After a year of negotiations, New York City has reached an agreement to take over Governors Island from New York State. Up until now, the city and state have shared in its operation.
Much of Governors Island to Become a New City Park
If all goes according to plan, much of the 172-acre piece of land will be turned into a city park, but hopes are that a high school and commercial area can also be built. It is also anticipated that eventually, a satellite campus for New York University could be located there as well.
The acquisition is a feather in the cap for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, for whom the development of public parks has long been a priority. In March, 2010, NYC reached a similar deal concerning Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Bloomberg hopes in the future to purchase Battery Park City from New York State, as well.
A Fortunate Location in New York Harbor
Situated in New York Harbor, Governor’s Island lies one half mile south of Manhattan’s Battery Park, and about one-quarter mile west of Brooklyn. This makes it easily accessible by ferry from both locations. But despite its favorable location, previous attempts to redevelop Governors Island have been hindered by legal battles, money woes and development constraints.
History of Governors Island
Native Americans of the area once used Governors Island as a fishing camp. They called it Pagganck, or “Nut Island,” because of the many oak, chestnut and hickory trees which grew there.
In 1637, Dutchman Wouter Van Twiller bought Nut Island from the Indians for his own personal use. The purchase price was two ax heads, a handful of nails, and a string of beads. Van Twiller didn’t get to enjoy it for long; the Dutch Government confiscated Nut Island for its own use, one year later.
Governors Island is Captured by the English
When the English captured New Amsterdam in 1664, they got Nut Island too. It took the English ten years to get full control, at which time they dedicated the island to “His Majesty’s Governors,” and renamed it “Governors Island.” One hundred and ten years later, that name became official.
Strategic Location Makes Governors Island Perfect for Military Use
Strategically located as it was, Governors Island was used by both British and American military forces for over 200 years. During the American Civil War, it served as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers.
In 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers, using 4,787,00 cubic yards of landfill obtained from the excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway, expanded the island from its original 69 acres to its present 172. The fill was dumped on the south side, giving Governors Island its current unique shape.
During both World Wars, Governors Island served as an Army supply base. In 1966, the U.S. Coast Guard took over, and remained established there until 1995, when it finally closed its base on Governors Island.
Governors Island Shuts Down
In September, 1996, the last remaining residential personnel were relocated, and Governors Island was shut down. It remained dormant until 2002, when New York purchased Governors Island from the United States of America for the nominal fee of one dollar. The transfer officially took place in 2003.
The Future of Governors Island
Restrictions in the 2003 deed forbid the construction of any casinos or permanent housing on Governors Island. But New York City plans to spend $220 million to turn forty acres of Governors Island into a public park by planting 1,300 new trees and replacing existing roadways with greenery. The City also plans to remodel the Soissons Ferry Pavilion to include a waiting area, bookstore, restrooms and concession stands. It will also create a special area called “Hammock Grove,” featuring hammocks in which park visitors can nap, and will provide free bicycles for visitors’ use in getting around.
Governors Island Opens for the Season on June 5, 2010
Construction of the new public park is slated to begin in 2012. In the meantime, the National Park Ranger Service has planned special programs, lectures and self-guided activities to take place on Governors Island this year. Governors Island is scheduled to open for the 2010 season on June 5, and the full list of events, along with a ferry schedule, will be posted here about the middle of May, 2010.
Special Events on Governors Island for the Year 2010
New York State History: Brief History of Governors Island
National Park Service: Governors Island
Governors Island Gets a Green Makeover