1. Isn’t it amazing how you can live in a place for years and never visit the local sights? Despite Governors Island sitting right there in New York harbor, for like ever, I’d never been. Last Sunday that changed when friends and I spent the day on Governors Island, a small spit of land just off the southern tip of Manhattan. I really had no excuse not to go (though I tried to come up with a few)… it’s a mere 10 minute ferry ride from Pier Six in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
2.Nut Island. The Manahata, among the area’s original inhabitants, called this place Pagganck (Nut Island) because of all the chestnut trees, which are still plentiful around the island. They mainly used Pagganck as a base to set up fishing camps. Under no circumstances would I eat anything caught from the East River today. I’m not sure I would even dip my toes in the water without the benefit of a full hazmat suit.
Then, the Dutch arrived. In June 1637, one Wouter Van Twiller, a representative of Holland, purchased the island from the tribe for his private use for two ax heads, a string of beads and a handful of nails. But the joke was on him because the Dutch government confiscated it from him a year later. I guess he never got repaid for all of those nails.
Then, the British arrived. In 1664, they captured New Amsterdam, including the island, and renamed it New York, but the Dutch weren’t going down without a fight. The island switched hands many times due to its strategic location until the British finally gained control for the “benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors.” And the name permanently changed to Governors Island.
3. George Wuz Here. And Mikhail too. The British forced General George Washington and his Continental Army to flee when fighting broke out in August 1776, which I wrote more about here. For the next two centuries, the island was an important military stronghold with a fort and castle constructed for defense purposes. Eventually it was turned over to the US Coast Guard, housing 3,500 personnel and their families. Under the watchful eye of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor, President Reagan hosted a US/USSR summit with Mikhail Gorbachev on the island in 1988.
4. Upcycling. Let’s say that you have an extra 5 million cubic yards of dirt lying around. It’s the early 1900s and you’ve just dug a big hole for the Lexington Avenue subway line. You want to dump this dirt, but where? A motor cross speedway would be perfect, but that hasn’t been invented yet. Why not send it on down the river to Governors Island and create some real estate? Originally 69 acres, the island was expanded to 172 acres with landfill.
4. Figment. Today, most of the island is used for recreation having been sold by the US government to the good people of New York for $1.00. Aside from picnicking under the trees or riding a bike along the miles of paths, the island hosts numerous events throughout the summer. When we were there, an interactive art exhibit, known as Figment, was taking place and 25,000 people came out to see the 200 projects posted around the island.
One installation was The Face of Liberty. Created by Zaq Landsberg, it is a 1:1 scale replica of the statue, but here you can get up close and personal. People were allowed to climb and slide on her facial features.
Another fun exhibit was TreeHouse, by Benjamin Jones, a brightly colored tree house made entirely of reclaimed materials from the streets of Brooklyn. There was a slide to go down, shutters to open and close, and buzzers to press. The gong made me think I was on a bad tv game show.
The 9-hole mini-golf course was a big hit with the under 10 set, though I wonder if they understood this year’s theme: Arcade. Each hole was designed with an arcade game in mind.
Unbelievably, it was all FREE! From the interactive games to the art exhibits to the ferry ride, it was all no charge. (There is a fee to rent a bicycle, but you can bring your own on the ferry if you like.) As if that all wasn’t enough, the people watching was EXTRAordinary.
Are there any destinations or exhibits on your summer to do list?
Have a great weekend, everyone!