governors Island, though the island itself did not see much development.[57] The New York Arsenal, a military division separate from the Army, moved to the island in 1832 and started constructing an armory building three years later.[58][59][60] Construction of structures for the Arsenal continued for several decades. Operationally the Arsenal was separate from the Army, and was distinguished as such by the Greek Revival design of Arsenal buildings,[60][61][62] such as the Admiral's House built in 1843.[60]

The Army still retained a military presence on the island, and in the 1830s, it constructed several new buildings, such as officers' barracks and a hospital.[60][61] The Army also added masonry seawalls[63] and opened an "administrative and training center" starting from the 1850s.[18][57][63] The erection of the recruiting center and barracks resulted in the creation of Nolan Park, to the east for Fort Columbus.[63] Together with these changes, a grassy area was cleared between Fort Columbus and Castle Williams.[64] Other Army structures included a muster station that operated throughout the Mexican–American War and American Civil War, as well as a music school.[18] Still, most of the troops continued to live in tents.[63] To accommodate Army personnel's religious requirements, a small Gothic Revival chapel was built on Governors Island in 1846.[65][66]

Liggett Hall, former barracks for a regiment
Episcopal Chapel of St. Cornelius

No new permanent buildings were built specifically for the Civil War,[64] though a temporary hospital was built.[67] The hospital treated victims of cholera and yellow fever in epidemics during the 1850s and 1860s.[60] During the war itself, Governors Island was used mostly as a support facility, though it technically was able to be used in battle.[64] Castle Williams held Confederate prisoners of war and Fort Columbus held captured Confederate officers.[18][50][57][64] The austere accommodations frequently held between 630 and 1,100 prisoners.[64] In 1863, in the midst of the New York City draft riots, protesters unsuccessfully attempted to take over the island when Army troops were deployed to "mainland" Manhattan.[67][68]

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.[18] Infrastructure and facilities were repaired, unused structures were destroyed, and in 1875 a new munitions warehouse was built north of Fort Columbus.[69] Significant development occurred on the formerly undeveloped northern and eastern sides of the island: the old wood-frame barracks outside Fort Columbus were replaced, and new officers' quarters were built in Nolan Park, east of Fort Columbus.[70] The seawalls on the north and west sides of the island were rehabilitated or extended to create additional buildable land.[71] During this period of expansion, in 1870, a particularly severe yellow fever epidemic occurred on the island, sickening hundreds and requiring a quarantine.[68][72][73] The structures that hosted yellow fever patients were later demolished.[72] Despite these changes, in 1873 Fort Columbus and Castle Williams were still described as operable.[74]

In 1878, Fort Columbus became a major Army administrative center, and Army officers' families started to move in. Governors Island had developed into a small town setting with a movie theater, a YMCA, an "officer's club," a public school, and three chapels.[75][18] Other recreational options on the island were tennis courts in Nolan Park; a South Battery community garden; golf links; and a promenade for bicycling.[76] A cemetery was also present on the island, and initially hosted yellow fever and cholera victims, but interments were halted in 1878 and all of the remains were moved to Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn by 1886.[77] The secluded ambiance of Governors Island was altered somewhat when the first incinerator in the U.S. was built on Governors Island in 1885.[78] Subsequent construction in the 1890s and 1900s added several officers' residences to the island.[60] Starting in 1888,[79][80] there was a movement to convert Governors Island into a public park, the reasoning being that Central Park and Prospect Park were too far away for Lower Manhattan residents, though this plan did not succeed.[79]

20th centuryEdit

The Army started planning to expand the island in the late 1880s and the 1890s. The U.S. Secretary of War, Elihu Root, contemplated such an expansion so that the island would have enough space to accommodate a full battalion.[79] Using material excavated from the first line of the New York City Subway, the Army Corps of Engineers supervised the deposit of 4,787,000 cubic yards (3,660,000 m3) of fill on the south side of Governors Island.[81] This added 103 acres (0.42 km2) of flat, treeless land by 1912, expanding the island's area to 172 acres (0.70 km2).[3][82] Secretary Root also retained the services of Beaux-Arts architect Charles Follen McKim to redesign nearly every single structure on Governors Island,[83] as well as create a plan for the island's topography.[84][83]

By 1912, the island's administrative leaders included General Tasker H. Bliss, who would become Army Chief of Staff in 1917.[85] Throughout this period, the army culture on the island grew.[18] In 1939, the island became the headquarters of the U.S. First Army.[18]

Prior to the construction of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, the island was considered as a site for a municipal airport. U.S. Representative and future New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia advocated for a commercial airport to be placed in Governors Island, since it was closer to Manhattan than the proposed site of Floyd Bennett Field.[86] However, a U.S. House bill to create a Governors Island airport was voted down.[87] The site did host the Governors Island Army Airfield during the 1950s and 1960s.[88]

The Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel passes underwater and off-shore of the island's northeast corner. Its location is marked by a ventilation building designed by McKim, Mead & White,[89] which is connected to the island by a causeway.[90] Initially, in 1939, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority head Robert Moses proposed a bridge across the harbor, with a base located on Governors Island.[91] The intervention of the War Department quashed the plan, calling it a possible navigational threat to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.[92][93] Moses then revised the plan, adding a ramp to Governors Island so the Army forces could also use the bridge, in a fashion similar to the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge's connection to the Army reservation on Yerba Buena Island in California.[94] However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt upheld the Department of War's decision and declined to create such a committee.[95][96] The Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel opened to traffic in 1950.[97][98]

Conversion into Coast Guard baseEdit

In 1963, Department of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara started studying the feasibility of closing redundant military installations, especially naval ship yards, in order to save money. The Department of Defense announced in May 1964 that it was considering closing Fort Jay on Governors Island, as well as the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Brooklyn Army Terminal.[99][18] Despite protests from workers at the three facilities, McNamara announced that November that Fort Jay would be one of nearly a hundred military installations that would be closed.[100][101][102] In February 1965, the United States Coast Guard announced that it had asked for permission to move to Fort Jay in order to consolidate its facilities within New York City.[103] The Army base was formally decommissioned at the end of that year,[104] and the installation became a Coast Guard base.[18]

The Coast Guard saw the island as an opportunity to consolidate and provide more facilities for its schools, and as a base for its regional and Atlantic Ocean operations. This was the Coast Guard's largest installation, and for them as the Army, served both as a self-contained residential community, with an on-island population of approximately 3,500, and as a base of operations for the Atlantic Area Command, its regional Third District command, Maintenance and Logistics Command, various schools which were relocated from Coast Guard Station New London in New London, Connecticut, and the local office of the Captain of the Port of New York. It was also homeport for several U.S. Coast Guard cutters including USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716), USCGC Gallatin (WHEC-721), USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166) and USCGC Sorrel (WLB-296).

In the thirty years of occupation on the island, the Coast Guard began a long, slow process of upgrading facilities and infrastructure that had been little improved upon since the 1930s. This effort also prompted a recognition of the island's military heritage by having 92 acres (370,000 m2) recognized as a National Historic Landmark on February 4, 1985, recognizing its wide range and representation of Army fortification, administrative and residential architecture dating from the early days of the nation.[2][105][106]

Looking north from "The Hills" with the Lower Manhattan skyline in the background

During this time, Governors Island has served as the backdrop for a number of historic events. In 1986, the island was the setting for the relighting of the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty by President Ronald Reagan. On December 8, 1988, along with Vice President and President-elect George Bush, President Ronald Reagan held his final meeting as president with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Commanding Officer's quarters. In July 1993, the United Nations sponsored talks at the South Battery Officer's Club to help restore democratic rule in Haiti resulting in the Governors Island Accord, signed between Haitian political leaders.[107]

Like the Army 30 years before, the U.S. Department of Transportation, then-parent of the Coast Guard, was compelled to cut costs as other federal agencies in the early 1990s. Because of its high operating costs and remote location from most of its activity in Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, the Governors Island base was identified for closure in 1995. The closure was an agency initiative and not part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) process that affected numerous Department of Defense installations at that time.

By September 1996, the Coast Guard had relocated all functions and residential personnel to offices and bases in Rhode Island and Virginia. The Coast Guard left a caretaker detachment to maintain the island along with the General Services Administration (GSA) while its future was determined. With the departure of the Coast Guard, almost two centuries of the island's use as a federal military reservation concluded. The disposal of the island as excess federal property was outlined in the Budget Reduction Act of 1996. The legislation set a deadline and directed that the island be sold at a fair market value by the GSA by 2002, but gave the city and state of New York a right of first refusal, a provision that was inserted into the legislation by New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who envisioned the island with great potential as a public and civic resource.


Official map of Governor's Island as of May 2014. This is a PDF copy of the official visitor's map that visitors can see and get on the island.

Early proposalsEdit

With the announcement of the Coast Guard base closure and departure, city and state officials along with private developers and civic planners began to offer opinions and ideas on the island's future that included housing, parks, education and private development.

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.

A proposal to adaptively reuse Castle Williams for a New Globe Theater was designed by architect Norman Foster.[108] The non-profit organization worked in partnership with Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London to develop a proposal and seek backing for a cultural center and performance space in the Castle. With the completion of a National Park Service general management plan for Castle Williams and Fort Jay in 2009, it was determined that the proposed use of the Castle for the theater was not congruous with its historical significance.

In a last-minute act while in office, President Bill Clinton designated 22 acres of the island, including the two great forts, as Governors Island National Monument on January 19, 2001. In the next year on April 1, 2002, President George W. Bush, Governor Pataki, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the federal government would sell Governors Island to the people of New York for a nominal cost, and that the island would be used for public benefit. At the time of the transfer, deed restrictions were created that prohibit permanent housing and casinos on the island. On January 31, 2003, 150 acres of Governors Island were transferred to the people of New York, to be administered by a joint city-state agency, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC). The remaining 22 acres was legally reaffirmed by presidential proclamation on February 7, 2003, as the Governors Island National Monument, to be administered by the National Park Service.

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, 150 acres (61 ha) of the island was transferred to the State and City of New York for $1. The remainder, a 22 acres (9 ha) portion, 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.

On February 15, 2006, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for "visionary ideas to redevelop and preserve Governors Island"[109] 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.

Governors Island in 2009 from the air, facing northeast

Early redevelopment efforts and constructionEdit

In 2007, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation announced five finalist design teams that were chosen to submit their ideas for the future park and Great Promenade;[110][111] the GIPEC had awarded leases to its first two tenants a year before.[111] The corporation appointed West 8, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Rogers Marvel Architects, Quennell Rothschild & Partners, and SMWM to design a development plan for Governors Island.[112][113] The plan included 87 acres (35 ha) of open space on the island, as well as provided for the restoration of the historic district and a new park on the southern half of the island.[110] Each firm was asked their visions for the new park. Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8's proposal featured dramatic topography "in concert with winding pathways and trees to create 'conceal and reveal' vistas, choreographing the park experience."[114] The firm also proposed free bicycle rentals around the island;[110][112][115] and, since the island is windy, designed their proposed topography to provide moments of shelter.[112] With transportation to and from the island, one idea considered was an aerial gondola system designed by Santiago Calatrava.[112][116]

There are very few tenants on the island. Fewer than 1,000 workers, artists, and students work or live on the island.[117] However, in 2009, a 3-acre (12,000 m2) commercial organic farm, operated by the non-profit organization, Added Value, was launched.[118] In 2010, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a small public high school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, was relocated to the island, remodeling the former Coast Guard clinic in Building 555. Also that year, artist studios run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and housed in a portion of Building 110 opened, and New York University announced an expansion plan that included a campus on the island, "complete with dorms and faculty housing."[119]

In April 2010, the city entered an agreement to take full control of the island's development from the state of New York through a newly established Trust for Governors Island, and unveiled a new master development plan. Under the plan, the historic northern end will remain structurally unchanged. The middle of the island would be developed into a park stretching 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 would 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 would meet the water in a series of wetlands.[120]

In November 2011, the Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE) at Columbia University proposed a fanciful idea of using fill to physically connect Manhattan to Governors Island. CURE proposed "a 92-acre national historic district on the island, 3.9 million square feet for public buildings like schools and 270 acres of open space" in their plan. This proposal, called LoLo, would require 23 million cubic yards of landfill and allow for up to 88 million square feet of new development, while providing new subway stations from the extension of the 1 and 6 trains. and a bridge to Red Hook, Brooklyn. The proposed landfill bridge would also serve as a storm surge barrier.[121]

Liggett Terrace in the newly redone southern portion of Governors Island

On May 24, 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke ground on the new park and public spaces designed by landscape architecture firm West 8, along with announcing the opening of the rehabilitated Castle Williams.[122] The Bloomberg administration's ten-year capital plan had provided funding for the first phase of construction, which began in the summer of 2012.[123] As part of phase 1 of the master plan:[123]

  • Soissons Landing was upgraded to improve access to the island. The ferry docks were rehabilitated, the old ferry waiting room demolished and a new entry plaza completed in 2013.
  • The Parade Ground would be re-graded for lawn sports.
  • The Historic District would gain park amenities.
  • A new potable water connection would be established and the seawall would be repaired. There had been no potable water since the island passed to city ownership in 2003, and the locally illegal connection from Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel was severed. Both year-long projects commenced in 2013.[117]
  • As part of the South Island park, Liggett Terrace, a 6 acres (2.4 ha) courtyard with seasonal plantings near the Liggett Hall, would be added, as was Hammock Grove, a new shaded, wooded area containing hammocks for visitors and a Play Lawn will with 2 new baseball fields.[117] Work commenced in 2012 with demolition of 1960s and 1970s military housing complexes, and while both opened in late 2013, they were finished in early 2014.[124]
  • A parking lot and road surrounding the historic fortification, South Battery, was converted into a lawn in 2013.
  • Another 33 acres (13 ha) in that area may be rezoned for commercial use, including a hotel.[117]

On June 6, 2015, the Oyster Pavilion was set to open.[125] The 10-acre (4.0 ha) Hills section of the park was the last piece of the newly redeveloped island to open.[126] The Hills opened on July 21, 2016,[127] and consist of four hills that are 26 to 70 feet (7.9 to 21.3 m) high,[128] including a hill that contains four long slides.[129]

In July 2018, a glamorous camping, or "glamping", retreat was opened on Governors Island. The glamping facility was located on 6 acres of land and would be open through November 2018. Customers, or "glampers", would be allowed to use the island at 7 a.m., three hours before the island opened to the general public each day. There are several tiers of tent accommodations, as well as daily activities for glampers.[130][131]

Operations and programmingEdit

Friends of Governors IslandEdit

Since the Coast Guard's decision to vacate the island in 1995, the Governors Island Alliance and its 50 member organizations led a campaign to return the island to New York for public purposes.[132] Since 2014 the Alliance has been an independent non-profit. In 2016 it was renamed Friends of Governors Island. The Friends run volunteer and membership programs, raise money and perform advocacy for the island.

Governors Island's working dogsEdit

Governors Island employs working dogs to chase the Canada geese off of the island. The working dogs provide a humane geese disbursement method for the super flocks of Canada geese that migrate through the New York Harbor.[133] Before the dog program started in 2015, attempts to use R/C cars, strobe lights, and a special laser to chase the geese all failed.[133] Chasing the geese from the Island helps to avoid the large amount of bird droppings they leave behind; as well as helping to mitigate against the aggressive nature of the geese. Keeping the super-flocks off the island helps protect both other bird species and park visitors, as Canada geese are known to be hostile during nesting season. The Working Dogs program began in January 2015 when Jim Reed, Director of Park and Public Space, adopted Max, a Border Collie who came from a failed career as a farm dog.[133]

As of 2019 the Governors Island working dog team is composed of four dogs.[134][135] A Border Collie named Quinn was added to the team of working dogs in 2017,[136] followed by a Border Collie named Chip in mid-2018 and a mini Aussie named Aspen in late 2018.[135] The dogs are popular on social media with a growing following.[135] In addition to their duties chasing geese, the dogs serve as ambassadors to Governors Island guests.[133]

Public accessEdit


The first public boat service to Governors Island was instituted in 1794, when John Hillyer was given a franchise to operate a rowboat line to the island, collecting a fare of three cents per person.[137][138] The Army took over the franchise as passenger traffic grew, operating barges from South Ferry in Manhattan; by 1861, they also started operating steamboats.[44] Many of the passengers were employees at the New York Armory on Governors Island.[61] By 1879, an "ugly little tug" that charged 15-cent fares for travel to the island was replaced with a steamboat.[139]

From 2003 to 2015, Governors Island was open to the public on weekends during the summer. Starting in 2010, weekend ferry service commenced between Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue.[140] In June 2011, NY Waterway started service to points along the East River.[141] On May 1, 2017, that route became part of NYC Ferry's East River route, which runs between Pier 11/Wall Street in Manhattan's Financial District and the East 34th Street Ferry Landing in Murray Hill, Manhattan, with intermediate stops in Brooklyn and Queens.[142][143]

Current statusEdit

Passengers board and alight a Brooklyn Ferry docked at Pier 101 on Governors Island

During summer weekends, Governors Island is an intermediate stop on NYC Ferry's East River route between Pier 11 and Fulton Ferry, and on NYC Ferry's South Brooklyn route between Fulton Ferry and Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6.[144]

Access from Manhattan is from the Battery Maritime Building in the Financial District. The 1908 cast-iron structure, located next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, was restored between 2001-2006.[145] Service is half-hourly. The departure and arrival dock on Governors Island is the Soissons Dock at the north tip of the island. The ride is about 7 minutes in duration. This ferry is accessible only during the late spring and the summer.[146]


Activities on the island include free National Park Service walking tours, bike riding, picnicking, art installations, fairs, drone races, festivals, and concerts. Bicycle, tandem, and quadcycle rental is provided on the island by Bike and Roll at hourly and daily rates.[147] New York Water Taxi operates an artificial beach on the northern tip of the island.[148] 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 some sections remain closed to the public. However, three sections of the park are open: the southern end Picnic Point, the central Hammock Grove as of 2014, and The Hills on the southwestern corner as of 2016. The island's circumferential drive along the waterfront is also open to the public. Demolition of the U.S. Coast Guard housing began in 2008. It is on the grounds of the former Liberty Village housing area that was used by Coast Guard families between 1988 and 1996.[149] There are still Coast Guard buildings and barracks, not of historical significance, in areas yet to be redeveloped.

The Governors Island Art Fair has taken place annually on the island during weekends in September since 2007. Originally located in buildings on Colonel's Row, the event has grown to include Castle Williams and Fort Jay as artist venues. The 2015 season saw an expansion in the number and variety of exhibits, held in the former officers' quarters and other buildings.

See alsoEdit



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External linksEdit