Governors Island is a 172 acre (70 hectors) island in Upper New York Bay, one-half mile from the southern tip of Manhattan Island and separated from Brooklyn by Buttermilk Channel. The island is recognized as the birthplace in 1624 of the State of New York.
It originally started as a flat, treeless 103 acre (42 hector) island, but its size was increased to 172 acres when clever New Yorkers, under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers decided it would be an excellent place to deposit the 4,787,000 cubic yards of fill obtained from the excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway in 1912.
The name, Governors Island was adopted in English Colonial Times when the island was used exclusively by New York royal governors. A fortress was built on the island in 1624. Subsequently it was used by the Continental Army troops as a defense post to protect the Continental Army from the British troops during the American Revolutionary War. From 1783-1966 the island was a United States Army post, owned by the U.S. government. From 1966 to 1996 the island was a United States Coast Guard installation. In 2001, two of the island’s historical fortifications, Fort Jay and Castle Williams were proclaimed National Monuments.
In 2003, 150 acres of the island were transferred to the people of New York for $1.00, much to the vexation of many developers who had been hoping to be able to purchase it turn it into a resort Mecca with gambling casinos. The remaining 22 acres of the island which were kept by the Federal government have been designated as “Governors Island National Monument” to be administered by the National Park Service.
In 2009, a 3 acre commercial organic farm, operated by the non-profit organization, “Added Value” was launched. Subsequently the New York Harbor School, a small public high school in Bushwick, Brooklyn relocated to Governors Island in 2010. It was the island’s first tenant. Artist Studios, run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, also opened in historic building #110 in 2010.
The combined use of Governors Island as a recreation area, national monument, and a place for educational and artistic facilities, is a stunning example of what government can do best: preserve a national treasure for regulated, sustainable public use.
Governors Island is accessible by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn.