• Quarters 19
    History,  News

    A Yellow House Turns 127 in 2017

    With the Island closed to the public until May, we’ll take a look at some of the history of Governors Island. Nolan Park is the gem of the Historic District. While Quarters 1, the 1843 Commanding Officer’s Quarters, gets most of the attention for its architectural flair, I’m drawn to the fifteen yellow homes. This is the former officer family housing, built between 1845 and 1902. It’s mind boggling to think how many military families lived in these homes going back to when President John Tyler was in office. Before we study Quarters 19, here is a walk through the history of this part of the island. Originally, the east…

  • U.S. Army Eating
    History,  News

    Turkey & Fixings Served Soldiers on Island in 1934

    An army travels on its stomach. Every private hears that in recruit training. But what if you were in the U.S. Army stationed on Governors Island during Thanksgiving, and not going anywhere? Army cooks and bakers were ready to serve. According to a Fort Jay Thanksgiving Dinner menu for November 29, 1934, the men ate well. The menu consisted of: Roast Turkey Stuffed Olives Hearts of Celery Oyster Soup and Oyster Dressing Giblet Gravy Cranberry Sauce Mashed Potatoes and Candied Sweet Potatoes Fruit Salad Sweet Relish Vienna Rolls For Dessert: Pumpkin Pie and Mince Pie Cocoanut Cake, Fruit Cake, and Chocolate Cake Ice Cream with fruit, assorted nuts, and mixed…

  • History,  News

    50th Anniversary of Coast Guard Change in Ownership

    Fifty years ago today on June 30, 1966, the U.S. Army turned over Governors Island to the Coast Guard. This step was the beginning of the final chapter in the military use of the Island, and set the stage for New York to get a public park more than thirty years later. In 1964 the Army announced that its role on Governors Island would cease, and elected to leave the Island. It would consolidate First Army and other units at Fort Meade, Maryland. The expense of maintaining structures from the 19th Century, and vast landscaping, proved to be too great for the service. The staff relocated service personnel and families…

  • History

    The Forlorn Landmark YMCA Building Turns 90

    With the Island closed to the public until May 28, we’ll take a look at some of the history of Governors Island. Ninety years ago this summer a building opened on the Island to great acclaim and was once one of the most popular on the Island. It has not been in use since President Kennedy was in office and today is boarded-up and closed. This is the Army YMCA, next door to the Fort Jay Theatre, which is also closed to the public. It faces Owasco Road, north of Cartigan Road (N 40.688006 E -74.016971). The first YMCA was built on Governors Island in 1900 to provide a place…

  • History

    Stories About the Buildings: Post Theatre

    With the Island closed to the public until May 28, we’ll take a look at some of the history of Governors Island. Another of the most visible of the unused structures from Fort Jay is the old Post Theatre (building 330). Its coordinates are N 40.687681, E -74.017593 and is located next to another vacant building, the YMCA. Constructed in 1937, Building 330 is a two-story theatre building faced with reddish-brown brick laid in American bond. The main block of the building has brick quoins at the corners and a slate-covered hipped roof. On the north side is a two-story gabled projection above the entrance portico. This projection has three…

  • U.S.S. Relief
    History

    From 1898, the Tragic Tale of Captain Gilman

    History stories about Governors Island are presented until the Island opens on May 28. I had a lot of material that would not fit into The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide. This tragic story about an Army officer from the Island, sick and dying during the Spanish-American War in 1898, is a lost story that I came across. It says as much about courage as it does the ill-prepared medical corps. One-hundred seventeen years ago Benjamin Hidden Gilman, West Point Class of 1872, died with his wife and son at his bedside on Governors Island. The little family was in their house in one of the officers’ quarters. Perhaps it was…

  • History

    What Governors Island Was Like in 1890

    What was life like for soldiers stationed on Governors Island? Here is an account that appeared in The World, Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, in 1890. The headline: “Beautiful Lawns and Pretty Homes Under Frowning Guns.” This was twenty years before the Island was expanded by landfill, officers rode horses on the Parade Ground, and there was no electricity. The unnamed reporter includes a brief history of Governors Island (not wholly accurate). Fort Columbus was the 19th Century name for Fort Jay, renamed in 1904. (Note: No words have been changed). From The World, June 5, 1890, page 3. The life of one of Uncle Sam’s soldiers, if he is lucky enough…

  • Early Birds Monument
    History,  News

    The Early Birds Monument and Governors Island Aviation Pioneers

    Governors Island played an important role in the history of aviation. Each week this month will be a historical look at one event in the island’s contribution to the history of manned flight. The Early Birds Monument is the only tribute to the island’s part in the early days of aviation. It is located outside Liggett Hall (40.687967 N, -74.018033 E). The unique bronze monument is also the first public sculpture on Governors Island. This rough-cut granite marker has a bronze propeller that was cast from a wooden one used by Wilbur Wright on the Island in 1909. The monument was dedicated on Dec. 17, 1954 to honor pioneering aviators…

  • Katherine Stinson
    History

    Pioneer Aviator Katherine Stinson, the Schoolgirl Pilot, Lands in 1917

    Governors Island played an important role in the history of aviation. Each week this month will be a historical look at one event in the island’s contribution to the history of manned flight. Many other pioneering aviators followed the first men to fly on the Island, Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtiss. In 1916 Ruth Law (1887-1970) broke the American record for cross-country flying. On Nov. 20, 1916, she flew from Chicago to Governors Island, a distance of 950 miles, in a little less than nine hours in the air. The following year another young woman captured the nation’s attention at the tiny Governors Island airfield built at Fort Jay. This…

    Comments Off on Pioneer Aviator Katherine Stinson, the Schoolgirl Pilot, Lands in 1917
  • Glenn Curtiss
    History

    Glenn Curtiss and the 1910 Flying Marksman of Fort Jay

    Governors Island played an important role in the history of aviation. Each week this month will be a historical look at one event in the island’s contribution to the history of manned flight. Wilbur Wright snared glory in 1909 on Governors Island. The next year his chief rival, Glenn H. Curtiss, snared something much more valuable on the Island: military contracts. While Orville and Wilbur Wright earned one kind of fame, Curtiss sewed up War Department funding. Some of the first-ever military airplane demonstrations happened in the same spot where Liggett Terrace is today. Like the Wrights, Curtiss also came from a humble background and had a keen interest in…