Sunday, August 14, 2011

Governor's Island (2 of 2): Via Ferry from Downtown

Battery Maritime Building for Governor's Island Ferries
Boy am I glad that I went to the sesquicentennial (150th year anniversary) honoring of the Civil War yesterday.  Today's downpour has been relentless.

I would imagine that visiting Governor's Island on any day would be relaxing and interesting, but I was glad that when I visited there were historians re-enacting artillery drills, marching (see right), and answering questions about the lives of Union and Confederate and soldiers.

The 10 minute ferry ride from downtown is free and although if busy (like it was yesterday) it can feel a bit like a cattle call when boarding, the ride can help separate you mentally from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan in a refreshing way.  Once docked at Governor's Island, I would start a visit with a pit stop at the bookstore.  There you can pick up handouts about Governor's Island as a Civil War depot and training center, the way soldiers from Governor's Island helped put down the draft riots of 1863 in NYC, how Fort Jay and Castle Williams were used to house prisoners of war, and do-it-yourself walking tours of the island.

Barracks Surrounding the Parade Grounds
Without a stop at the bookstore, you might just wander around the parade grounds or around the various walkways.  You can spend a wonderful afternoon lying on a blanket on the grass or leisurely cycling along the paths, admiring the architecture  (see left) and imagining the history that took place here (President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev held their final meeting here as heads of state in 1988).

I really enjoyed the Civil War demonstrations, which included military encampments, musical performances (see right), a woman washing clothes in a bucket with a wash board, artillery firing (see below left), and cannon firings.  The historical reenactors were also very receptive to questions and explained, among other things, the differences in the French-styled caps (which were horrible in the rain and sun) and the civilian style hats with a wide brim which better sheltered the soldiers.  All in all I would highly recommend visiting Governor's Island during their annual Civil War Weekends, but if you can't make it I would simply recommend just going for a wonderful lazy day.

While the Civil War activities and shows won't be there most days.  What you could enjoy are the art galleries in the grounds by the Small Ferry Dock.  Each of the houses circling the grounds are dedicated to a form of art.  Currently, there is a painting gallery, a gallery dedicated to the sculptures of Mark di Suvero (who has numerous modern steel sculptures sprinkled around the island and is represented by the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY), a collage gallery, a pop-up Etsy store where handmade goods are sold, and so much more.  What an unexpected artistic treasure on the island!

Finally, check out the Governor's Island's event calendar to see what concerts may be available.  You can get lunch at the numerous concession stands and sit and listen to free live concerts (see right).  The music I happened to hear was great 80s tunes, and the atmosphere by the Water Taxi Beach was relaxed and open.  Can't beat a free concert. And the crowds are nothing like the concerts in Central Park.  This was really enjoyable and a pleasant bonus of the visit.

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