Governors Island Archives: Unearthed!

You never know what you’ll find when you excavate on Governors Island. While trenching for new storm water outfalls, we turned up a relic from the Island’s army days. At one point, the south end of the Island was crisscrossed by a web of train tracks that connected a sea of warehouses.

The ghost of a railroad past. Comment if you know more. Image courtesy of The Trust.

The ghost of a railroad past. Comment if you know more about this relic! Image courtesy of The Trust.

This appears to be part of a train car or hand cart. The wheels were cast in Baltimore, MD. Any train buffs have thoughts on what it was? Let us know! In the meantime, we’ll keep digging as we rehabilitate  the Island’s seawall and storm water system and we’ll let you know what else we find.

Governors Island Railroad. Image courtesy of the National Archives, Art Audley &

Map of the Governors Island railroad. Image courtesy of the National Archives, Art Audley &

A longer history of the Island’s train past can be read here.

What to Look For in the New Park

This weekend, the 30 acres of new park and public space designed by West 8 will be open to the public for the first time. Some visitors had the opportunity to take a hard hat tour last Summer, but now the park is hard hat free and ready for visitors! Here are some of the exciting things to see in the new park



Image by Tim Schenck, courtesy of the Trust.

Take a rest in Hammock Grove. Image by Tim Schenck, courtesy of the Trust.

What began as a suggestion from many visionary visitors is now reality. Take a stroll through Hammock Grove and then relax in one of our red hammocks. In the future, once the trees have had time to grow, the hammocks will be attached to the trees. In the meantime you will be resting between two sturdy wood posts.

Play Structures

New play structures on Governors Island. Image by Michele Castellano, courtesy of the Trust.

Climb onto our new play structures. Image by Michele Castellano, courtesy of the Trust.

An important part of the park design was a beautiful play area. Truly a child explorer’s paradise, the new play structures include a wooden climbing jungle gym, a rope tower, and swings. It will be fun for the whole family.


Liggett Terrace

Liggett Terrace. Image by Tim Schenck, courtesy of The Trust.

Take a seat in Liggett Terrace. Image by Tim Schenck, courtesy of The Trust.

The new lively green plaza at the entrance of the new park is equipped with all the necessities: plenty of seating, public art on view, and nearby food vendors.  Sit down with your lunch and stay awhile to view the beautiful art by Mark Handforth.


Play Lawn

The Play Lawn. Image by Tim Schenck, courtesy of The Trust.

Dramatic views make for dramatic games on the Play Lawn  Image by Tim Schenck, courtesy of The Trust.

Come and watch the youth and adult leagues that will be playing ball on Governors Island’s new ball fields. With Lady Liberty as umpire in the backdrop, we should see some exciting games this summer.


The Hills Construction

Building Slide Hill. Image by Lexi Quint, courtesy of The Trust.

Building Slide Hill. Image courtesy of The Trust.

At the edge of the new park, you will still see bulldozers and construction vehicles. The Trust is building the Hills. These four hills will be the culminating feature of the new park and will be completed in late 2015.

See our full summer calender here and ferry schedule here.




Oysters Oysters Oysters: A Trip to the Harbor School’s MAST Center

One permanent resident of Governors Island, our bivalve friend the oyster, has been increasing by the millions. New York Harbor School students, under the watchful eye of aquaculture teacher Pete Malinowski, are growing oysters on Governors Island with the aim to repopulate the NY Harbor. Since 2009, the students have successfully introduced 7.5 million oysters to several locations, including off of Governors Island, the Harbor Schools nursery in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a reef at the mouth of the Bronx River. The end goal? A billion oysters in 20 years through the Billion Oyster Project!

I toured the Harbor School’s oyster hatchery, the MAST Center, with Pete Malinowski. After showing me the tanks where young oyster larvae are grown, he had great news to share.

Interior of The MAST Center oyster hatchery.

Interior of The MAST Center oyster hatchery. These tanks hold millions of oyster larvae, though only few of them will survive and grow on a shell. Image courtesy of The Trust.

“This year for the first time we’re using New York Harbor water and these are the first bivalve oyster larvae grown in NY Harbor water.” “It’s a big deal because there is no way any of this [Billion Oyster Project] would be feasible if we couldn’t do it in NYC Harbor water.”

Although adult oysters can dramatically filter water, in the early stages of development the free floating spat are very sensitive to water quality conditions and will die in polluted water.

That oysters can reproduce in NY Harbor water at the high densities seen in the Harbor School hatchery is a major step forward for an area where oyster have had incredible difficulty growing since the 1920’s. Pete explained that the NY Harbor and the Hudson River used to have many billions of oysters that helped sustain an incredible underwater ecosystem. “There were over a hundred species of fish that either ate or lived in or gave birth in NY Harbor oysters beds.”

However, over-harvesting and pollution decimated the oyster population. By the middle of the 19th century, most of the native oysters were gone and by the 1920’s, the water was so polluted that even oyster farms couldn’t survive. It was only after the Clean Water Act of 1972 that NY Harbor water began to become less toxic.

For the Billion Oysters Project, growing oyster larvae in Harbor water is a milestone. Although the oysters are currently being grown in the controlled environment of the MAST center, the oysters will eventually have to reproduce in the NY Harbor on their own. This new batch of oysters prove that it is possible.

Spat recently attached to an oyster shell.

Harbor School oyster spat that recently attached to a shell. These are some of the first oysters grown in NY Harbor water at the MAST Center.  Image courtesy of The Trust.

For Pete, the number of oysters grown is really a byproduct. “The main reason I do it is to provide this experience to students. Most people don’t know what is going on in the water and it really changes your perspective.”

The oyster program is hitting its stride this year. For one, this year’s graduating class is the first with four years of aquaculture classes. Also, the Harbor School has been running an oyster gardening program to allow students in Middle School to have an oyster experience. Middle School teachers get oyster gardens hanging in the Harbor near their schools to take care of and bring students to.

 Thank you to the Harbor School and Pete Malinowski for the tour.


Construction Update

Further construction on the water pipes project on Governors Island ran into some unexpected problems this morning. An excavator accidentally uncovered a collection of graves protected by black magic.

 Uncovered zombie nest.

Uncovered zombie nest.

The zombie hoard, finally released from their endless sleep, wreaked havoc in the 30 acres of new West 8 designed park. After a few hours of brain feasting the zombie crowd however began to relax and could be seen joking together on the parade ground and napping in the hammocks in Hammock Grove.

Zombies couldn't be stopped. Image courtesy of the Trust.

Zombies couldn’t be stopped. Image courtesy of the Trust.


Zombie's dance on Fort Jay. Image courtesy of the Trust.

Zombie’s dance on Fort Jay. Image source


April fools 

Celebrity Sand on Governors Island

Sand more used to the spotlight than the sunlight is being brought to Governors Island for the Island’s potable water project.

Rocsi Diaz, left, Aaron Paul and Deion Sanders compete in DIRECTV's 8th annual Celebrity Beach Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Rocsi Diaz, left, Aaron Paul and Deion Sanders compete in DIRECTV’s 8th annual Celebrity Beach Bowl in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

This sand got its fifteen minutes of fame as part of DirectTV’s eighth annual Celebrity Beach Bowl. The event, played on a temporary sand field at Pier 40 on February 1st, invited sports stars and  celebrities to compete in (sources say) a very heated football game. Whose feet graced this sand? Some of the stars competing were Tracy Morgan, Joe Montana, and Serena Williams!

Tired of the limelight, the sand is now coming to Governors Island to trade in its fedora for a hard hat. The sand will be used as fill to secure the Island’s new water distribution pipes. The pipes will carry world-renowned Brooklyn tap water throughout Governors Island. The ‘celebrity sand’ will account for 15% of the total sand needed in this construction project!

Pipe ready to be laid on Governors Island. Image courtesy of The Trust.

Pipe ready to be laid on Governors Island. Image courtesy of The Trust.

Governors Island has received special sand once before; the sand from a giant sandcastle contest is being used in The Hills project.

Governors Island Fun Fact: Who Was Samuel S. Coursen?

The Lt. Samuel S. Coursen in transit

The Lt. Samuel S. Coursen in transit

Before Governors Island was transformed into a haven of culture and relaxation for New Yorkers to enjoy, it served as both an Army and Coast Guard base for over 200 years.  All three of Governors Island’s incarnations are combined in the Lt. Samuel S. Coursen ferry, which shuttles thousands of visitors to and from the Island every weekend during the summer. Lieutenant Coursen, the namesake of the 860 ton ferry, served in the Army and demonstrated tremendous heroism during the Korean War.

Given the Island’s military history, it is fitting that the ferry was named in honor of someone who fully embodied the ideals of the U.S. Army.  Having graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1945, Coursen was deployed to Korea five years later.   In a battle on October 12th, 1950, Coursen was killed in the act of saving a fellow wounded soldier.  Though he did not survive the encounter, Coursen’s sacrifice did allow the wounded soldier to live.  Tragically, Coursen was only 24 years old.

Coursen’s valor earned him not only a Purple Heart, but also the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor given in recognition of “risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”  Awarded a year after his death, Coursen is one of only 627 personnel to receive the award posthumously.  In 1956, a new passenger and vehicle ferry was christened the Lt. Samuel S. Coursen, which is the same boat that brings all of our visitors to the Island today and has reliably in use for almost sixty 60 years.

Last week would have been Lt. Coursen’s birthday so as we wanted to take a moment to salute him and the ferry that bears his name.

Governors Island Fun Fact: What’s a “Soissons”?


Governors Island fans know Soissons Landing as the place where the Coursen and Waterways Ferries drop off their visitors every weekend.  And while Island history aficionados may know of its original use as a military base for over two centuries, very few know the story behind the name “Soissons”.  So who, what, or where, is a Soissons?

As it turns out, Soissons is a city in Northern France that was the site of a WWI battle. A combination of French, British and American forces opposed German troops.  Soissons held strategic importance due to its close proximity to Paris, which made it a last line of defense before reaching the capital.  Over the five day period in 1918, Allied forces lost 125,000 soldiers, compared to 168,000 German casualties.  The Allied troops were also able to regain much of the ground lost during the German Spring offensive, which reversed the deepest advance of the War into Allied territory.

This July 18-22 marks the 95th Anniversary of the Battle of Soissons, so now you can celebrate the victory of our WWI heroes as you arrive to Governors Island this weekend!

Our beautiful Coursen ferry at Soissons Landing

Our beautiful Coursen ferry at Soissons Landing

Share Your Building 877 Memories

Building 877 in 2004 by Lisa Kereszi

Building 877 in 2004 by Lisa Kereszi

This Sunday, June 9th at precisely 7:36am, we will be imploding the largest building on Governors Island, Building 877.  This controlled demolition will clear space for over 30 acres of new park and public spaces. If you’d like to watch the implosion in real time, it can be seen from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, the Battery in New York City, or from the 7:30am Staten Island ferry leaving from Manhattan! We will also be livestreaming the implosion on this blog and through our youtube channel. Check back for more details later today.

Building 877 was constructed atop the landfill from the excavation from the Lexington Avenue subway line in 1905. With the consolidation of U.S. Military forces in 1966, the Island was transferred to the Coast Guard. Governors Island was the Coast Guard’s largest installation, serving both as a self-contained residential community, with an on-island population of approximately 3,500, and as a base of operations for the Atlantic Area Command and Maintenance and Logistics Command as well as the captain of the Port of New York. Building 877 was built to serve as housing for Coast Guard families. Though no longer functional, Building 877 has remained on the Island since it was abandoned in 1996.

Former residents, please share your memories of Building 877 in the comments!

Announcing the 2013 Season on Governors Island

GIA Family Festival

Governors Island’s summer season is right around the corner.

This year, programming will take place throughout the Historic District while we continue construction on the southern end of the Island.  Ferries will once again bring visitors from Manhattan and Brooklyn, or you can also take the East River Ferry to the Island. Governors Island is open every Saturday, Sunday and holiday Monday (Memorial Day and Labor Day) from May 25 through September 29.

As always, you can bring your own bike to the Island or they can rent one here. We will again be hosting a variety of food vendors each weekend, located in the King Avenue Food Court in the Historic District.

New Programs and Exhibits!

We’re welcoming several new programs to the Island this year, including the New York Historical Society’s  WWII & NYC: Photography and Propaganda, which will paint a vivid picture of New York City life in wartime through photographs, posters, a Victory Garden hands-on activities for all ages beginning July 13th.

The Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library are partnering with the Uni Project, New York City’s portable outdoor reading room, to provide books, learning activities, and children’s programs throughout the summer. Visitors will be able to borrow books “in house”, register for library cards, sign up for summer reading, learn more about the Uni, and find out about what’s happening in each of the three New York City public library systems.

Bike New York will also offer classes where visitors can learn to ride and brush up on their bike skills.

The highlight of the 2013 season will be a French festival of vintage carnival rides and carousels, opening in mid-July. The festival will take place in Nolan Park. More details about the festival will be released later this season.

Jazz Age Festival

Your Favorites Return!

This year we’re welcoming back some of our favorites including the Jazz Age Lawn Party, FIGMENT’s mini-golf, Tree House and City of Dreams Pavilion, and the Unicycle Festival. The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council will host a series of exhibits and open artist studios throughout the season. Visitors can also enjoy guided programs with the National Park Service, explore Castle Williams and Fort Jay and experience special youth programs.

Summer 2013 in the Historic District 

All programming this summer will take place in the National Historic District. The southern half of the Island, including Picnic Point, will be closed (with the exception of hard hat tours). This will allow us to continue our construction of 30 new acres of park and public spaces, work on the Island’s seawall and potable water pipe, and demolition of non-historic buildings. The closure of the southern portion is necessary to ensure the safety of the public and an on-time completion of these projects, allowing us to improve the island for the next generation.

Biking through the Historic DistrictNew Ways to View Construction Progress!

Those who would like to check in on our construction progress are in luck! There will be a Viewing Platform at Liggett Arch where visitors will be able to see the entire 30 acre construction site. The park and public spaces under construction include lively plazas, a shady botanic forest, two ball fields and expansive lawns. In addition, we will be offering free hard hat tours for the public on the last full weekend of each month.

For a full schedule of events and programs, up-to-date ferry schedules, information on our construction tour program, and downloadable maps, please visit

Looking forward to seeing you on the Island!

Images courtesy Arsenic & Old Lace (by Patrick Michael Hughes), the Governors Island Alliance, and istolethetv.

Island Archives: Looking over the island one more time.

Our final view of Governors Island looks north across the rooftops of Nolan Park. At the end of the row, you can see a new roof being added to Building 20-constructed in 1902.  This spring, Building 20 will receive yet another new roof along with all its neighbors is Nolan Park.

Image Courtesy of the National Park Service

For those of you with ample screen space, please click on the image to enjoy the full panorama below.

Image Courtesy of the National Park Service


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