Thursday, September 30, 2021

Governor's Island


There are many islands in New York’s harbor. Ellis Island and Liberty Island get most of the attention, but there is one more that is worth a visit - Governor’s Island.

The name,  Governor’s Island, dates back to 1698, when the British reserved the island for the exclusive use of colonial governors. In 1776, a fort was built on Governor’s Island, and it played a key role in providing support during Washington’s retreat from Brooklyn Heights. Immediately after the war, Governor’s Island was home to a hotel and racetrack, but in the 1790’s, as tensions with England were again growing, new fortifications were built. Fort Jay was constructed in 1795, originally out of wood, and then rebuilt in 1809 as a stone fort. At that time it was renamed Fort Columbus. A second structure, Castle Williams was also built. Together they helped protect New York’s harbor as well as the Hudson and East Rivers.

Fort Columbus - by Lowe, Jet Related names:Vincent, M, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Castle Williams

Castle Williams

After the war of 1812, Governor’s Island continued to serve as a military base. Both the U.S. Army and a separate New York Arsenal built barracks, officer’s quarters, and support buildings. Military structures continued to be built over time, especially between the World Wars. The island remained a military base until 1965, when it was turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard. Governor’s Island became the Coast Guards main base of operations in the New York area, with 4000 sailors and 1000 family members living on the island. 


Enlisted Sailor's Barracks

Officer's Quarters

South Battery

In 1995, the U.S. government closed the Coast Guard base on Governor’s Island. What followed was a years long struggle over what to do with it. On one side were real estate developers, along with NYC Mayor Rudy Giulianl and NY Governor Pataki. They wanted to make the island into a kind of resort space, with hotels and a casino. On the other side were conservationists, organizers for public parks, and President Clinton. They wanted to place the island into the public trust. On Jan. 19, 2001, President Clinton designated the two forts on Governor’s Island as a National Monument. This effectively prevented any major development from taking place. In 2003, the rest of the island was sold to the city “for a nominal fee” with the stipulation that permanent housing was banned from the island, that half of the land must be turned into parkland,  and that the island be used only for “educational, civic, and cultural purposes.”

Governor's Island in 1995

The restoration of buildings on Governor’s Island has been slow. Many of the old officer’s quarters have been renovated and rented to local NGOs who maintain offices there. There is a NYC public school on the island, The Harbor School, whose curriculum is built around environmentalism, marine biology and sailing. There are also several seasonal restaurants and bike rental shops to visit. 

The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has opened a permanent, year round, art gallery on the island. For 2021, the exhibitions on display include Meg Webster’s Wave brings nature inside, using natural materials a vehicle through which to address our relationship to nature, inside and outside of the gallery, and The Forever Museum Archive_Circa 6000BCE by Onyedika Chuke - Part of an ongoing project that mines connections between history, archive, knowledge production and power, this iteration is focused on the US carceral system - its starting point and evolution. Both are on display through Oct. 31, 2021.

The Forever Museum Archive_Circa 6000BCE by Onyedika Chuke

The Forever Museum Archive_Circa 6000BCE by Onyedika Chuke

Meg Webster’s Wave

Meg Webster’s Wave

Meg Webster’s Wave

A visit to Governor’s Island today is a literal walk, or ride, in the park. Take the ferry from Southern tip of Manhattan. Visitors are encouraged to wander among the old military buildings on the northern end of the island. Or head to the parkland on the southern end. Or come across for one of the several music or art festivals the island hosts every year.

Nuts and Bolts:
Ferry service to Governor’s Island leaves from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street (daily) and from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, near the intersection of Furman St. And Atlantic Ave., and Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, near the intersection of Pioneer Street and Conover Street on weekends. The ticket price is $3 for a roundtrip. You must reserve tickets in advance.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Savannah Food Tour


When you visit a new place, one great thing to do is to explore its food culture. But how can you do that in a short period of time? I always look for food tour, and Savannah has a really great one, in the Historic & Secret East Side Food Tour. The tour explored some lesser known eateries and provided facts about historic Savannah to boot.


The tour started at the Capital Bee Company, on E. Broughton Street. Capital Bee is a gift shop that sells all sorts of honey, bee, and Savannah related items. But its specialties are the wide range of honey, sourced from many different places and flower types. Our tour was treated to a wonderful tasting of the different flavors of honey available.

We left the store and walked three blocks over to Washington Square. Under its stately trees we stopped and enjoyed our next sample, a serving of fried chicken and biscuits from Rise Southern Chicken & Righteous Biscuits. The chicken was juicy and the biscuit was scrumptious. The store is open for breakfast and lunch.


From there, the tour passed by The Pirate House, Savannah’s oldest restaurant, and went on to Cha Bella. This modern Italian farm-to-table restaurant has taken an old industrial building and now creates wonderful, fresh organic food.

We walked west along York Street, many historic buildings, including the 1790 House hotel and the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters. Our next stop was at B&D Burgers, where we were treated to sliders.

From B&D we continued along Broughton Street to Common Restaurant. We sat up in the balcony and enjoyed their take on Oysters Rockefeller, which included greens along with the a very rich sauce.

Our final stop was Leopold’s Cream Ice Shop, a Savannah staple since 1919.

The Historic & Secret East Side Food Tour was a wonderful afternoon exploration into some great food. It also offered an exploration of historic Savannah’s East Side neighborhood.

Nuts and Bolts:
The Historic & Secret East Side Food tour is $56.95 per person. It is limited to 12 people and is recommended for people over the age of 13.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Walking Savannah's Riverfront


Savannah City Hall

When General James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia in 1733, he chose a place along a high bluff to make encampment. And it was here that he created Savannah, the first European city in the area. The area along that bluff has played a major role in the city’s history, and it is a fun place to explore.

Start you walk along E. Bay Street at Savannah’s City Hall. It was completed in 1905, and sits on the site of Savannah’s City Exchange, where cotton was bought and sold.

Cannons presented to Savannah by President Washington in 1791

Bay Street follows the top of the bluff overlooking the Savannah River. It was the original commercial and shipping center of Savannah, where cotton was stored and graded before being loaded onto ships and sent to England and northern mills. Begin at City Hall, and head east. The old warehouses line the edge of the cliff, and at the top, where carts used to bring cotton from the plantations, is Emmett Park. It offers a shade covered walk following the line of buildings than now house shops, cafes and hotels. 

Stop in front of Solomon’s Lodge. Founded in 1734, it is the oldest continuously operating Masonic Lodge in America and its upper floors served as the Cotton Exchange. In front of the lodge is a terra-cotta Griffin. The original statue was destroyed by a run away car in 2008, but this replacement marks the history of the Cotton Exchange.

Solomons Lodge and The Cotton Exchange

Continue east along the Factor’s Walk, the path closest to the old warehouses. The walk is named after the men who “factored” or decided the prices and amount of cotton bought and sold. They would stand at the top of the bluff and watch the cotton being brought in and out of the warehouses below.

Emmett Park has also become the repository of several other historic artifacts from Savannah’s history.

Cotton Exchange Bell

When you get to the eastern end of the park follow the stairs down to the Broad Street access to River Street. Be careful, the cobblestones are very uneven and they can be slippery. Here you will find two large statues. First is the Olympic Cauldron, which celebrates Savannah’s role hosting the sailing/yachting events during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Nearby is Waving Girl Statue. This is a tribute to Florence Martus (1868-1943). Her father ran the local lighthouse, and she would come to the river to wave a white cloth, welcoming every ship that entered the port of Savannah for over forty years. The legend is that she was waiting for a long lost lover to return.

Stairs to Broad Street

Olympic Cauldron

Waving Girl Statue

Continue west along River Street. Stop in the stores and enjoy local goods, and food. You can buy souvenirs, chocolate, candy, or sit down at one of the restaurants and and enjoy a drink and a meal. Just past the first big parking lot is Rousakis Plaza/Echo Square. Stand on the X and listen to the sound effects created by the plaza and nearby buildings. 

Factor's Walk Bridge

Echo Square

Since you are on the riverfront, take some time and enjoy the boat traffic as it passes by. Water taxis travel back and forth between stops, and there are paddle-wheeled river boats that take people on tours sown the river. But the real celebrities are the massive freighters that ply its waters on the way up to Savannah’s International Port. 

When you arrive at the African American Monument, near the Hyatt Regency Hotel, you have a choice to make. You can continue along the river, toward the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, and you will find more restaurants and stores. Or walk behind the Visitor’s Center and take the elevator back up to Bay Street. You will be back at Savannah’s Beautiful City Hall. 

Talmadge Memorial Bridge