You might know it today as Castle Clinton, the National Monument. It's located in the Battery Park section of Manhattan, and if your ancestors sailed into New York Harbor any time between 1855 and 1890, it's the first building they'd have visited on this side of the pond.
West Battery, an Island Fortress
Castle Clinton began its life as West Battery between 1808 and 1811 on an artificial island in New York Harbor. Designed as an island fortification for the War of 1812 and connected to Manhattan by nothing more than a causeway bridge, it complemented its sister battery, Castle Williams, built just across the harbor on Governors Island.
Dignitaries and Entertainers, Enter Here
After the war, West Battery underwent a major transformation. Renamed Castle Clinton in 1817 in honor of New York's then-governor, the name changed again to Castle Garden in 1824. Artisans upgraded its decor with flowers and fountains to match, and the place began serving as a reception hall for New York's more distinguished visitors. Among them could be found such major lights as President Andrew Jackson, Louis Kossuth, General Lafayette, and Prince Albert.
Castle Garden: Theatre and Opera House
These glorious visits continued until the late 1840s, when Castle Garden morphed into a concert hall. For a few glorious years, it showcased the fireworks, concerts and talent of the day. In 1850, Swedish soprano Jenny Lind made her American debut at Castle Garden, promoted by none other than P. T. "There's-One-Born-Every-Minute" Barnum.
But What About the I...
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... the summer of 1975, it opened its doors foor the first time in 34 years. Eleven years later, although somewhat beneath the castle's dignity, the National Park Service began to use it as a ticket office, selling harbor trips to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Still at the Same Old Stand
Castle Clinton stands proudly today at its grand old spot in Battery Park, staunchly waiting to greet you. Walk inside its thick stone walls, and see what it felt like in the good old days, when fortresses were fortresses, and people were glad of it. Enjoy reading the historical markers attached to its walls, and thank the civic groups of the 1940s who fought to make this possible. And if you're so inclined, you might decide to hop a ferry and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, up close and personal. If so, you know where to buy your ticket. Enjoy your tour!
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