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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Task 13 - Visit a National Park (Battery Park & Castle Clinton)

Nikon D80 70mm f/5 ISO-200 1/320sec.
(13) Visit a National Park

Name: Battery Park & Castle Clinton National Monument
Rating: 3-Stars

Battery Park is a 25-acre public park located at the Battery, the southern tip of Manhattan Island in New York City, facing New York Harbor. The Battery is named for artillery batteries that were positioned there in the city's early years in order to protect the settlement behind them. At the north end of the park is Castle Clinton, Pier A (formerly a fireboat station) and Hope Garden (a memorial to AIDS victims). At the other end is Battery Gardens restaurant, next to the United States Coast Guard Battery Building. The park is also the site of the East Coast Memorial which commemorates U.S. servicemen who died in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean during World War II, and several other memorials.

Even more recently it became the home to a sculpture nicknamed “The Sphere”. Its official title was Große Kugelkaryatide (Great Spherical Caryatid) and was built in 1971 by a German named Fritz Koenig. It is 25 ft tall and was constructed of 52 cast bronze segments of bronze and originally located in the Austin J. Tobin Plaza at the feet of the Twin Towers. The artwork was meant to symbolize world peace through world trade and was placed at the center of a ring of fountains to mimic the Grand Mosque of Mecca. Six months after September 11, 2001 the recovered sculpture was relocated to Battery Park. It survived with only dents and holes. Its relocation is temporary and it was rededicated with an eternal flame as a memorial to the victims of 9/11.

The relatively modern park was created by landfill during the 19th century, resulting in a landscaped open space at the foot of the heavily developed mainland of downtown. Skyscrapers now surround the park. Within the park lies Castle Clinton, built on a small artificial off-shore island. When the land of Battery Park was created, it encircled and incorporated the island.

Today Castle Clinton built in 1808 -1811 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been since October 15, 1966. It serves as a ticket depot and departure point for Statue Cruises and those seeking to explore Liberty Island’s Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It has a much longer history then either of the locations it serves. Castle Clinton receives an annual visitation over 3 million making it one of the most visited National Park Service sites in the country.

Southwest Battery as it was originally known served to compliment the three-tiered Castle Williams on Governor’s Island known as East Battery. Both were built in the run-up to the War of 1812 along with 3 other forts in the area but never saw any action in that or any subsequent war.

The fort was fully armed with 28 cannons. Each cannon could shoot a 32 pound cannonball a distance of 1.5 miles. On March 27, 1812, General Joseph Bloomfield was appointed to the command of all the fortifications in New York City and harbor. He established his headquarters at Southwest Battery.

Its name has changed as often as its use. Originally the fort was called Southwest Battery but was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815 in honor of NYC mayor Dewitt Clinton who later was Governor of New York.

In 1823 after being abandoned by the US Army years earlier it was deeded to New York City and renamed Castle Garden and served as a promenade, beer garden/restaurant, exhibition hall, opera house and theatre and finally today as a national monument. Tthe open-air structure was roofed in the 1840’s to accommodate these many uses.

In the 1850’s Battery Park was extended and placed the castle at its very tip.It served as the New York State immigration station from 1855 to 1890. In this role it began processing all immigrants to the state and is the nation’s first of such entities and approximately eight million immigrants, mostly from Northern and Western Europe, passed through its doors.

These early immigrants came from nations such as England, Ireland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries and constituted the first large wave of immigrants that settled and populated the United States. Throughout the 1800's and intensifying in the latter half of the 19th century, ensuing political instability, restrictive religious laws and deteriorating economic conditions in Europe began to fuel the largest mass human migration in the history of the world. It soon became apparent that Castle Garden was ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the growing numbers of immigrants arriving yearly. Unfortunately compounding the problems of the small facility were the corruption and incompetence found to be commonplace at Castle Garden

It continued in this role until April 18, 1890 when the US Government took control of the immigration process. It was replaced in 1892 by Ellis Island and all of its records moved there. Those records were destroyed in a fire on Ellis Island in 1897 but it is generally accepted that over 8 million people came through Castle Clinton.

Before finally becoming a national monument in 1946 became the site of the NYC Aquarium. The exotic fish and Beluga whale made the aquarium one of the city's most popular attractions. With over 30,000 visitors on opening day the aquarium averaged over 5,000 people per day. It served as the aquarium from 1896 until 1941 when Park Commissioner Robert Moses closed the aquarium and wanted to tear it down to build a bridge from Battery to Brooklyn. Public outcry stymied his effort but the aquarium never reopened in this spot and instead wasn’t reopened until 1957 in Coney Island.

In 1965 it became a New York City Landmark. It was saved from complete destruction by the National Park Service who carried out a restoration campaign. The restoration was completed in 1975 and restored the structure to its original fortress configuration.

Even today the structure is worth a look-around. After entering through the main entrance there is an inconspicuous narrow room immediately to the right; it briefly chronicles the castle’s rich and varied past, displaying three dioramas of the fort and lower Manhattan as seen in 1812, 1886 and 1941. While exploring the open-air center you are afforded an opportunity to appreciate a 19th century cannon replica. The center also houses two octagonal huts: The ticket booth for the Statue of Liberty and a tiny bookstore selling books related to immigration, military history and local landmarks, plus model naval cannons, colonial coins and quills.


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