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Local Fun in NYC: Governor’s Island

Twice this summer Lindsay and I have visited Governor’s Island. We took our bikes and packed a wonderful picnic. If you are in the NY area, you should try to visit Governor’s Island before the summer is over. Here is some background and our pictures to get you interested!

What is Governor’s Island?

Governor’s Island is a small island smack in the middle of New York Harbor (Upper New York Bay). It was a US Army base and then Coast Guard Base, until 1996. Eventually it was sold to the City of New York for $1, and opened to the public in 2010.

It is shaped like an ice cream cone. The old, historic part is located in the “scoop”, and is full of terrific architecture. At the souther tip of the “cone” is a nice park with views of the Statue of Liberty.

Governors Island Map

An interesting piece of trivia is that prior to the 20th century the island consisted entirely of the historic part. The rest was created from landfill that was excavated from the very fist subway!

The island’s first use was as a fort. Fort Jay still stands. It has a grassy “moat” around it. Rocking chairs are kindly provided to allow you to historically lounge on the interior or the fort. The middle (in grey on the map, pictured below) is currently fenced off, except for the perimeter. It is full of less interesting military housing stock built since the 1950s.

Fort Jay - MoatFort Jay - InteriorCannonballsOfficer Housing 3

Where is Governor’s Island?

Governor’s Island is only 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan. The (free) ferry ride takes less time than does the wait for the (free) ferry ride (which isn’t long at all).

The views are spectacular, and if you like to take photos, the best part about Governor’s Island is the unique vantage point. Most of the points of interest are familiar, but you get angles on them that are a bit different from the standard snapshots that people get from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

A path surrounds the perimeter of the island. Here is a series of photos that I shot from around the perimeter, starting facing north, towards Manhattan, at “noon” and then going clockwise around the island:

Left: Lower Manhattan.
Right: a zoom on Lower Manhattan and the work on 1 WTC (with a bonus Staten Island Ferry).

View of DowntownView of Downtown and 1 WTC

Left: South Street Seaport and the Chrysler Building.
Right: a unique perspective on three bridges (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg).

View of the South Street Seaport and the Chrysler BuildingView of Three Bridges

Left: a wider shot of the three bridges.
Right: a view east towards Red Hook, Brooklyn, only a few hundred feet across the Buttermilk Channel.

View of Three BridgesView of Red Hook

Left: a view south towards Staten Island and Port Elizabeth, NJ (notice the cruise ship), with a bonus clipper ship.
Right: a view west of the Statue of Liberty; this is the best view of it that you can get without getting on a boat!

View of Port Elizabeth and Two ShipsView of Statue of Liberty

Left: Ellis Island.
Right: a northwest view of Jersey City

View of Ellis IslandView of Jersey City

Getting There

During the summer, Ferries are available from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The main (free) Governors Island ferry departs from the Battery Maritime Building located at 10 South Street, adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry in Lower Manhattan.

These next three photos show how short the ride is from Battery Park. The first is a picture of the historic Maritime Building taken from the boat right after pulling out. The second is taken from the boat during the trip, and the third is taken from Governor’s Island. The Maritime Building can be seen to the right of the peoples’ heads. The fourth photo is of a better transportation option: rent your own schooner!

Manhattan DockManhattan DockDock from Governors IslandShip

Getting Around

Bringing your bikes to Governor’s Island is free (and it’s what we’d recommend). But in case that isn’t an option, you can rent bikes on the Island. The most popular options are a simple Dutch-style bike and a four-person quadcycle.

Bike RentalQuadrabike Rental

Collegiate Atmosphere

The architecture of the old part of the island makes you feel like you are in an old, ivy-league college town. The office buildings are very academic looking, and the housing stock for the senior offices is beautiful.

College TownCollege TownCollege TownCollege Town
Officer HousingOfficer HousingOfficer HousingOfficer HousingOfficer HousingOfficer HousingOfficer HousingChapel

Current Use

Right now, Governor’s Island is in a bit of a limbo. You can read all about the current long-term master plan, but in the interim, those responsible for the island are mostly interested in maintaining the historic infrastructure. As a result, they have allowed all types of artist groups to move in, in exchange for helping to keep on eye on the buildings and be watchful for maintenance needs.

There is a park of yellow houses that were officers’ quarters (painted that way because that particular shade of yellow can be mixed with local ingredients anywhere in the US). Most of these houses have a banner out front announcing which group occupies them, and many feature a store on the first floor. Groups include Storm King Arts Center and Etsy.

A result of all this “art” is a very festive atmosphere, with plenty of activities for the kids, as well as trapeze for the more adventurous, There is even a small organic (!). Unfortunately, when we were there it wasn’t much to look at due to the timing of the harvest.

I fear that eventually the park will be entirely redone and all of this transitional artistry will be evicted in favor of real corporate sponsorship, so visit now!

Storm King Sculpture and Visitor's CenterSculpture:  I call it:  "Do you know what it takes to sell real estate?"TrapezeTrapezeFarmFarm

Our One Complaint

One great aspect of the island: silence! There are no cars, so there is a peacefulness that we are not used to so close to home. Our one complaint: Governor’s Island’s proximity to the Lower Manhattan heliports means that there are constantly choppers flying low over the island, breaking into the tranquility.

Get to the Chopper!Get to the Other Chopper!

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