#FindYourPark: Governors Island

The Back in Time Zone Tour is a collection of experiences at historic spots in the USA based on vertical time zone regions. This year’s edition is inspired by the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and their #FindYourPark campaign. All month long I’ll be sharing some fantastic places, and hope you’re inspired to see what’s in your part of the country!

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NYC’s “newest” park is also one of its oldest, and with 172 acres of land you might be wondering why you’ve never heard of it before. Most visitors to the southern most point of Manhattan are there for the Statue of Liberty, but a small step in another direction will take you to a different kind of island.

This wonderful place is Governors Island; my favorite park and #1 recommendation for anyone’s summer visit to NYC. It seems out of place being so close to the city, and the story behind it makes a visit really stand out.

The island was once a busy military base for the officers (and their families) of the US Army, and later the Coast Guard. Residents had everything they needed without having to trek over to the mainland, and it was a busy place for over two centuries. Its strategic location near the mainland made it a natural choice for it’s use during the Revolutionary, Civil, and the 1812 wars.

It was occupied until 1996 and sat unused until the Federal Government sold the island to the city of NY in 2003. Plans to redevelop the land as a public park began in 2010, and soon a new era began.

 

A quick ferry ride from the Battery Maritime building takes you to a sort of town, full of old buildings and sprawling green spaces from another era.

Your arrival at Soissons Dock begins with National Park Rangers greeting you with helpful information. If you head left, you’ll see Fort Jay, a star shaped defensive barrier built in the 19th century.  If you take a right, you’ll be heading towards Castle Williams, another fortification that was heavily used during the Civil War to house Union troops and imprisoned Confederate soldiers. Funny enough, in the 1960’s Castle Williams was used as a community center, art space, and children’s nursery for the Coast Guard.

Colonel’s Row and Nolan Park are picturesque, tree-lined paths and houses that were once the homes of high ranking officials and their families. Your typical town staples are sprinkled around these areas, with a theatre, church, and gym nestled among government buildings.

 

Developments to the place have been super awesome, and the Governors Island Alliance has done an incredible job with preserving a lot of the still-functioning structures while demolishing others and creating new, versatile public spaces. Bike paths, creative spaces, and rolling open areas will sooth your busy “NY state of mind”; something that’s much needed in a high energy city like this one.

I recommend bringing or renting a bike when you arrive on the island to efficiently scope out all there is to see. Peering into dusty windows trying to catch a glimpse of what’s inside and the awesome architecture will keep you busy.

It’s even cooler when you realize that there are people alive today who have fond memories of growing up on the island not long ago!

 

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My love for the island is unique and happened unexpectedly in 2010. My stint in concert production during the summer was the Converse Concert series that brought a whole new generation of people to the island right as development was beginning. I spent some beautiful summer days/evenings getting to really know the island and getting my history fix in-between cruising around in a golf cart and the live music.

My favorite memories are the nights that I got to sleep on the island because of early call times. Once that last ferry left the island with the day’s visitors, I was (almost) alone in one of the world’s busiest cities surrounded by a vast amount of space. Sunrises over Manhattan from this angle are incredible, and I loved those solitary moments. I regret not exploring the island more at night, but I think it’s understandable given how CREEPY the place could feel.

Governors Island is open seasonally, and the last day for 2016 is September 25th. You’ve still got some time to check this place out, so go #FindYourPark!

#FindYourPark: The White House

The Back in Time Zone Tour is a collection of experiences at historic spots in the USA based on vertical time zone regions. This year’s edition is inspired by the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and their #FindYourPark campaign. All month long I’ll be sharing some fantastic places, and hope you’re inspired to see what’s in your part of the country!

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I know what you’re thinking…The White House is part of the National Park Service?

You bet! It’s that kind of surprise that makes the #FindYourPark campaign so awesome, and you never know what’ll make you say”I had no idea!”.

Even better to know? Last year Michelle Obama lifted the ban on photos inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and #WhiteHouseTour is so hot right now. Hashtag away my fellow Americans, because this is an awesome place to visit.

The White House has SO MUCH history, and it’s only fitting that it’s in my time traveling series. It is part museum, part ceremonial landmark, and has evolved right alongside American story. Though it is the home of the First Family, it nevertheless ultimately belongs to the American People.

Planning Your Visit

Tours are self guided and requests must be submitted in advance to your Member of Congress. If you are from outside of the USA, you should contact your embassy in the District of Columbia to inquire about arranging a tour. Space is limited, visiting times can be found here, and all White House tours are FREE!

Cameras with removable lenses weren’t allowed in, hence my photo quality, but cell phones and simple point and shoot digital cameras were. Common sense should be good with what not to bring, but here’s a list. There’s no storage on site for items so I recommend bringing the absolute bare minimum.

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That’s me on the right!

A Brief History

After much debate of where the young nation’s capitol should be and where its leader should live, President George Washington selected land on the Potomac river that was given by Maryland and Virginia to be the District of Columbia. Government was to operate on land “not exceeding ten miles square”, so careful planning was taken to change what was then farmland into the heart of the USA.

City planners mapped out roads and buildings for the district, and construction on the President’s home began in 1792. Irish American architect James Hoban designed the home, and the mansion housed its first President in 1800 when John Adams moved in. In August 1814 it was completely burned down during the War of 1812 by the British but was then rebuilt. The West Wing was added in 1901, followed by the East Wing in 1927. It has undergone countless renovations and construction phases, and each presidency has left a mark of some sort on the home.

What’s in a name? Why is it white?

You might have learned that it was painted white to hide burns after the British set the mansion on fire during the war of 1812…A nice story, but the legend is very false.

The exterior was first coated with lime-based whitewash that was meant to protect the porous sandstone from freezing and deteriorating during harsh winters. “The White House” then continued to be refreshed with white paint…and the nickname just kinda stuck. It became the official title in 1901 as decreed by President Theodore Roosevelt. (Fun Fact: painting the exterior takes 570 gallons of paint to complete!)


As far as historic places go, The White House isn’t stuffed with antiques or gilded up like some of the other historic homes I’ve visited. There are portraits presidents and  first ladies everywhere, and it was really cool to recognize them as you walked through. The French inspired Blue Room is where the only wedding of a President and First Lady getting married inside the home has been, and the Green Room was a personal favorite of President Kennedy. The parlors have evolved and been redecorated many times, and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House is dedicated to the mansion’s preservation and function as a museum.

The White House Historical Association has a great website with lots of information and photos of the mansion. Give it a look, read up on some history, and #FindYourPark!

*Featured image is credited to Wikimedia Commons, and the images in this entry are my own.

#FindYourPark: Women’s Rights National Historic Park

The Back in Time Zone Tour is a collection of experiences at historic spots in the USA based on vertical time zone regions. This year’s edition is inspired by the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and their #FindYourPark campaign. All month long I’ll be sharing some fantastic places, and hope you’re inspired to see what’s in your part of the country!

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Oh how I adore the Finger Lakes! A region so dear to my heart, and with a National Park that speaks to me and inspires me to do so much more. Summer is a beautiful time to visit this area of upstate New York, so I zipped north this past weekend to visit the Women’s Rights Historic National Park in beautiful Seneca Falls.

Seneca Falls was the location of the first Women’s Rights Convention that was held on July 19-20, 1848. Advertising itself as “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman”, the meeting was organized by the two iconic suffragists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. It produced the “Declaration of Sentiments”, a document that demanded equal social and legal status for women. While the right to vote was included, it was actually quite controversial and was only included because Frederick Douglass argued for its inclusion (Yup, he was there!).

The Declaration of Sentiments was a huge first step in what Stanton considered the official beginning of the women’s rights movement. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence with several important changes to reflect their goals, its influence spread across the USA and fueled the movement.

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However! In a plot twist worthy of legend, the original document hasn’t been seen since it was taken to Frederik Douglass’ print shop in Rochester to publish in his newspaper. Last year the White House launched a campaign to #FindtheSentiments in the hope that it’s not lost for good, just patiently waiting somewhere to be unearthed.

Funnily enough, while the document remains at large, the actual table it was written on has been identified. You know what’s even crazier? In my personal education and that of the small amount of people I polled, I never KNEW about the Declaration of Sentiments or details about the incredible women who contributed to it, and for that I blame the all too common erasure of remarkable women in school textbooks. It’s not just Women’s History…it’s OUR history, and it needs to be more than just an afterthought.

Visiting the Park

You begin your visit in a Visitor’s Center right next to the Wesleyan Chapel, the actual building where the convention was held. The center’s two floors document what a woman’s role in society meant and the limitations placed on her life throughout American history, and delves into inequality that persists today. The exhibits are interspersed with compelling quotes, outdated artifacts that are ridiculous to us now, and images of women who have blazed their own paths. You can pose with bronze sculptures of your convention heroes, appropriately placed in front of a painted version of Alice Paul’s Suffrage Flag.

The chapel next door has preserved original rafters and areas of brick and plaster, and frequently hosts speakers and features temporary projects. After this area you have the opportunity to visit the M’Clintock House, where several convention planners drafted the Declaration of Sentiments. The parlor has a reproduction of the original table used (the real one is in the Smithsonian) and a Park Ranger will discuss more of the M’Clintock family’s involvement in the budding Women’s Rights Movement as well as the Underground Railroad. They were pretty interesting!

I ended my visit with a tour of Elizabeth Cady Staton’s home on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, a small building that has an ancient chestnut tree in the front yard that was certainly present when she lived there. Her writing desk and armchair are on display in rooms with accurate wallpaper reproductions from her residency, and you learn a little bit more about her life.

On a Related Note…

The drive to Seneca Falls is scenic and passes many vineyards worth visiting for a glass of wine and also my favorite cider house. I highly recommend checking out the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast and their episode about the Declaration of Sentiments to listen to on your way up to Seneca Falls to learn a bit of what you’re about to experience.

This National Park is SO much more than just a place to commemorate a significant event, and I left feeling inspired and fired up. When a historic site leaves you asking questions and swirling with new ideas, you know your visit was a success!