Having been curious about Governor’s Island for quite a long time (a girl in my 8th grade class lived there since her dad was in the Coast Guard), I finally went to visit earlier this summer to see the place with my own eyes.
If you don’t know the Island, it’s a short ferry ride away from the tip of southern Manhattan . While long on military history, the place has been having a bit of an identity crisis for the past 10 years, ever since it was vacated by the US Coast Guard, its last military occupant. Fortunately, change is afoot thanks to the efforts of the State, City and the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation.
It turned out to be well worth the trip for me this past June. For starters, the ferry is free and fast – shore to shore in about 15 minutes. Strangely, there were a bunch of punk rockers on the ferry which made us wonder if the island holds a particular draw for an alternative crowd with a penchant for piercings and hair glue, but it turned out there was a free outdoor concert series that day featuring several punk bands. At the same time, there was a reenactment of Civil and Revolutionary War military marches – ensuring there were cultural offerings for those with diverse tastes! It turns out there is an active series of cultural events offered throughout the summer.
We rode our bikes on and off the ferry, and made a quick tour. I most enjoyed the views from the Island as they provided fresh takes on familiar sites – the Downtown skyline seemingly superimposed on Civil War era structures, the Statue of Liberty emerging from the hull of a freighter, and a cool perspective on the bridges spanning the East River . The Colonel’s Row with its series of stately homes really stood out as the historic heart of the island. More dramatic and a bit creepy is Castle Williams, which was used as a prison for some time. The Fire Department uses an abandoned barracks for training as evidenced by burned out windows and soot-stained walls, giving that particular spot a bit of a post-apocalyptic feeling. Though we didn’t realize until we were already biking through it, the industrial section of the island is off limits to visitors (don’t worry, you won’t miss much on that side of the island which, incidentally, was created with landfill from the excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway!). A great website to see what’s planned for this part of the island can be found here.
We were able to take in a lot in less than two hours, though one could easily spend the day. The island is open to visitors Friday-Sunday through October 12th. Check it out!