New York, NY 10004
Open: Check the website. It varies by season
My review on TripAdvisor:
My trip to Governors Island on MywalkinManhattan.com:
I have toured Castle Williams several times when visiting Governors Island over the last two years. The fort sits at a strategic site on the island facing Manhattan. The fort was originally built to protect New York City from the British during the War of 1812. The British knowing that the City had been fortified for battle never attacked New York.
The tour takes place twice a day for about an hour and you tour the first two levels of the fort. There are all sorts of signs around to show the history of the fort and its uses over the years. The one thing they don’t like is you touching the walls as the fort is still pretty fragile.
The nicest part of the tour is the observation deck at the top of the fort and the views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. It is a spectacular view of the harbor. You can see by the view why the fort was built where it was built and for its purpose before the War of 1812.
It really is a treat to see how fortifications mattered for cities in this time of history in this country.
The History of Castle Williams:
Castle Williams is a circular defensive work of red sandstone on the west point of Governors Island in New York Harbor. It was designed and erected between 1807 and 1811. It was designed by the Chief Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant Colonial Jonathan Williams for whom the fort was named after. It was considered a prototype for new forms of coastal fortification.
The castle was one component of a larger defensive system for the inner harbor that included Fort Jay and the South Battery on Governors Island, Castle Clinton at the tip of Manhattan, Fort Gibson at Ellis Island and Fort Wood, which is now the base of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. This system of forts came to be known as the Second American System of coastal defense and existed to protect harbors like the one in New York from British interference with American Shipping.
Its usefulness as a fort began to end in the 1830’s, so Castle Williams subsequently served as barracks for the island’s garrison and new and transient troops. The castle was then remodeled by the U.S. Army for use as a prison in various forms during the Civil War and through the first half of the 20th Century.
In 1901, Secretary of War Elihu Root, who worked hard to modernize the Army, made a commitment to preserve the castle and overruled army leaders who wanted to demolish both it and Fort Jay. By 1903, the castle was fitted up as a model, state of art prison facility. In 1947, extensive renovations were carried out with the wooden catwalks replaced by concrete enclosed walk ways, hiding the beautiful stone arches on the third level and resulting in the industrial appearance of the courtyard today. Castle Williams ceased operations as a military prison in 1965 just before the U.S. Army left Governors Island.
The Castle again faced a demolition challenge as Coast Guard officials in Washington DC, who took control of Governors Island in 1966, wanted to demolish it. Instead, the castle was remodeled as a youth community center with a nursery, meeting rooms for Scouts and clubs, a woodworking shop, art studios, a photography laboratory and a museum. By the late 1970’s, the community center moved to another location and the fort became the grounds-keeping shop for the Coast Guard base.
Over time, the roof failed and broken windows allowed serious water damage to occur inside the castle. In the mid-1990s, the roof was replaced and new windows stopped further water damage to the structure but the interior remains closed until it can be made safe for public access. The National Park Service proposes to stabilize and restore the castle and eventually provide access to the roof, allowing the public to admire the harbor and the modern skyline of the great city (this has since opened on my last visit).
Castle Williams was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Placed on July 31, 1972. It was recorded by the Historical American Buildings Survey in 1983. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and the New York City Landmarks Historic District in 1996. It has been part of the Governors Island National Monument by Presidential Proclamations signed in 2001 and 2003.
(This information was provided by the National Park System Division of Cultural Affairs).
The Castle has since opened for tourists and touring since my last visit in the summer of 2019.