BATTERY PARK/NEW YORK HARBOR
The Birthplace of America & New York City
Battery Park is both “the birthplace of America” and “the birthplace of New York City.” Before Ellis Island was established, the Battery (as it was first known) was home to the original immigrant depot, Castle Garden. At the depot, over eight million people entered and first stepped into America from the years 1820 to 1892. New York harbor, a natural harbor, is the world's largest and once contained over half of the world's oyster beds.
A trip to the Big Apple is not complete without a visit to this historic spot and a ferry ride to Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island or the best deal in the entire city of New York: a FREE ride on the Staten Island Ferry. Battery Park offers views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, and New Jersey. The park has a two-mile tree-lined promenade, which is ideal for taking in a leisurely view of the Statue of Liberty and the harbor. There are memorials here honoring American veterans, the 4,601 World War II servicemen who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean, Korean War veterans, American Merchant Marines, and the U.S. Coast Guard. There's even a beautiful SeaGlass Carousel with fiberglass fish, a tribute to the original 1896 New York Aquarium once located here.
President George Washington enjoyed walks and carriage rides along the Battery on the downtown cobblestoned streets during the time he lived in New York City when it was America's capital. The Battery was also a favorite spot of poet Walt Whitman and novelist Herman Melville. For almost 20 years, Melville was employed as Deputy Inspector No. 75 at the U.S. Custom Service, then located nearby at the Merchant's Exchange Building on Wall Street. In the first chapter of Moby Dick, the author gives this description of the Battery:
"There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs -- commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which few hour previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of watergazers there."
Heads of states and distinguished celebrities were once greeted by city officials at Battery Park Pier A, the last standing pier at the park. The Victorian structure, built in 1886, housed the Department of Docks at one time. This pier overlooks New York harbor, is constructed 300 feet out into the water, and is closer to the Statue of Liberty than any other Manhattan location.
Castle Garden, where ferries run to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, was completed in 1811 as a military fortification and was one of 12 forts used to defend New York Harbor during the War of 1812. It has also been a military prison, a concert hall, and an aquarium.
Steamboat inventor Robert Fulton lived close by at One State Street. He constructed the first steamboat at a Manhattan shipyard. The North River Steamboat, advertised as “the first steamboat in America,” began service on the Hudson River on August 17, 1804. By 1814, Fulton's steam ferry service to Brooklyn turned the city of Brooklyn into the "first commuter suburb" in America.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, builder of Grand Central Terminal, began a ferry service between Manhattan and Staten Island in the early 1800s. The ferry trip of over a 6.2 mile stretch is a 25-minute ride. Passengers today total 70,000 daily and over 22 million a year.
Another significant historic site, Bowling Green, is at the north end of Battery Park and across the street from the National Museum of the American Indian (originally the Alexander Hamilton Custom House). Legend has it that Manhattan was purchased from the Indian tribes of Mannahan on May 6, 1626 at this location. Originally a cow pasture and a parade ground, Bowling Green is now a very small park. Dutch settlers introduced lawn bowling to America here as well as other entertainment such as turkey shoots and cockfights. In Colonial New York, Bowling Green was at the water's edge of Manhattan. Fort Amsterdam was a military fortification and located here.
In 1770 a statue of England’s King George III was erected at Bowling Green after the English Parliament repelled the Townsend Act duties on lead, glass, paint and tea. The statue was so disliked and graffiti became such a problem that anti-graffiti laws were passed. It met a dramatic demise on July 9, 1776 when citizens and soldiers tore it down following a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The event is depicted in the painting, Pulling Down the Statue of George III, by painter John Trumbull. Most of the lead and gold statue was melted down and turned into musket ball bullets for the American patriots. The few remaining pieces are now at the New York Historical Society. A shooting water fountain stands on the spot where the King George III's statue once reigned.
At Bowling Green, New Yorkers celebrated the end of the Revolutionary War, known as Evacuation Day, and the departure of the last British troops in 1783. Fireworks displays, the raising of the American flag, and a “13-gun salute” were part of the evening celebrations.
In a harbor, once known for its oyster beds, oyster reefs are now being restored by the Billion Oyster Project. Over 47 million oysters reefs, to date, have been placed in the harbor. At the end of 2021, 11.2 million additional juvenile oysters were added and an estimated 75 million oysters have been restored.