Friday Five From Governors Island

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.

Everyone has to wait for the ferry, even guys with tattoo sleeves. How you doin’?

View from our 10 minute ferry ride: The southern tip of Manhattan is on the left. The Brooklyn Bridge is in the foreground and the Manhattan Bridge is behind it.

Lower Manhattan from the ferry

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.

The commander’s residence on 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.

Biking on land created from the Lexington Avenue subway line.

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.

Governors Island version of the clown car

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.

The Face of Liberty

The real deal

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 Treehouse

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.

The Staten Island Ferry passes by Governors Island. The tall building in the center is the new World Trade Center. The slightly shorter building to the right is the new Deutsch Bank Building which was heavily damaged after September 11 and had to be torn down.

Are there any destinations or exhibits on your summer to do list?

Have a great weekend, everyone!



  1. What a great visit. I didn’t even know the place existed. (I know–I don’t get our much. LOL) And the exhibit looks fun–escpecially the tree house. Guess I’m still a kid at heart.

    No big plans for us this weekend, but hope you have good one, Jackie.



  2. I’ve never heard of Governors Island, or if I had I blocked it out of my memory. I loved all of the historical facts. I wonder what I could buy with some nails.


      1. I’ve always felt I was born in the wrong century…except I do love hot showers, dishwashers, and chai lattes. I think I’m stuck.


    1. Governors Island is directly across the harbor from Ellis Island, but it’s only open through Labor Day and then the ferry stops running. I took all those photos with my iPhone. Can you believe it?


  3. A wonderful tour, Jackie! Thank you, my dear–I always look forward to your tours and seeing places I still miss. Summer in NY is so special–heat and humidity are a small price to pay for so much activity and energy and things to see. Hope you and sweet Reggie are staying cool. (Might be time for ice cream, huh, Reggie? Tell your mom I said so 😉 )


    1. Summer is a lot of fun in NYC! Reggie particularly likes the ices at Uncle Louie G’s. Strawberry flavor, of course. Sometimes we go to dog beach in Prospect Park. He’s the only springer I know afraid to put his paws in the water!


      1. Sweet Olive and I moved out of Brooklyn the day after I rescued her/she rescued me, so we never got to know about the dog beach in Prospect Park! If you and Reggie ever might post a pic of it, I’d be thrilled to see you there! 🙂


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