Governors Island is a 172-acre (69 ha) island in Upper New York Bay, approximately one-half mile (1 km) from the southern tip of Manhattan Island and separated from Brooklyn by Buttermilk Channel. It is legally part of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The island was expanded by approximately 82 acres (33 ha) of landfill on its southern side when the Lexington Avenue subway was excavated in the early 1900s.
First named by the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, it was called Noten Eylant (and later in pidgin language Nutten Island) from 1611 to 1784. In 1624, it became the focus for the transformation of the New Netherland territory to a North American province of the Dutch Republic from having been a place for private commercial interests through patents issued by the (Dutch Republic's) States General since 1614.
From 1783 to 1966, the island was a United States Army post. From 1966 to 1996 the island served as a major United States Coast Guard installation. The island's current name stems from British colonial times when the colonial assembly reserved the island for the exclusive use of New York's royal governors. The ZIP Code of Governors Island is 10004.
In 2001, the two historical fortifications and their surroundings became a national monument. On January 31, 2003, control of most of the island was transferred to the State of New York for a symbolic $1, but 13% of the island (22 acres or 9 ha) was transferred to the United States Department of the Interior as the Governors Island National Monument, administered by the National Park Service. The national monument area is in the early stages of development and open only on a seasonal basis, so services and facilities are limited.
The portion of the island which is not included in the National Monument is administered by the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), a public corporation of the State of New York. The transfer included deed restrictions which prohibit permanent housing or casinos on the island.
The national historic landmark district, approximately 92 acres (37 ha) of the northern half of the island, is open to the public for several months in the summer and early fall. In 2008, the island is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from May 31st to October 5th. The seven minute ferry ride and admission to the island are free. The ferry leaves from the Battery Maritime Building (built in 1909) at South and Whitehall Streets at the southern tip of Manhattan.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel passes underwater and off-shore of the island's northeast corner, its location marked by a ventilation building connected to the island by a causeway. At one point prior to World War II, Robert Moses proposed a bridge across the harbor, with a base located on Governors Island; the intervention of the War Department under Franklin D. Roosevelt quashed the plan as a possible navigational threat to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Jan Rodrigues from Santo Domingo on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, a Latin-American of African ancestry and a free man, was the first person to summer on Governors Island, in 1613. He was employed as interpreter in trade negotiations with the Hudson River Indians by the private Amsterdam fur trader and explorer Adriaen Block. Rodrigues was left behind on the island in May 1613 to serve as on-the-spot factor to trade with the natives. Rodrigues and Block rendezvoused again in December that year.
In May 1624, Noten Eylant ("Island of Nuts"; renamed Governors Island in 1784) was the landing place of the first settlers in New Netherland (the New York Tri-State region). They had arrived from the Dutch Republic with the ship New Netherland under the command of Cornelis Jacobsz May, who disembarked on the island with thirty families in order to take legal possession of the New Netherland territory extending between the 38th and 42nd parallels. Captain May was appointed the first director of New Netherland (Petrus Stuyvesant was its seventh and last director). Most of those first settlers were quickly distributed, to an island in the Delaware River, at the top of the Hudson River and at the mouth of the Connecticut River, in order to complete legal possession of what was now the province of New Netherland.
That territory was discovered in 1609 by the Dutch East India Company with the ship Halve Maen (Half Moon) under the command of Henry Hudson. Hudson and his crew explored chiefly the Mauritius (Hudson) River. The region between 42 en 38 degrees was subsequently explored, surveyed and mapped in detail by Adriaen Block and his partner Hendrick Christiaensz from 1611 to 1614 (the name "New Netherland" was first recorded on Block's map of 1614) in order to pave the way for a well-planned, successful landing under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company in 1624. That year, the harbor's first fortification was built on Noten Eylant, as well as the region's first windmill, a saw mill erected by Franchoys Fezard. Fezard, also known as Veersaert, arrived with the 1624 settlers who were mostly of Walloon extraction living in the northern Netherlands and coming originally from the French-speaking southern Netherlands. Peter Minuit (Pierre Minuyt) was among them. Fezard and Minuyt were designated to take part in the local [Dutch] West India Company council comprising seven advisers.
In June 1625, forty-five more colonists, under five master-farmers, disembarked on Noten Eylant from three ships named Horse, Cow and Sheep. The ships also landed 103 horses, steers and cows in addition to numerous pigs and sheep. Most of the cattle was moved to Manhattan for better pasture several days after arrival. Military engineer and surveyor Crijn Fredericksz van Lobbrecht, who had arrived with the June colonists, commenced to lay out the moats and ramparts of a large citadel on the southern tip of Manhattan to contain the colonists and Fort Amsterdam as centerpiece of the town of New Amsterdam.
In Article VIII of the August 1664 provisional Articles of Transfer, New Netherlanders were guaranteed, under future English jurisdiction, that they “shall keep and enjoy the liberty of their consciences in religion,” a precept so reintroduced, on March 4, 1789, in a proposed Congressional amendment to the Constitution of September 17, 1787. That proposal was presented to the state legislatures by John Adams as Vice-President of the United States and President of the Senate who, from 1780-1784, had been the Congressional envoy and first plenipotentiary minister of the United States at The Hague in the Dutch Republic. What was to become the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, was ratified in the "State General" of New York, on February 22, 1790, by order of the Assembly, Giulian Verplanck, Speaker, and, on February 24, 1790, by order of the Senate, Isaac Roosevelt, President Pro Hac Vice. The freedom of religion clause became New York State law on February 27, 1790, upon the signature of the "well-beloved George Clinton, Esquire, Governor of our said State General." In the State of New York, that legal-political right to religious freedom had come full circle thus 166 years after the founding of the province of New Netherland on Governors Island in 1624.
That year, the planting of the legal-cultural tradition of religious tolerance took place first in North-America. It was rooted in the 1579 founding document of the Dutch Republic which had stated "that everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion.” Ever since, religious tolerance had served as the foundation of cultural pluralism in the region and, in particular, New Amsterdam which was to become New York City comprising America's most diverse population. The legal codification of that specific right for all of the original thirteen United States occurred finally upon the ratification of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791; "Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion or respecting an establishment of religion." Governors Island is its symbol: "The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we take for granted are all the work of other people who went before us" so wrote David McCullough, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, historian and biographer.
In 1633, the fifth director of New Netherland, Wouter van Twiller, arrived with a 104-men regiment on Governors Island - its first use as a military base. Later he operated a farm on the island. He secured his farm by creating a deed on June 16, 1637 which was signed by two Lenape, Cacapeteyno and Pewihas, on behalf of their community at Keshaechquereren.
After the New Netherland province was ceded provisionally to the British in 1664, the city of New Amsterdam was renamed and incorporated unilaterally as the City of New York in June 1665. The Dutch Republic withdrew its claim to New Netherland in the multilateral Treaty of Breda (1667). However, New Netherland was subsequently retaken by the Dutch Republic and relinquished to the English finally by the Treaty of Westminster in November 1674, thus concluding 60 years of New Netherland
Noten (in pidgin language Nutten) Island was renamed Governors Island in 1784 as the island, in earlier times, had been reserved by the British colonial assembly for the exclusive use of New York's royal governors.
The planting of the laws and ordinances of the Dutch Republic on Governors Island by the New York Tri-State region's first settlers has left an enduring legacy on both American cultural and political life. Of the settlers’ specific instructions, the most important was the one that echoed the 1579 founding document of New York’s birthfather―the Dutch Republic. It promulgated that "everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion." This legal-cultural instruction of toleration formed the basis for religious and ethnic diversity in New Amsterdam, now New York City. In 1643, on his visit to New Amsterdam, Father Isaac Jogues reported that more than 18 languages were spoken and that besides Calvinists there were "Catholics, English Puritans, Lutherans, Anabaptists, etc." This religious freedom was preserved by treaty for New Netherlanders exclusively in 1664 as stated above. In 1682, the visiting Virginian William Byrd commented about New Amsterdam that "they have as many sects of religion there as at Amsterdam" whereas, in 1686, religious diversity in the newly acquired territory was described by its English governor as "Here be not many of the Church of England; few Roman Catholics; abundance of Quakers; preachers, men and women especially; singing Quakers, ranting Quakers; Sabatarians; Antisabatarians; some Anabaptists; some independents; some Jews; in short of all sorts of opinion there are some, and the most of none at all." (For citations, see footnotes of 19-page article under Links below.)
After the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, in one night, 9 April 1776, Continental Army General Israel Putnam fortified the island with earthworks and 40 cannon in anticipation of the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn), to be the largest battle of the entire war. The harbor defenses on the island continued to be improved over the summer, and on 12 July 1776 engaged HMS Phoenix and HMS Rose. The American's cannon inflicted enough damage to make the British commanders cautious of entering the East River, which later contributed to the success of General George Washington's retreat across it from Brooklyn into Manhattan. The Continental Army forces eventually withdrew from the island as well, and the British occupied it in late August. From September 2 to 14 the new British garrison would engage volleys with Washington's guns on the battery in front of Fort George in Manhattan. The Fort (along with the rest of New York City) was held by the British for the rest of the war until Evacuation Day at the end of the war in 1783.
After the war two fortifications were placed on Governors Island in the years preceding the War of 1812 as part of an extensive coastal defense system including Castle Clinton (or Fort Clinton) at the southern tip of Manhattan. The first, Fort Jay, is a square five bastioned fort started in 1794 on the site of the earlier earthworks. The second, Castle Williams, is a circular casemated work completed in 1811. The two forts are among the best remaining examples of First System (Fort Jay) and Second System (Castle Williams) American coastal fortification.
During the American Civil War, Castle Williams held Confederate prisoners of war and Fort Jay held captured Confederate officers. After the war, Castle Williams was used as a military stockade and became the east coast counterpart to military prisons at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Alcatraz Island, California.
In 1878, the military installation on the island, then known collectively as Fort Columbus, became a major Army administrative center. By 1912, when it was known as Governor's Island, its administrative leaders included General Tasker H. Bliss, who would become Army Chief of Staff in 1917. In 1939, the island became the headquarters of the U.S. First Army. When the Army left Governors Island in 1966, the installation became a U.S. Coast Guard base, serving as headquarters for the Atlantic Division, the regional Third District and the local office of the Captain of the Port of New York. Its closing in 1996 concluded almost two centuries of the island’s use as a federal reservation.
Prior to the construction of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, the island was considered as a site for a municipal airport. It did hold a small grass strip, Governor's Island Army Airfield, from the 1950s until the 1960s.
In 1996 Van Alen Institute hosted an ideas competition called "Public Property" which asked designers “to consider the urban potential of Governors Island in terms of spatial adjacencies and experiential overlaps between a range of actions, actors, events, and ecologies…to acknowledge the physical reality of cities and their historic programmatic complexity as fundamental to the survival of a vital public realm.” The competition was open to anyone who registered. More than 200 entries from students, faculty, and landscape architects in 14 different countries were received. The jury members included: Andrea Kahn, Christine Boyer, Miriam Gusevich, Judith Henitz, Carlos Jimenez, and Enric Miralles.
On February 15, 2006, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for "visionary ideas to redevelop and preserve Governors Island" to be submitted to GIPEC (see above). The announcement said proposals should "enhance New York's place as a center of culture, business, education and innovation," include public parkland, contribute to the harbor's vitality and stress "environmentally sustainable development." Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said whatever group or entity is selected to develop the island would assume the $12 million annual maintenance costs that are now split between the city and state. In early 2007, GIPEC paused in the search for developers, focusing on the development of a major park on the island as called for in the deed that conveyed the island from the federal government to the city and state of New York.
In recognition of Governors Island’s momentous 1624 legacy that is reflective of New York’s identity of tolerance―the lifeblood of American liberty―the Foundation for Historic New Amsterdam has proposed placing a 151 foot (46 m) high version of Barnett Newman's sculpture Broken Obelisk - dedicated by him to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - as a Tolerance Monument. The Tolerance Monument would be the centerpiece of Historic New Amsterdam; a proposed 50 acre Tolerance Park on the island's southern tip. It would visualize Goverrnors Island as the oldest natural historic National Symbol. A proposal has been tendered to adaptively reuse Castle Williams on the island for a New Globe Theater, designed by architect Norman Foster. Since the fortification was constructed for the War of 1812, to defend America against the British, the not-for-profit organization is working in partnership with Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London to create a cultural center. Ultimately, the National Park Service has determined that this use of the Castle is not congruous with its historical significance, and has not chosen to pursue any further discussions related to it.
In the Fall of 2006, GIPEC announced that the New York Harbor School, a small public high school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, would relocate to Governors Island. The school is the island's first tenant and opens in 2010.
In 2007, GIPEC announced five finalist design teams that were chosen to submit their ideas for the future park and Great Promenade. In December 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an acclaimed team, led by the firm West 8, would design these new signature open spaces.
Two NYT Articles on: Recently Announced Design of Park for Governors Island:
A) Park Plan Is Chosen for Governors Island By ROBIN POGREBIN ->More than 10 years after the Coast Guard left Governors Island in New York Harbor, a team of architects has been selected to design a grandly whimsical green 40 acre park on its southern half.
B) ARCHITECTURE: A Landscape's Isolation Is Turned Into a Virtue, By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF ->The winning design reflects the kind of imaginative, civic-minded thinking that can restore our faith in city and state leaders.
The New York State Senate and Assembly have recognized Governors Island as the birthplace, in 1624, of the state of New York. They have also acknowledged the island as the place on which the planting of the “legal-political guaranty of tolerance onto the North American continent” took place (Resolutions No. 5476 and No. 2708).
Since the decision by the United States Coast Guard to vacate the Island in 1995, the Governors Island Alliance has worked collaboratively and successfully to help secure its return to New York and to ensure that the public interest determine its reuse The Alliance and its 50 member organizations led a campaign to see Governors Island returned back to New York for public purposes, a mandate embodied in GIPEC’s 2003 charter to create "an educational, recreational, and cultural center that will offer a broad range of public uses", create about 90 acres of parks and public spaces, and abide by design restrictions in the National Landmark Historic District.
The Governors Island Alliance is working with its many partners to make these commitments a reality, and engage the public in their planning. The Alliance publishes a monthly electronic newsletter that provides the latest information on Island happenings. Equally important, the Alliance is working to enliven the Island with a variety of recreation and arts programs so that visitors can enjoy this harbor destination. Last summer, a record 55,000 people enjoyed a variety of free public programs, car-free bicycle lanes, concerts, picnic grounds, and a great harbor views. You can also view a film of the Alliance’s 2007 opening day family festival
Since its transfer in 2003, Governors Island has been open to the public during the summer season. For the 2008 summer season the island is open Friday-Sunday from May 31 to October 4, 2008). The National Park Service provides additional access to the island via guided walking tours every Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. from May 31 to August 31, 2008. There are free ferries from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan. Visitors are invited to take a car-free bike ride, picnic, tour, enjoy outdoor art installations, and experience programs with the National Park Service. On Fridays, visitors can use a bike at no charge.
The Island will also welcome back the folk concert series sponsored by Trinity Wall Street and the Governors Island Alliance. This and other events are listed in the GIPEC schedule.
Janet Lambert, an author of 54 books of young adult fiction for girls from 1941 to 1969, resided on Governors Island while her husband was the post commander in the 1950s. Lambert's works, best known as the Penny and Tippy Parrish series, focused was the lives and the coming of age choices of army daughters during World War II and the Korea-era.
Governors Island was prominently featured in the IO Interactive game Freedom Fighters, in which it was used as the seat of power for the Soviet Armed Forces, which had invaded the United States. Governors Island is the final Soviet stronghold that must be scaled, in addition to its appearances in earlier missions.
In Spider-Man 2: The Video Game, the map claims that a large patch of the river is Governors Island when, in gameplay, there is nothing there. However, if the player gets close enough with the use of boats, the words "Governors Island" appear at the top of the screen and the minimap shows a lighter piece of Hudson River for some unknown reason. It is possible that the game designers intended to build the island but never got around to completing it.
In Spider-Man 3: The Video Game, the mission "Scorpion Unleashed" takes place at Governors Island, only it is owned by Mechabiocon (which makes military weapons) and cannot be reached, except on that mission.
In Massive Entertainment's World in Conflict video game, Governors Island is captured by Soviet Spetsnaz forces and must be retaken, along with Ellis Island and Liberty Island via amphibious assault in an alternate 1989.
The finale of Linda Fairstein's murder mystery "Killer Heat" takes place on Governors Island.
The drug-making operation in the housing project in the film American Gangster, with Denzel Washington, is filmed in a now unoccupied (deemed for demolition) U.S. Military building on Governor's Island.