If you look at a map of New York City, there are a few islands dotted around Manhattan. I’ve already been to Roosevelt Island, if you remember, and today I ventured to another: Governors Island – which was good timing because this is the last weekend of the year that it’s open. This is where she is:
The island is open every weekend of the summer until the end of September – and it’s free. Ferries depart every half an hour from Manhattan or every hour from Brooklyn, so this morning I jumped on the ferry at Brooklyn Bridge Park (yes, my fourth trip there this week!) and boarded among babies and bicycles for the 10-minute trip.
We pulled up on the south side of the island and swarmed onto the paths.
The island is a bizarre place because although it has tons of housing, no one lives there. It was originally used as a military base after it was claimed by the Army in the 18th century – they built a fortification called Castle Williams, as well as housing and a fort, Fort Jay. The circular Castle was later used as a prison. In the 1960s, the Coast Guard took over but in the mid-90s, everyone left and now no one lives there – although students do attend the New York Harbor School on the island. In 2001, it was declared a National Monument.
It means it’s a very strange place. It is immaculate – one of the most gorgeous, well kept, serene places I’ve been to in New York – and the housing is somehow uniform but charming. And yet, the rooms are empty. If you wipe down one of the windows and peer inside, there are simply dust-covered hallways and dark corners. The whole thing just seems such a waste because there’s all this prime housing just a stone’s throw from Lower Manhattan – where it’s hard to track down any living space – and yet the place isn’t lived in.
Whenever I come to places like this, I always love mulling over what daily life would have been like there. I wandered through the houses, past a school and a library, through the fortress-turned-prison and across a moat to the stunning Fort Jay. This may sound like a lot, but the whole place – which is 172 acres – took about an hour to walk around.
For this weekend only, you could also have a peek at the two-thirds of the island that’s undergoing a massive overhaul. They’re building soccer fields and parklands, and this weekend they opened the gates to let us look inside. At the moment it’s just saplings and again, it was just smaller than I thought.
After a few hours on the island, I jumped on the ferry to Manhattan, the ‘Governors Island’ sign becoming smaller and smaller.
When I left the island, I realised it would’ve been much better to get the Manhattan ferry over. Whereas the Brooklyn ferry docks on the south side of the island, the Manhattan ferry arrives to the east side. And it’s here that you get introductory information such as plaques detailing the island’s history. You don’t get this on the Brooklyn landing, so I walked around the island for hours wondering what the whole place was about.
That being said, this was a bloody great trip. I think it’s one of the best places I’ve been to this whole year. And it’s a shame that it closes this weekend because I want to tell people to go! The journey there is quick, it’s free and once you’re there, you can take it at your own pace – you can sightsee like I did, or you can loll about in the grass with a picnic for hours. Plus you have an unrivaled view of Manhattan and Jersey. Ridiculous.