Battery Park is a lovely spot located at the downtown-most tip of Manhattan Island. It is where you catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, which you can see clearly from the park, which is also home to several historic monuments.
In 1524, the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed to the New World under the flag of the French king, Francis I. He described the land he saw from New York Harbor as “a very agreeable site located between two hills between which flowed to the sea a very great river.”
The Dutch Fort Amsterdam was built on the shores of the Battery in the early 1600s. From this beginning of European colonization and onward for centuries, the size of the land increased out of necessity as the inhabitants dumped their refuse in the river to expand their real estate.
New York City’s slave market – the second largest in the United States behind Charleston, South Carolina – sat on the Battery facing the harbor. It closed in 1762. Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827.
The circular fort on the western side of the Battery was renamed Castle Clinton in honor of DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York (1817-1822 and 1825-1828) and the former mayor of New York City (1803-1815). In the early years of the country, the castle was converted into a public garden and amphitheater. P. T. Barnum presented the “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind to a crowd of more than 5,000 people there.
In 1855, Castle Clinton became the Emigrant Landing Depot. Famous Americans who entered here as immigrants include Nikola Tesla, Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Joseph Pulitzer. The castle remained the immigrant processing site until Ellis Island opens in 1892.
In 1896, the legendary New York architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White redesigned the castle and opened it as the New York Aquarium, which was one of the country’s first public aquariums and welcomed over 2.5 million guests annually. It contained open pools and glass tanks that housed exotic fish and undersea specimens from around the world. The Aquarium was the inspiration for the aquatic themed Seaglass Carousel, which currently sits in a northeastern corner of the park near the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The Aquarium remained an important part of local cultural life until 1941 when it was closed to construct the Brooklyn Battery terminal.
In 1986, the National Park Service repurposed what remained of Castle Clinton (primarily the outer walls) as a ferry terminal to transport guests to and from the Statue of Liberty.
In 1993, The Battery Conservancy, a non-profit organization, was founded to rebuild, revitalize, and maintain the land as a city park.
In 1996, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan secured $6M in federal funding to return Castle Clinton to a state-of-the-art performance venue, thereby returning it to its glory as Castle Garden. The project remains in the planning stages.
The Seaglass Carousel opened on August 20, 2015. The riders move through an under-the-sea garden while riding inside fish (instead of horses) that appear to be made of sea glass and light up from inside as though they were bioluminescent. It’s just $5 a ticket to ride. I particularly enjoy riding in the evening when the rainbow of colors shines most magically.
The East Coast Memorial honors the 4,601 missing American servicemen who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean while engaged in combat during World War II. The monument consists of a large, paved plaza punctuated by eight massive 19-foot tall gray granite pylons onto which are inscribed the names, rank, organization and state of each of the deceased. On the eastern side of the plaza a bronze eagle set on a pedestal of polished black granite, grips a laurel wreath over a wave–signifying the act of mourning at the watery grave.
The Immigrants statue which sits directly to the east of Castle Clinton celebrates the diversity of New York City and the struggle of immigrants. The sculpture depicts figures of various ethnic groups and eras, including an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, and a worker.
Pier A Harbor House is the last surviving historic pier in the city. It was built from 1884 to 1886 to serve as the headquarters of the New York City Board of Dock Commissioners. Pier A is sometimes nicknamed the “Liberty Gateway” despite never having been a major disembarkation point.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial honors military personnel who served in the Korean War (1950-1953). The memorial was dedicated in 1991 to commemorate the fallen heroes and living comrades of the Korean War, which is often referred to as the “Forgotten War.” The memorial features a 15-foot-high black granite stele with the shape of a Korean War soldier cut out of the center. Also known as “The Universal Soldier,” the figure forms a silhouette that allows viewers to see through the monument to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Resounding Bodies consists of two large bronze sculptures – one five feet tall and fifteen feet long, the other fifteen feet tall and five feet wide – in the form of musical instruments, a tuba and a lute.