I have been to the South Street Seaport dozens of times over the years and can’t believe that I never noticed this memorial dedicated to those lost in the Titanic disaster. I was visiting the Seaport recently after finishing another walk down the length of Broadway for my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com” and was walking past the Seaport on my way to Chinatown. Something about it this time caught my attention and I stopped to look at the dedication of this small lighthouse.
It was really touching to see that the people from the 1912 disaster were not forgotten in New York City, its ultimate destination. This was the work of Molly Brown, the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’ from the movie. She wanted to be sure that the people who survived were never forgotten. The small lighthouse structure sits at the entrance to the main part of the seaport on an island just off the cobblestone walkway into the complex.
The Memorial plaque on the lighthouse
The tower that it was originally placed a top of the Seamen’s Church Institute Building and it was put up for sale and demolished in 1965 and the small lighthouse memorial was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum. It was placed in its current location in 1976 (Friends of the Lighthouse).
The little lighthouse is a touching reminder of Manhattan’s connection to the event over 100 years ago. Try not to miss it when you are visiting the Seaport.
The history of the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse:
(This is from the Friends of the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse website)
On April 15th, 1913, one year after the sinking of the Titanic, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and Time Ball, mounted atop the Seamen’s Church Institute, were dedicated to honor the passengers, officers and crew who perished in the tragedy. The dedicatory service opened with a hymn and prayer and then Rt. Rev. David h Greer, Bishop of New York, read the following lines of dedication:
“To the glory of Almighty God and in loving memory of those passengers, officers and crew who lost their lives in the foundering of the steamship, Titanic, on April 15, 1912, I, David Hummell Greer, Bishop of New York and president of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York, do solemnly dedicate the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse Tower. As its light by night shall guide pilgrims and seafaring men from every clime into this port, so may they follow Him who is the Light of Life across the waves of this troublesome world to everlasting life and looking at noon toward this place to note the time of day, may they remember that our days pass as the swift ships and in view of the shortness and uncertainty of human life, strive to fulfill their duty well as the beat preparation for Eternity. Amen.”
The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse exhibited a fixed green light that could be seen throughout New York harbor and down as far as Sandy Hook. Five minutes before noon each day, a time ball would be hoisted to the top of a steel rod mounted atop the lighthouse and dropped at the stroke of twelve as indicated over the wires from Washington DC. According to The Lookout, the magazine of the Seamen’s Church Institute, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse would be a much needed daily reminder for ‘in a busy, carless city the average person so soon forgets’.
The Seamen’s Church Institute was established in 1834 and had announced plans for its new twelve story headquarters at South Street and Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan several years before the loss of the Titanic. The Flemish style building was meant to reflect new York’s Dutch origins and was to be crowned by a tower whose beacon would welcome incoming seamen. The cornerstone for the building was laid one day after the sinking of the Titanic and a week later the institute announced the lighthouse atop their building would be a memorial to the victims of the tragedy.
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.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the area has just started to reopen their restaurants for dining outdoors so please look to the websites of the individual restaurants for information.
Visiting Stone Street in Lower Manhattan:
As part of my tour of Historic Bars and Pubs on Day One Hundred and Thirteen with the Cornell Club on May 9th, 2018, we toured the famous ‘Stone Street’ one of the original paved streets of Manhattan. You will not find architecture or pavings like this left in New York City. Here and there are streets or buildings that represent these times during the early to mid-1800’s but they are few and scattered in remote spots all over the island. Here the street still represents a different era of Manhattan.
The stores in the 90’s had been either boarded up or were used but in horrible shape. During the business hours not too many people inhabited this area of Lower Manhattan and it was ignored. The neighboring South Street Seaport was being transformed in the mid 80’s into a type of historic theme park and entertainment center by the Rouse Corporation. It put these old neighborhoods back into vogue and people started to return again.
Over time, especially after 9/11 and the changes in downtown Manhattan, the street is now home to many trendy bars and restaurants and a hang out for the downtown business crowd. During the recent walking tour, the place was hopping with people spilling out of restaurants, ordering drinks during happy hour and eating pizza at the local pizzeria.
During ‘Happy Hour’ after work, the place is mobbed with people milling around having a good time. The tables toward the end of the street are filled with tourists taking pictures and at one end of the street is the famous “India House” and at the other is the Frances Tavern where George Washington gave his troops his farewell address.
Stone Street in the warmer months
It is not only a historical neighborhood but loaded with things to see and do. The buildings which were once in horrible shape have been brought back to life and repositioned to use for the meals and entertainment. It is interesting to see how a neighborhood comes back in full circle in a 150 years.
History of the area:
Stone Street is a short street in Manhattan’s Financial District. It originally ran from Broad Street to Hanover Square but was divided into two sections by the construction of the Goldman Sachs building at 85 Broad Street in the 1980’s. Today the cluster of historic buildings along Stone, South William, Pearl Streets and Coenties Alley form the Stone Street Historic District.
The area burned during the Fire of 1835
Stone Street is one of New York’s oldest streets. It was originally known by its Dutch name, Hoogh Staet (High Street). In 1632, the Dutch West India Company built the first commercial brewery in North America there. Around 1656, Hoogh Straet was shifted about twenty to twenty-five feet to align it with Brouwer Street, the extension of Hoogh Straet west of the Gracht and which in 1658 became the first paved street in Nieuw Amsterdam. Following the British conquest of the colony, the name Hoogh Straet was translated to High Street. It was then called Duke Street for the Duke of York during most of the 18th century. Leveled in 1771 and 1790, it was renamed Stone Street in 1794 because of it’s cobblestone paving as New Yorkers abandoned reminders of British Rule.
The Fire of 1835
The street’s stores and loft were built for dry-goods merchants and importers, shortly after the Great Fire of 1835, which destroyed many remnants of New Amsterdam.
Most buildings were used as storage. The building at 57 Stone Street was rebuilt in 1903 by C.P.H, Gilbert in Dutch Colonial Revivial architecture at the behest of the owner, Amos F. Eno as son of Amos R. Eno. The buildings to the back on South William 13-23 also were reconstructed in the Dutch revival style, evoking New Amsterdam.
Following many decades of neglect, a joint partnership between the Landmarks Preservation Commission and other city agencies, the Alliance for Downtown New York and Stone Street owners has transformed Stone Street from a derelict back alley into one of Downtown’s liveliest scenes. Restored buildings, granite paving, bluestone sidewalks and period lights set the stage for the half dozen restaurants and cafes, whose outdoor tables are very popular on warm summer nights.
The eastern portion of the street and the surrounding buildings have been protected since 1996 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as the Stone Street Historic District and is pedestrian only. The historic district is now populated by several restaurants and bars and has a outdoor dining when the weather permits. The India House historic landmark is located at the Hanover Square end of the street.
(This information was taken directly from Wikipedia and I give them full credit)