The Battery—Exploring NYC’s Origins at its Oldest Public Space

Battery Park, aka The Battery, is a piece of history lasting four centuries that tells the story of New York, its people, and the beginnings of our diverse nation. Our family has had the privilege of visiting this park several times over the past two decades to see the Statue of Liberty, mourn after 9/11, and celebrate the new carousel. You could easily overlook its importance if you didn’t know any better, but I’m hoping this post will motivate you to get to know it better.

 

Jump to the section of your choice or read through…

The Monument Walk

SeaGlass Carousel

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry

Visitor Info & Family Rating

Brief History

Times Square, NYC, Friday rush hour during Covid 19 quarantine

At one point in time, Manhattan’s earliest inhabitants were Lenape and Munsee Native Americans. They used the area of Battery Park for hunting and fishing and established a trade path from here through Manhattan going north. Today, you would know the wide or broad path they used as our modern Broadway.

It is believed that the negotiations to “buy” Manhattan were conducted at what is now Battery Park. The Lenape lived as stewards of the land and believed they were merely sharing it with the Dutch.

The Dutch West India Company built their administrative headquarters, Fort Amsterdam, in 1626 at The Battery. It was a short time before the British came and took over. In 1665 New Amsterdam became New York and eventually by 1714 the fort was renamed Fort George.

After the Revolutionary War, the fort’s remains were demolished (1790) and The Battery became a public promenade. But, of course that was also short-lived, and by 1807 New York City was preparing for British Invasion and war. Five new forts were built to protect New York Harbor. (Castle Clinton at The Battery, Castle Williams on Governor’s Island, and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island still remain standing today.) During the War of 1812 the nation saw a lot of battle, but none at the West Battery (Castle Clinton).

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History Fast Track

  • In 1815 the West Battery is renamed Castle Clinton in honor of the governor of New York and former mayor of New York City.
  • By 1823, it is decommissioned as a military base and leased to the City of New York which transformed it into a cultural center.
  • From 1855 to 1890 it became America’s first official immigration center.
  • In 1896 it is renovated and reopened as the New York Aquarium; until 1941, when plans for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel would warrant its destruction. The demolition was halted by protestors, but all that was left by then were Castle Clinton’s historic stone walls.
  • The federal government took it back and declared it a National Monument in 1946 under Truman.
  • By 1966 Castle Clinton is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The National Park Service stepped in during the mid 1970’s with restoration and a public re-opening.
  • In 1986 the site becomes a concession for transportation tickets to the restored Statue of Liberty. In 1990, Ellis Island is open to the public too. (Millions of people pass through Castle Clinton every year to visit these sites!)
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Battery Park had become a bit of a disaster by 1994 so The Battery Conservancy was founded to “rebuild and revitalize the park and its major landmark, Castle Clinton National Monument.” In 1996 the Battery Promenade is rebuilt with a new seawall railing. Funding was procured in 1998 to begin plans for turning Castle Clinton into a performance venue. But…

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On September 11, 2001 Battery Park became a survival route for people fleeing Manhattan and an emergency staging site. Lower Manhattan is devastated and all plans to enhance the park go on hold. In rebuilding the city, the park fights for its preservation. The Battery Conservancy leads the fight and saves Battery Park’s woodland from the new South Ferry Subway Station construction.

By 2005, Battery Park is full of life with community programs and new amenities. In 2015, the New York City Park’s Commissioner reinstates the historic name “The Battery.”

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The Monument Walk

The Battery is an interesting walk through history. There are 22 historical memorials located within its 25 acres and they can all be seen along The Monument Walk. You are certain to have a relative or friend that endured at least one of these experiences honored in these memorials. Our family had three and it was nice to connect a little bit with their history. I’ve highlighted some of my favorites, but listed all for a brief overview.

American Merchant Mariners Memorial

This sculptured monument was inspired by a photograph of victims from an American merchant ship in World War II that had been attacked by a submarine. The man in the water is reaching up to grab the hand of another merchant mariner on a lifeboat for rescue. It is dedicated to all merchant mariners who served America from the Revolutionary War up to the present day.

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Castle Clinton National Monument

This historic structure is already discussed in my Brief History; but it’s so interesting, here are a few more cool facts:

  • As The West Battery (1807), it was originally built on an artificial island only 200 feet from the tip of Manhattan. (Later in history, much of lower Manhattan was extended using man-made landfills which included the connection of this artificial island to the mainland.)
  • When it was Castle Garden (1824) it housed an opera house, theater, exhibition hall, restaurant, beer garden, and rooftop promenade.
  • From 1855-1890 over eight million people had arrived in America through Castle Garden as an immigration center. (Check out castle garden.org to search for someone!)
  • The original manifests recording the names of the immigrants, the original brownstone walls, and the historic landscape of The Battery still remain today.
  • In 1896 it was transformed into The New York Aquarium, one of the nation’s earliest public aquariums, which welcomed 2.5 million visitors annually until it closed in 1941.
  • The Castle is currently in use for historic education and as a concession to purchase tickets for Liberty and Ellis Islands.
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East Coast Memorial

This sculpted memorial is impressive in size and presence. It honors 4,601 missing American servicemen who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean while fighting in World War II. The large granite walls keep a record of each of the deceased with their name, rank, service, and state engraved on the surface. The powerful sculpture of the bronze eagle gripping a laurel over a wave symbolizes “mourning over the watery grave.”

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Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque

Lady Liberty on her 11 pt. Star Pedestal

“The New Colossus” poem by Emma Lazarus was written to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. This memorial plaque features her poem as does the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Poem excerpt: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

New York Korean War Veterans Memorial

“The Universal Soldier” honors military personnel who served in the Korean War. The form of a Korean War soldier is cut out of black granite steel forming a silhouette that allows you to view the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island through the monument.

The Immigrants

This sculpture represents the diversity and struggle of immigrants in New York City. Multiple ethnic groups and eras are combined with expressive poses—an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, and a worker.

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Bronze Sculptures Throughout the Park

  • John Ericsson—Swedish-American engineer and inventor who designed the ironclad warship, the Monitor, which revolutionized military maritime technology.
  • John Wolfe Ambrose—a poor boy who immigrated to New York from Ireland and rose to prominence as an engineer and developer, most notably the deepening and widening of the channels leading into New York Harbor making New York the “greatest seaport of the world.”
  • Giovanni da Verrazzano—In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first known European to have entered New York Bay and the first to have seen what we now call The Battery. The bronze sculpture of the explorer stands tall on a pedestal above a female figure that represents Discovery.
  • Coast Guard Memorial—in memory of the men and women of the United States Coast Guard who served their country in World War II.

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Different Memorials Throughout the Park

  • Fort George Memorial Tablet—This marker recognizes the southwest bastion of Fort George (originally Fort Amsterdam). The fort was demolished after the Revolutionary War.
  • The Battery Cannon—This cannon was placed at The Battery in 1914 after it was exhumed from the corner of Broadway and Exchange Alley in 1892 and presented to the City of New York.
  • Castello Plan Monument—This three-dimensional bronze relief map of The Castello Plan, a 1660 map of New Amsterdam, sits upon a natural boulder for a glimpse into the history of lower Manhattan. “All 317 houses extant at that time are delineated on the map, many with the gardens and orchards that supplied food to sustain the first settlement.”
  • Marine Flagstaff—This Flagstaff, dedicated in 1955, commemorates the maritime history of The Battery.
  • Jerusalem Grove—The people of Jerusalem presented this gift of fifteen cedar trees to the people of New York City in 1976.
  • Netherland Monument—commemorating the Dutch establishment of New Amsterdam, this granite sculpture depicts an exchange between the Native Americans and the Dutch. 
  • Norwegian Veterans Monument—made of Norwegian coastal boulders, the pink granite honors the brave sailors of the Norwegian merchant marines who lost their lives during World War II and who considered their port of call, New York, as their home.
  • Peter Caesar Alberti Marker—the first Italian settler in the area we now call New York presented by the Italian Historical Society of America.
  • Salvation Army Monument—commemorating the arrival of The Christian Mission representatives from England who arrived in New York City via Battery Park in 1880 to establish The Salvation Army in the US.
  • Walloon Settlers Memorial—the Walloons were natives of the county of Hainaut in Belgium who fled to Holland to escape religious persecution. They were unwelcome in Holland and petitioned the Dutch West India Company to come to New Amsterdam and settle in the Dutch colony arriving in 1624.
  • Wireless Operators Memorial—this fountain and markers honor those wireless operators who lost their lives at sea while performing their duties. It is decorated with a carved array of seashells and foliage and inscribed with the names of the deceased. The first name inscribed in the granite is the radio operator aboard the R.M.S. Titanic, Jack Phillips, who perished when it sank on April 15, 1912.
  • Admiral George Dewey Memorial—This plaque commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Manila Bay fought on May 1, 1898.
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SeaGlass Carousel

The SeaGlass Carousel was added to the park in 2015. It pays homage to The Battery’s original New York Aquarium which closed in 1941. The pavilion is shaped like a chambered nautilus which houses 30 massive fiberglass fish that are “designed to recall the bioluminescence found deep in the ocean.” The underwater atmosphere is created by using LED color-changing lights and light projectors producing a water effect.

This one-of-a-kind carousel lacks the center pole of a traditional carousel and instead uses four different turntables driven by electric motors in the floor below. This design gives an outrageous effect of the fish swimming in and out of each other. Out of the thirty fish in the carousel, twelve are stationery and eighteen move vertically as well as spin.

YouTube video of the carousel in motion: Emily Mae Hood channel

  • Open 7 days: 10 am – 10 pm
  • Tickets $5 on site Only
  • Enter across from 17 State Street
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Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

People on Spiral staircase inside Statue of Liberty

Visiting Lady Liberty and Ellis Island is a top-rated adventure which begins right here in The Battery. Whether you book your tickets online or at Castle Clinton, you will begin your journey across the water at The Battery where the ferry departs. Our family was fortunate to visit more than once and even climb to the crown of Lady Liberty. You could easily spend an entire day or longer if you wanted to take advantage of every amenity, especially if you’re looking to do some family tree research. After all, eight million immigrants came through Castle Garden and twelve million came through Ellis Island!

Our review on visiting the Statue of Liberty

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Staten Island Ferry/ Peter Minuit Plaza

This plaza is named for the director of the Dutch West India Company who “purchased” Manhattan Island from the Lenape tribe of Native Americans. The Staten Island Ferry is one of the last remaining remnants of the New York City ferry system that connected Manhattan to its future boroughs before the bridges were built.

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The ferry mostly accommodates commuters, but it’s open to all pedestrians and cyclists. You could take the ferry and explore Staten Island a bit, but be advised that Staten Island is not completely walkable. Fortunately, you can find transportation in the form of buses, trains, ZipCars and Ubers if you plan ahead. There are some beautiful Victorian neighborhoods and interesting spots to check out here.

The ferry is also a popular destination for a scenic tour of the harbor and even a Saturday night date spot. You will float on by the Jersey City skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which can be terrific views day or night. Many movies and television shows have used the ferry for scenes as well (Working Girl, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Spider Man: Homecoming, and more).

  • open 24 hours
  • free fare
  • ferry departs every 15-30 minutes
  • ferry travels 5.2 miles
  • ride is about 25 minutes long
  • entrance to new South Street subway station here and at State Street

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Visit The Battery

Park Amenities

This 25 acre park is one of the oldest public spaces still in continuous use in New York City and it plays an important role in the community thanks to The Battery Conservancy.

  • 199D0307-CD4F-4972-9911-6461CB0329D8The largest perennial garden in North America—195,000 square feet
  • The largest collection of mature trees in lower Manhattan.
  • The Bosque Fountain—35 water jets in a 60 foot wide spiral fountain for cooling off and having fun (open seasonally)
  • The Battery Bikeway—part of the 31 mile loop that encircles Manhattan, it connects the Hudson River Parkway to the East River Esplanade.
  • The Grand Oval—200 acres of lawn with 300 movable chairs (open May through November)
  • The Battery Labyrinth—a meditative walk created by The Battery Conservancy to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11
  • Eateries—a waterfront restaurant and two farm-to-table outdoor garden cafes offering full views of New York Harbor and Lady Liberty
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Things to Know

  • The Battery is free and open to the public every day
  • Great resource: http://www.thebattery.org/
  • Address: State Street and Battery Place, New York, NY 10004
  • SeaGlass Carousel nautilus pavilion at The Battery,The SeaGlass Carousel charges $5 per ride per person. They accept cards and cash.
  • Leave plenty of time for security and travel for the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island ferries
  • There is little to no parking available on the street. If you’re driving in it is best to secure a parking garage in advance and plan out the walking distance so you are prepared. If you take the train, you can ride the subway straight to The Battery at the new South Street station.
  • Public restrooms are available
  • WiFi is available at the Bosque Area and the Ferry Landing.
  • Dogs are welcome on a leash, but encouraged to stay off the lawns and flower beds. We won’t list this as “dog friendly” only because it is really limited to what your dog can do here other than walk through.

Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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Cost– This is a low cost adventure. Your biggest cost is travel. You can add a ferry ticket, carousel rides, and a bite to eat if you want to make a big day out if it. A family of five could enjoy the day for as little as transportation or as grand as adding $165 for a tour of Liberty Island, food and the carousel.
Parking & Transportation– Mass transit is always your best bet in Manhattan. The South Street subway station is right at the park. There are parking garages, but they fill quickly. Plan ahead and reserve a spot in advance; also, map out where your parking garage is located so you can plan the walking distance. City blocks can be much longer than anticipated.
Location– The history of the park exists purely due to its location. It is a great spot with beautiful waterfront views. It can be a hike to get to since it is at the lowest tip of Manhattan, but it makes up for it in all of its amenities.
Day Trip or Overnight– This is a day trip unless you can afford an overnight stay. There are many hotel accommodations and plenty of things to see and do all over Manhattan if you wanted to make it a longer stay.
Experience– The Battery is a unique experience due to its history and wide variety of offerings. Our family has enjoyed exploring the park on several occasions as it has grown and changed into the beauty it is today. This is a terrific experience for young and old to celebrate together for its unique history that most likely relates in some way to your own history.
Combination– The variety of things to do at The Battery could easily keep you busy all day. If you simply stop by for the Monument Walk or a ride on the carousel, you could venture north and enjoy more of lower Manhattan. You are in walking distance to Rockefeller Park, the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, One World Trade Center, the Irish Hunger Memorial, Teardrop Park, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Fearless Girl, Charging Bull, and more (all within a fifteen minute walk).

Tip: For more reviews on nearby adventures select “Manhattan” or “New York City” in the Browse Topics menu.

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The Battery, NYC, Pinterest, Manhattan, New York

Author: newyorkfamilyadventures

Momager, New Yorker, Travel Blogger, Actress, Martial Artist, Amateur Photographer, Writer, Conservationist

3 thoughts

  1. Another fabulously insightful post Emily – have you ever thought about at the bottom of each post having a vlog episode of the post as in walking talking and breathing the experience?

    1. That sounds like a wonderful idea. I’m barely keeping up with revamping the site, but eventually I’ll take it to the next level. I’m currently trying to find more time for the location videos I want to add to the YouTube channel. So much work! Thank you! Great idea. 💞

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