I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like to hear about when the Parade Ground on Governors Island was used for a golf course. Walking around it, one can still make out where some of the tees and bunkers once where. When the Island opened to public visits in 2003, there were still sand in the traps and warning signs posted around the perimeter. It must be Golf Day or Golf Week, or another made-up holiday. This week the Governors Island National Monument Facebook Page had a funny story that was attached to its history. It’s interesting because this is the first time I thought that since the Army (and Coast Guard) had a golf course it prevented development, which means today there is a wonderful 12-acres open space for us to enjoy. Have a read what the NPS posted:
Last year, Google and the National Park Service set out to post photos of important museum objects in the National Park collections across the country. This week that online exhibit opened (here). For us, we nominated our very first cataloged object, a “Keep Off the Grass” sign. Besides being a slightly rusty old sign, it represented all sorts of tales.
The note with our submission was: “When Superintendent Linda Neal arrived at the newly established Governors Island National Monument in May 2003, she found this sign toppled over on the grounds surrounding the star-shaped, War of 1812-era fortification, Fort Jay. The sign spoke to the long military control of Governors Island, just off the tip of Manhattan in New York Harbor, first by the U.S. Army from 1794 to 1966 and the U.S. Coast Guard, the most recent occupant who closed their base there in 1996. In January 2003, the 172 acre island was conveyed to the National Park Service to establish a 22 acre national monument and 150 acres to the people of New York for redevelopment into educational, cultural and recreational purposes.
Fort Jay is considered one of the best surviving examples of American defensive fortifications from the early 19th century. Its preservation was due in no small part to its surrounding defensive landscape use as a parade ground, a polo ground, and finally since the 1920s, as a golf course – the only one in Manhattan and its worst 8 hole course (one hole had to be played twice). There are few parcels of real estate as sacrosanct on an army post as the golf course, even with multiple intersecting fairways that could pose hazards to even battle hardened officers. Unlike many historic army posts that lost their landscapes and structures to never ending missions during the 20th century, this golf course preserved the fort and its surrounding landscape from encroachment or destruction. Now abandoned, the old course is parkland and a rare open space, just a few minutes ferry ride from Lower Manhattan and the Financial District, which in the early years of the nation, Fort Jay defended.”
We neglected to talk about the generations of Army and Coast Guard brats who disregarded the sign under cover of darkness and at the risk of capture by the military police…
Thanks to the National Park Service for the great history story. Follow them on Twitter here. Don’t forget, the Island opens on May 28. For more history stories, pickup The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide (Globe Pequot Press).
Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has written and edited seven books with ties to New York history, including "The Governors Island Explorer's Guide" and "World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War." Kevin is a licensed sightseeing guide and has been leading walking tours since 1999. He resides in Manhattan.