Historic Site Where Two Rivers Meet
Governors Island National Monument covers 22 of the 172 acres of Governors Island. It is strategically located off the southern tip of the island of Manhattan where the Hudson and East Rivers converge in New York Harbor.
In October of 1995, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it was closing its facilities on Governors Island. Their base there was established in 1966 after the U.S. Army closed Fort Jay which had been an Army post there since 1794. The Coast Guard closure was part of a cost cutting effort that resulted in a $30 million savings. The land was offered for sale to the city and state of New York.
Just before leaving office, President Clinton established the Governor Island National Monument on January 19, 2001. While the Presidential Proclamation did not fully
establish the monument’s boundaries, it did declare the intention of the federal government to preserve the fortifications of Fort Jay and Castle Williams which were the most historic features on the island.
President Bush proceeded with plans to sell the land to the city and state. On January 31, 2003, the land was transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This agency transferred 22 acres of the land to the U.S. Department of the Interior for establishment of a national monument. The remaining 150 acres were given over to the Governor Island Preservation and Education Corporation which is a joint commission of the state and city. They administer the locale and oversee redevelopment.
Strategic Point for Protection of Harbor
Governors Island has long served as an outpost to protect New York from attack by sea. Castle Williams and Fort Jay were both built for this purpose between 1806 and 1811. They played important roles during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. They were also strategic defensive position in both Worlds Wars.
Fort Jay is sited on the highest point on the island. Its defensive walls slope down towards the waterfront. Castle Williams is sited on a rocky promontory that overlooks the harbor channels.
Military Use Changes over Time
By the 1830’s the defensive functions of Castle William and Fort Jay had declined, but an Army post developed around them. The post evolved into a major headquarters of the army by the 1870’s. This function continued until the base was closed down in 1965. The residential buildings and other structures are included in the Governors Island National Historic Landmark District.
The island has been open on a seasonal basis in summer since 2003. More than 400,000 people visited it in 2010. The island gives people the unique opportunity to learn and study 200 years of military history connected to the island’s legacy. Educational opportunities abound here for learning about the history of harbor defense for the Port of New York.
Governors Island National Monument is a spectacular location for parkland. It affords scenic views of the Manhattan skyline as well as more distant views of other portions of the city and the New Jersey shore.