Harbor Defense Museum

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 75 minutes, including time spent walking around in Fort Hamilton
Best thing I saw or learned

The Pattern 1844, 24-Pounder Flank Howitzer. In 1864, the Army deployed eight of these to defend Fort Hamilton. The base installed two in the caponier, ready to mow down any unfortunate infantry that tried to attack it.

Harbor Defense Museum, Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn

Getting to the Harbor Defense Museum requires a bit of doing and determination.  First because it sometimes keeps odd hours–definitely call before you go and make sure someone’s manning the fort (literally).

Second, because it is located in Brooklyn in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  By subway, it’s at the farthest end of the R train.  Its sister fort, Fort Wadsworth, situated across the Narrows in Staten Island, is run by the National Park Service.

And third, because uniquely among New York City museums, the Harbor Defense Museum stands within Fort Hamilton, New York City’s sole remaining active army base.

Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn

Continue reading “Harbor Defense Museum”

Fort Wadsworth

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 60 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The views from Fort Wadsworth are really spectacular.  

There’s no more scenic vista of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The Verrazano Narrows divides New York Bay into two bodies of water, the Upper Bay (what everyone usually thinks of as “New York Harbor”) and the Lower Bay, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean. As a narrow body of water, the Narrows has always been strategically vital in defending New York from naval attacks. So it’s not surprising that fortifications exist on both the Brooklyn and Staten Island shores of the narrows.  

Its narrowness also makes it a natural place for a bridge, so it’s also not surprising that Robert Moses built one of those there, too.

This project has given me a reason to visit all of the city’s extant historic harbor defense installations. I find them fascinating, particularly how fast-changing military technology rendered them mostly obsolete just a few decades after their completion. Nowadays, of course, we defend our port cities from naval attacks via long range missiles, not cannons and mortars.

Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island Continue reading “Fort Wadsworth”

Governors Island National Monument

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 48 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A plaque (reproduced just below) visualizes how New York’s historic harbor defenses overlapped to protect Lower Manhattan and the Hudson.  With the actual harbor spread majestically before you, it’s phenomenally effective.
Harbor Defenses, Governors Island
Historic Harbor Defenses, Plus Harbor

I’ve seen three forts (Totten, Schuyler, Clinton) in the course of this project so far, with several more yet to come. Governors Island features a twofer, which (like the others) speak to changing military technology and adaptation to new uses.

All the extant fortifications around New York Harbor and Long Island Sound have two things in common. The military never had to use them to defend the city, and advances in military technology very quickly rendered them obsolete. Not that it was necessarily money down the drain; the mere existence of the chain of forts around the city may well have helped deter attacks from, um, pirates or Canadians? They almost certainly helped ensure New York remained unmolested by the British during the War of 1812. Continue reading “Governors Island National Monument”

Castle Clinton National Monument

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 23 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Castle Gardens Aquarium, Manhattan

McKim Mead and White’s Castle Garden Aquarium looks spectacular, all heavy romanesque arches and wrought iron barriers to keep the penguins and what-not in.  In my dreams of alternative New Yorks where lost architecture survives, I wonder what that building would be today.

Castle Clinton National Monument, ManhattanNamed for New York mayor DeWitt Clinton, Castle Clinton dates to 1811.  It was an important fortification built on an island just off of Manhattan.  It wasn’t the first defensive installation built to protect Lower Manhattan, and has nothing to do with the older fort that guarded Niew Amsterdam back in the day, which is long gone.

1695 map of Manhattan, Castle Clinton National Monument
1695 Manhattan map, way before Castle Clinton

However, the fort was part of the network of five state of the art harbor defenses built in the youth of the United States.  Although never used in war, merely by existing Castle Clinton and its fellow fortifications around the city helped deter British attacks on New York during the War of 1812.  So that’s good.  They sacked D.C. instead. Continue reading “Castle Clinton National Monument”

Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 150 minutes, including 26 queued to get in. I could easily have spent more (inside, that is).
Best thing I saw or learned Concorde, Intrepid Museum, New York

For all those who think technology progresses in only one direction, Intrepid offers a few counterfactuals, but none better than Concorde.  From 1976 until 2003, people (very few, and very rich to be sure) jetted across the Atlantic in under 3.5 hours.  I hope we see supersonic travel again in my lifetime.  But I doubt it.

Intrepid Air Sea Space Museum New YorkDriving up the west side of Manhattan helps New Yorkers exercise our jadedness.  Here’s my routine with out-of-towners. 

  • Oh, the Renzo Piano Whitney building.  I was just there the other day. 
  • Hmph, High Line.  Too crowded with tourists. 
  • Frank Gehry’s IAC Building is really showing its age, isn’t it?
  • I can sometimes be bothered to look up from my smartphone at midtown’s forest of skyscrapers.
  • Hudson Yards, a whole new city within the city, is an inconvenient and messy construction zone. 
  • And that over there?  Oh, that’s just our aircraft carrier.

I can act the part. But, oh, the Intrepid. I’m still a kid at heart. I love boats and planes and exploding things. And the Intrepid has all of that, including a Concorde, a nuclear submarine, and even a (sort of) space shuttle. I love that we’ve got an aircraft carrier, just parked next to Manhattan like its crew dropped by to see a show or go shopping on Canal Street.

As I’ve observed, New York has a glut of art museums and far too few science museums.  Intrepid is one of the latter, with a good dose of history to boot.  Partly due to supply and demand, then, there can be long lines. And it gets away with charging a hefty entrance fee.  Still, it’s worth it. Continue reading “Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum”

Fort Totten Visitor’s Center & Water Battery

Edification value  
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 33 minutes (at the Visitor’s Center and historic Water Battery; longer in Fort Totten Park total)
Best thing I saw or learned Ostensibly Spanish-American War era “Remember the Maine” graffiti in the tunnel linking the armament storage with the Water Battery.  I’ll never forget.

Graffiti, Fort Totten Water Battery, Queens, New York
Original (?) Spanish-American War Graffiti

Fort Totten, Queens, New York

A Capsule History

In my Park Avenue Armory review, I wrote about the slight envy I feel for the  era when arsenals and shoreline fortresses sufficed to protect the city against threats from abroad. Fort Totten is one of those shoreline fortresses. Continue reading “Fort Totten Visitor’s Center & Water Battery”