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Governors Island has over 200 years of history as a military outpost. It began as a colonial militia base in 1755 and defended the harbor entrance to New York City during The War of 1812. During the Civil War, Confederate prisoners were held here. In peacetime, it was a training ground and administrative base for first the US Army and then the Coast Guard.
I visited the island with a local community school with Mario as our tour guide. We boarded the ferry at the Battery Maritime Building in lower Manhattan and disembarked eight minutes later at Soissons Landing.
Soissons Landing was named after a town in France that was the site of a decisive battle in World War I where the combined Allied forces regained ground from the Axis powers. The American regiment that fought in that battle was stationed on Governors Island after the war and so named the landing Soissons.
Building number 140 is on the left as you leave the ferry. Built in 1857, it used to be a munitions warehouse. Now it houses the offices of The Trust for Governors Island which manages the island along with the National Park Service.
After disembarking, we walked over to Castle Williams. This is one of the forts built to protect New York from the British during the War of 1812. Additional Rodman Guns were placed on the fort’s roof during the Civil War to protect the city against the Confederate Army. They were never fired.
Ranger Charles joined our group to give an impromptu talk about the different kinds of cannons found here.
Castle Williams is made of red sandstone and was designed by Jonathan Williams, who developed a system of forts on Governors, Ellis and Liberty Islands to protect the harbor.
In the early 1900s, Castle Williams, no longer useful as a defensive fortification, was renovated into a prison. It was abandoned as a prison in the 1960s, when the Army left the island and the Coast Guard moved in.
To see my other Governors Island posts, please click below:
- Battery Maritime Building
- Soissons Landing and Castle Williams
- Liggett Hall(Coming Soon)
- Fort Jay and The Hills (Coming Soon)
Location: New York Bay
Designation: National Monument
Date designation declared: 1/19/2001
Date of my visit: 9/11/2018
The large octagonal concrete structure to the left of Soissons Landing (seen in the video below) is the air vent for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.