A must-see activity in any trip to New York City should include a tour of the harbor. The harbor is the source of the city’s great wealth and an important element in its settlement and growth. The views of the NYC skyline, New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island help put everything in perspective. There are plenty of ways to see the harbor for very little and you can even ride back and forth between Staten Island and Manhattan for free.
Interestingly, it was in New York Harbor in 1626 that the Dutch spied some native Indians paddling around and after some negotiations purchased the island of Manhattan for trade goods worth 60 guilders. (Imagine that this is a version of modern day haggling for faux purses in Times Square ) Although urban legend is that they bought lhe island for about $24, the actual value of the 60 guilders at today’s inflated exchange rate is about $1,000. Still a good deal and the indians who were passing through, not being fools, were not even from Manhattan so when the crazy Dutch gave them money for something they didn’t even own they ended up getting the best of the bargain! Later versions of this scam would attempt to sell unsuspecting outsiders the Brooklyn Bridge.
The first European settlement in the area of New York Harbor was on Governor’s Island in 1624 as a Dutch fur trading post. In 1625 the Dutch began building a fort on Manhattan to protect new arrivals to the area and christened it New Amsterdam. This is the recognized birth year of New York City.
During those times the English and the Dutch were in a constant state of warfare for who would control the seas and the lucrative trade routes to the New World and from there, hopefully, to the Far East which is where they thought the REAL MONEY was. We all know how that came out. In 1664 the English conquered the island and renamed it New York after the Duke of York, the future King James II. The Dutch briefly regained control in 1673 and renamed it again: this time New Orange. In 1674 it permanently passed into English hands through the Treaty of Westminster whereby the Dutch traded Manhattan for an island in Indonesia which gave them a monopoly on the nutmeg trade…a big thing in a world that only knew a few spices.
From the very beginning the themes in New York have been “new” and “trade.” It remains that way today.
The Statue of Liberty, officially named “Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift to the United States from the people of France to represent the friendship between the two countries formed during the American Revolution. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yup, the same Eiffel who designed the tower in Paris) and is a steel structure cloaked in a covering of pure copper. When the statue was first erected it was the color of a new copper penny but over the years it changed to the beautiful green patina we see today. It took ten years for America to raise enough money to actually put the statue together and it was completed in 1886. It stands 305 feet tall (about the size of a 22-story building) and for many years was the highest structure in New York City. The flame is 24-carat gold leaf. The tablet carried in Lady Liberty’s left hand reads, “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” which, as all of us who remember our Roman numeral lessons from grade school know, means July 4, 1776.
Between 1892 and 1954 Ellis Island was the American gateway for millions of immigrants from Europe. Actually located in New Jersey, Ellis Island is now part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Immigrants arriving by ship would sail past the Statue of Liberty and dock at Ellis Island to unload passengers for processing. Typically immigrants only spent a few hours here but about 2 percent of new arrivals were denied entry into the United States because they had contagious diseases, a criminal history, or were considered insane. (I’m just crazy about New York) Because of this two percent, Ellis Island was sometimes known as the “Island of Tears” because these people were sent back to their native countries after their long Atlantic passage. Interestingly, the average immigrant had $18-25 dollars with them when they arrived. Today that would get you a hamburger and Coke in Midtown.
More than 100 million Americans, a third of our population, can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island.
The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry operated by the New York City Department of Transportation and runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It goes from the ferry terminal at the southernmost tip of Manhattan near Battery Park to Staten Island. A one-way voyage takes about 25 minutes and more than 21 million passengers ride the ferry on its 5.2 mile run each year. The ferry has been in operation since 1905. The free ferry is the best deal in New York and a great way to see some of the harbor. In 2000 Kongo actually had a few connections in the city and was allowed to steer the ferry on trip between Manhattan and Staten Island.
Travel safe. Have fun.
- Statue of Liberty Closed Indefinitely (workingharbor.wordpress.com)
- Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty to Remain Closed Until 2013 (wnyc.org)