Governors Island National Monument: Fort Jay and The Hills


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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.


While parts of the island are managed by the National Park Service, the majority of it is managed by the Trust for Governors Island and the City of New York. For ten years, the Trust developed the abandoned section of the island into a hilly park with commanding views of New York City and the harbor.


Built on the debris of buildings that were once here, The Hills first opened in 2016. It has accessible paths to stroll up to the top, large stone block steps to climb up and in one section, you can slide down.


After exploring The Hills, we walked back to the historic district, where we still hadn’t seen everything our guide wanted us to see.


The South Battery was the last of the three forts built on Governor’s Island. Built during the war of 1812, it stood guard over Buttermilk Channel, which separates the island from Brooklyn. Later, it became a barracks, and then the officer’s mess hall.


Next, we strolled through Nolan Park with its 15 pretty yellow houses. These were built between 1845 and 1902 as quarters for officers with families. Today, they are leased by non-profit organizations who keep the houses preserved.


At the end of this row stands the Governor’s House. This is a misnomer because no governor ever lived there, but it did serve as the commanding officer’s house.


For the final stop on our tour, we re-entered the domain of the National Park Service and toured Fort Jay. Fort Jay is the earliest of the three forts on the island and is undergoing repairs to its facade. The entrance is a medieval-looking gate over a dry moat with a sculpture of an eagle standing guard at the top…that eagle has lost a wing and the NPS is in the process of trying to reattach it.


The largest of the three forts, Fort Jay is of the same star-shaped design as the one across the bay, upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. We went into the cellar to see an odd display of earth borings. This cellar, had the British not been deterred by New York’s defenses during the War of 1812, would have served as a bomb shelter.


When I visited Governors Island in the late eighties, it was a decaying Coast Guard base. It was nice to see the progress the NPS has made towards restoring some of the historic structures as well as the Trust for Governors Island’s success in turning the unused areas into a beautiful urban park.

To see my other Governors Island posts, please click below:

Location: New York Bay

Designation: National Monument

Date designation declared: 1/19/2001

Date of my visit: 9/11/2018