New York Harbor - The historic gateway to America (31 May)
Interesting Facts about New York Harbor
ONE OF THE WORLD’S largest natural harbors, New York’s “front porch” has been an object of fascination to the outside world since 1524, when the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into the body of water and claimed it for France.
The harbor is divided into inner and outer portions on either side of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. Brooklyn makes up the eastern shore, Staten Island and New Jersey the west, and at the northern end, the Hudson and East Rivers flow around Manhattan and into the harbor.
These days, the eye is drawn to the immense One World Trade Center skyscraper looming over the lower end of Manhattan, but the Statue of Liberty remains the city’s most iconic landmark. A gift from France to honor the centennial of American independence, Lady Liberty first assumed her prominent stance over New York Harbor in 1886, and she has been an emblem of the free world ever since.
Just north in the Upper Bay is Ellis Island, where more than 12 million immigrants took their first steps on U.S. soil between 1892 and 1954. Nowadays, the rectangular isle honors the memory of those migrants and helps their descendants find their own roots.
On the opposite side of the Upper Bay, the 172-acre Governors Island was transformed from a longtime military base and Coast Guard station into an eclectic visitor experience that opened to the public in 2003. In addition to historic attractions like Fort Jay and Castle Williams, the island now boasts art exhibits, a food court, biking and hiking paths, and picnic areas with jaw-dropping views of the Manhattan skyline.
The adjacent Brooklyn waterfront has also undergone tremendous change in recent years, the decrepit docks transformed into waterfront parks, gardens, sports facilities, playgrounds, outdoor bars, and shoreline restaurants. During the summer, one of the great lawns becomes a venue for outdoor movies with Manhattan as a backdrop.
One of the best ways to explore the waterway is absolutely free—the Staten Island Ferry. The workhorse vessels were launched in 1817 and carry 70,000 people per day on the 25-minute journey between Manhattan’s Battery Park and Staten Island’s St. George Terminal. New York Harbor is still a hardworking port that handles more than 2,200 cargo ships and 3.6 million cargo containers each year, but it has gradually also evolved into a recreation hub with sailing, fishing, and even swimming. Five units of Gateway National Recreation Area frame the Lower Bay including Breezy Point, Great Kills Park, and Sandy Hook.