• Eagle Sculpture

    #SaveOurEagle Campaign Launches at Fort Jay

    Following up on what we wrote about last week during the restoration work of the eagle sculpture at Fort Jay, comes word that the National Park Service is taking the fundraising public. The Governors Island National Monument is now in a competition with other national parks across the nation to try and get a piece of the $2 million pie to bring the sculpture back to its former glory. The eagle needs help. Yesterday the Friends of Governors Island announced that they are backing the effort: The sandstone eagle sculpture atop Fort Jay’s monumental arch on Governors Island is a one-of-a-kind national treasure and work of art, but two centuries…

  • Castle Williams

    Book Signing at Castle Williams May 28-29

    I am signing copies of my new book The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide (Globe Pequot Press) on Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, from 11 AM to Noon both days. The location is a national historic landmark, a city landmark: Castle Williams on Governors Island. The fort is part of the Governors Island National Monument and is run by the National Park Service. The rangers have free tours of Castle Williams. I’ll be in the courtyard on opening weekend of Governors Island. Immediately following the book signings I’m leading free walking tours of the Island, starting at Soissons Dock, where the Manhattan ferry comes lands, at 12:15. By purchasing…

  • Eagle Sculpture

    Restoration of Fort Jay Eagle Sculpture Underway

    On Tuesday I was able to get a sneak peek inside Fort Jay at the restoration work ongoing by the National Park Service to repair the Eagle Sculpture. This is the large sculpture from the 1790s, made of sandstone by an unknown artist, that is above the fort’s sallyport. It was damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Michael Shaver, chief of interpretation of the Governors Island National Monument, led us. Ranger Shaver explained that funding for the storm repair is allowing for a master stone carver to replace and repair the pieces damaged in the storm. Currently the bottom of of the flags is being replaced. The “new” stone was…

  • 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…

  • Quarters 409

    Take a Free Island History Walking Tour, May 28-29

    To celebrate the fourteenth public season of Governors Island opening, there will be free history walking tours on Saturday, May 28, and Sunday, May 29. The walks will meet at 12:15 p.m. at Soissons Dock on the Island (see below). A free walking tour will focus on the three hundred years of island history. Learn about the people and stories that shaped Governors Island. Stops explore the military life, Civil War and World War I events, aviation pioneers, and even where the tiny railroad once ran. The tour is led by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, author of The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide (Globe Pequot Press). • See 50 locations on the…

  • Golf Course Sign 2

    Golfing On Governors Island Saved the Parade Ground

    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…

  • Doughboys

    Doughboy Day at Fort Jay on Sept 17 Honors WW1

    Governors Island played a critical role in America’s involvement with World War I. It was the headquarters of the First Army, and General John J. Pershing began his trip to France to lead the American Expeditionary Forces from the Island. On Saturday, Sept. 17, come out to the Governors Island National Monument for a day of living history that honors and tells the story of the men and women who fought in the Great War: • Full day of living history of World War I • See re-enactors in vintage frontline uniforms • Equipment displays and demonstrations • Talks and discussions on World War I and Fort Jay • Free…

  • 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

    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…