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.

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!

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

Island Archives: Looking over the Island

We’ve been having lots of fun updating you on what is underway and coming up on Governors Island. As a change of pace, we thought we’d have a visit from Island Archives and share a great panorama of the island from 1938. The image is in three parts so stay tuned for further views. Here, you can see  the southern end of the historic district with views of Liggett Hall and down onto the fairly empty landfill.  Lots of early WWI storage facilities were already torn down while the building boom of the early Coast Guard years was still three decades away. In the foreground you can see a row of barracks and a playground long gone.

Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service.Annotation on the image are from the original.

Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Annotation on the image are from the original.

Thanksgiving on Governors Island (a recipe)

We’re putting down the jackhammers and hanging up our safety vests for Thanksgiving. We wish you all a happy and healthy feast.

And from the Enlisted Men’s Wives Club of Governors Island Cookbook, here’s a fun twist on a Thanksgiving fave:

Spoiler alert: IT’S BANANAS!

Island Archives: Island Cuisine

Next season on Governors Island visitors will enjoy an array of tasty food choices, but good eating has a long history on the island. During the Coast Guard period, upwards of 5,000 people a day could be found living and/or working on the island. Among them was a group called the “Enlisted Mens Wives Club.” One of their projects was a comprehensive cookbook of favorite recipes from the islands chefs.

The menus are varied and diverse from “Drunk Meatballs” to bagels to “Banana Breeze Pie.” The book also includes some cooking basics and conversion charts for new cooks and charmingly illustrated chapter breaks.

If Cabbage Soup isn’t your thing, perhaps a nice hash?

The cookbook even provides ideas for the weight conscious.

If you see anything that looks good, go ahead, cook it up and let us know what you think!

Want to Come to Governors Island in the Middle of the Week?

Rangers give tours of Governors Island on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Governors Island is open every Friday-Sunday and all holiday Mondays from now through September 25. But did you know that you can have special weekday access to the Island on Wednesdays and Thursdays?
On these days, you can take a “Hike Through the National Historic Landmark District” and “Journey to the Past” with the National Park Service on the Island. Your experience begins with a free ferry ride at 10 AM or 1:15 PM and continues once you arrive on the Island. A team of Rangers dressed in period clothing will guide you on this 1.5 mile, one and a half hour walking tour and hands on experience. This new program invites you to participate in an interactive living history program and see the island’s history through the eyes       
 of “guests” from the past. 
The program is entirely free but does require tickets, which you can get from National Park Service rangers at the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan. Groups of 10 or more should make reservations by contacting NPS at 212-825-3045.
So come out and experience the history of Governors Island as you never have before!                                                               


Island Archives: A Look at Governors Island’s Picturesque Past

Oldies But Goodies

As the 2010 season on Governors Island draws to a close, it is fun to look back at all the events and activities that this summer brought.  While on the Island, have you ever paused to wonder how it would have been to spend a day recreating on Governors Island 100 years ago? Despite being a hard working Army headquarters, recreation did occur.  Wonder no more, the following illustrates Governors Island’s lengthy history of fun!  

Governors Island garden parties then. 

1908 Garden Party. All images Courtesy of Library of Congress.

And now. 

Garden party at the Polo Classic

Military drills then: 

Military Drills on the Parade Grounds

And now. 

Drills during Army Heritage Weekend

Fanciful costumes then: 

Fun at the garden party, 1908.

And now. 

Fun with costumes and hats at Jazz Age Festival

Musical interludes then: 

Island concert.

And Now. 

Concert during Figment Festival

For all the exciting change on Governors Island, maybe some things remain the same…..


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 22,233 other followers