Even for those who've made the voyage over to Governors Island, questions remain. Is that a fortress? Are there any governors there? What is this tiny island doing floating out here between Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island? What are all of those colonial buildings doing there?
Puzzle not. This enigmatic enclave has much to offer historically, and recreationally, for weary souls seeking a fair-weather staycation within city limits. In honor of the island's seasonal opening this Saturday, May 24, we present to you our 10 favorite things you might not know about Governors Island.
There is food. Oh, so much food.
Ok, sure, you may have already known there were things to eat here. After all, it’s not possible to host all-day festivities without sustenance. But this year there’s a whole host of delicious vendors cooking up treats for their first summer on the island. Alchemy Creamery, Perfect Picnic, Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights, Little Eva’s, Mr. Softee and Veronica’s Kitchen are open all week long, and come the weekend, there’s also Blue Marble Ice Cream, Brooklyn Soda Works, Carl’s Steaks, Gov’nors Beach Club, Mayhem & Stout, Pyramid Coffee, Sweet Chili’s and Wafles & Dinges.
There is no potable water on the island.
You won’t find any drinking fountains over yonder. Ever since the Coast Guard manned the island from the 1960s through the 1990s, the water filtration system has fallen into disrepair. Right now, the city is working on a major project to get clean water flowing again. In the meantime though, the restrooms are all fine and dandy to use.
But, yes, there is booze.
Little Eva’s, Gov’nors Beach Club and Mayhem & Stout all offer hooch on their menus for those who’d like imbibe.
That big white building shaped like an octagon is not for people.
Sitting atop its own tiny, tiny island, it serves as a ventilator shaft for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. There are 3 other places, 2 in Lower Manhattan and 1 in Brooklyn, where air is released from inside the tunnel, so ya know, we’re not breathing terrible things when driving or cabbing it through there.
There is an entire area in the park devoted to hammocks.
For the 2014 season, Governors Island is unveiling 30 acres of brand spankin’ new park space, including (our favorite, naturally) “a sunny ten-acre space that is home to 1,500 new trees, play areas and 50 hammocks” that will be appropriately known as Hammock Grove.
The first two ferries of the morning are free.
Governors Island is only accessible by boat, so get your sea legs ready landlubbers. On weekdays, ferries to and from the island cost $2 per person roundtrip, but on Saturdays and Sundays, both the 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. ferries are free. Plus, bringing bicycles on board any day of the week comes at no additional charge, with no special permit required. Ferries run from Lower Manhattan all seven days of the week, and from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturdays, Sundays, Memorial Day and Labor Day.
It really did belong to governors once.
The island gets its name from its early years under British control. It was officially named “Governors Island” in 1784 to be used exclusively by colonial governors who ruled on behalf of the British royalty.
There is a castle — and you can explore it.
From the Staten Island Ferry, you may have seen Castle Williams looming near the water’s edge. Built in 1807 to protect the city from naval attacks, it makes up the Governors Island National Monument along with Fort Jay. During the Civil War it was used to house Union soldiers and imprison Confederates and deserters. Today, after a rehabilitation project, it’s open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with tours available throughout the day to check out all 3 levels of the building — including the roof!
They do Civil War Reenactments here.
With all the colonial buildings that remain on the island, it’s the perfect setting for such a historical — and, ok, nerdy — pursuit. This year marks a portion of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which continues from 2011 through 2015, so expect to see some major flare this year. Keep your eyes peeled for the annual reenactment in August, when folks go full-costume and full-cannon fire.
Next year, it’ll be home to four huge man-made hills.
If all this stuff going on here wasn’t enough, more is coming. Construction is currently underway on The Hills, a park that will rise above the southern end of the island, offering some sweet views of the harbor, skyline and Lady Liberty. It’s slated to be complete in 2015. All the more reason for extra exploring next year, too.