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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
Named 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.
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”
150 minutes, including 26 queued to get in. I could easily have spent more (inside, that is).
Best thing I saw or learned
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.
Driving 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.