Thousands visit Castle Clinton every day, but have no clue what it is. You see this beautiful stone fort is where you buy tickets to go to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in New York City’s Battery Park. The fort is often unseen and unnoticed as the ticket hungry crowd is not there to see this historical national monument.
For history buff’s, Castle Clinton was the first immigrant-landing depot in the United States that welcomed newcomers entering this country. It was used from 1855 to 1890 and over eight million people passed through its gates. More immigrants entered here per year than Ellis Island. Castle Clinton was replaced by Ellis Island in the 1890s.
You can actually check online to see if any of your ancestors passed through Castle Clinton. Go to CastleGarden.org. My great-grandfather is among the early immigrants. He arrived in 1881. It is a warm feeling to stand in the same spot your ancestors did. I always find it an added bonus to be able to include places like this in my travels.
Prior to becoming the immigration depot, the Castle was many interesting things. It started out as a D-shaped fort and was an island. The island was connected to Lower Manhattan by a 200-foot wooden causeway and drawbridge. It had 28 canons available to help protect it during the 1812 war. The canons where never fired in defense, their presence was enough to ward off its opponents.
In 1824, the name changed from Castle Clinton to Castle Gardens. It became a very popular cultural center with an amphitheater. You could actually stroll on a walkway around the top of the walls, what a view they would have had. Something I wish was possible today. I believe it would be very popular.
In the 1850s, the island was enveloped by landfill to become part of Battery Park, which I find amazing. As it was no longer an island, the wooden walkway was no longer needed.
After being the point of immigration for millions, the fort was transformed again and opened in 1896 as the New York City Aquarium. They say millions of people visited it every year to see the many local and international species. It remained open for 45 years.
In 1946 the fort was designated as a National Monument and over many years it was restored to its original appearance of a stone fort. The name was also changed back to Castle Clinton. The fort’s name was in honor of the governor of New York DeWitt Clinton. Governor Clinton was attributed to being a driving force that built the Erie Canal in the early 1800s. It now serves as the National Park Service Visitor Center and, as mentioned before, it’s where you can buy tickets for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
If you are going to visit either of those places, take the time to enjoy the fort too. Find the small museum that will walk you through the forts history. Look at the beautiful stones, thick walls and design. Children young and old will enjoy the canon on display. Battery Park, the area where Castle Clinton is located, is a beautiful park; a great place to sit and relax in. You can also catch a glimpse of the new World Trade Center.
Please take a moment and enjoy the history and beauty of a highly visited but usually overlooked and under appreciated National Monument – Castle Clinton.
Subway – 1, 4, 5, R
Side note – If you wander up State St, which becomes Broadway, you will find the “Charging Bull.” (North on State St./Broadway, just before Morris St.)