History Of Governors Island

Stepping off the ferry onto Governors Island, visitors will find themselves surrounded by native and natural beauty as well as rich history. Just minutes away from NYC by ferry, Governors Island beckons people of virtually every age to come and explore. Island tours offer opportunities for hands-on science and environmental activities as well as learning about the Governors Island urban farm. Relaxing on the grass for a picnic promises to be a delightful addition to any island adventure.

What Is Governors Island?

The full 172 acres making up Governors Island are split between 150 acres designated as public domain and 22 acres set aside as a national monument. Standing in the public domain parcel, 52 historic buildings have been preserved to enable visitors to explore and learn about the history of Governors Island. Both the U.S. Army and Coast Guard used Governors Island as a base for many years due to its strategic position in New York Harbor. Several park areas are open to visitors, and people can also explore the waterfront area.

  • Governors Island: The state of New York transferred ownership of Governors Island to the federal government in 1800, which led the way to reconstruction of both Half Moon Battery and Fort Jay.
  • A Summer Guide to Governors Island: Governors Island is situated at the junction of the East and Hudson rivers, and it was once a Coast Guard outpost.
  • Things to Do on Governors Island: A short ferry ride from Manhattan takes visitors out to Governors Island, where they can bicycle, view art exhibits, wander gardens, and picnic in green areas.
  • Governors Island National Monument (PDF): Governors Island National Monument was proclaimed and became a part of the national park system in 2001, and it features Fort Jay and Castle Williams.
  • The Trust for Governors Island (PDF): The National Monument on Governors Island spans 22 acres, and the National Park Service manages this area.
  • Governors Island Teaching Garden: An urban farm is in place on Governors Island, designed to teach visitors about farming vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
  • Governors Island: It takes just seven minutes by ferry to travel to Governors Island.
  • Governors Island National Monument: Both the U.S. Army and the Coast Guard operated regional administrative centers out of Governors Island for many decades.
  • Overview of Governors Island National Monument: The arch atop Fort Jay on Governors Island was designed by Joseph Mangin, and it features a massive sandstone eagle.
  • Governors Island Landscape Information: Much of the original architecture of Fort Jay remains, and a newer area was added to the complex in 1909 using fill from the New York City subway construction project.

History of Governors Island

As far back as the early 1500s, Native Americans were established on Governors Island, using it as a seasonal fishing camp. When people from the Dutch West India Company arrived and set up camp in the early 1600s, they built a small fort and sawmill on the island. Several years later, the Native Americans sold the island to Wouter van Twiller, purportedly for a handful of nails, a string of beads, and two ax heads. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, the British captured all of NYC from the Dutch, including the island. The British renamed the island Governors Island, designating it for use by the king's governors. The island remained under British control until the end of the war. Construction of Fort Jay as a military fort began soon after, and in 1800, the state of New York gave the island to the federal government. Reconstruction work ensued on Fort Jay between 1806 and 1809, and Castle Williams was also built during this time. The third fort, South Battery, was built in 1812. Governors Island was a crucial military compound during the Civil War, and after this war ended, the U.S. Army used the compound as a headquarters. Both World War I and II involved a military presence on Governors Island; infantry regiments were stationed there. The Army continued to use the island until 1964, when it closed its installation. Just two years later, the Coast Guard opened its biggest installation on Governors Island. When the Coast Guard shut its doors on Governors Island in 1996, New York City designated Governors Island as a local historic district. Today, visitors are welcome to explore Governors Island between June and October.