C is for Castle

Castle Clinton National Monument

Located at 26 Wall St, New York, NY 10005
Monument Website:  https://www.nps.gov/cacl/index.htm

A fort built on the rocks off the shore of the southern tip of Manhattan to protect the city from attacks by the British, an entertainment center where celebrities performed, an immigrant processing center, an aquarium, and now the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty… Castle Clinton National Monument has gone through many phases in its lifetime. 

In the early years of the 19th century, tensions were growing between the United Kingdom the United States.

In anticipation of a possible war, it was decided to build five new forts to protect the New York harbor, along the coastline. Castle Clinton at The Battery, then called the South West Battery, was one among those. (Three of those early forts Castle Clinton, Castle Williams on Governors Island, and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island are still standing today.)

The circular sandstone fort was armed with 28 cannons pointed at the open sea and any approaching ships. It was connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge. Construction of the Battery was completed in 1811. 

In 1812 US declared war on the United Kingdom. During the war that lasted till 1815, New York harbor was not attacked and the cannons at the Battery did not have to be fired. 

The South West Battery was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815 in honor of DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York and one time mayor of New York City.

The fort was decommissioned as a military base in 1823 and in 1824 leased by the City of New York as a place of public entertainment and renamed Castle Garden. 

As an entertainment center and concert hall, Castle Garden was a great success. Celebrities and US presidents visited. Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale came here to perform to a rousing welcome. 

The flow of immigrants to the US increased due to the unrest in Europe and the famine in Ireland. It was necessary to process the multitude of people arriving at the New York shores. New York State identified the Castle Garden as a suitable location for this purpose and it was leased by the state in 1855. The same year, the island on which the Castle Garden stood was connected to the mainland, filling the channel in between. 

Castle Garden was the first immigrant landing depot to be established by the New York State, which functioned as such for the next 35 years. During this period, over 8 million immigrants entered the country through Castle Garden. Noteworthy among them were Nikola Tesla, Harry Houdini and Joseph Pulitzer. 

In 1890, the federal government took over the responsibility of managing immigration and built a larger facility on Ellis Island. 

The castle building was renovated and remodeled as New York City Aquarium in 1896. The aquarium became very popular with New Yorkers. However in 1941 it was decided to demolish the aquarium to build the Brooklyn Battery tunnel. The decision is met with strong resistance and protests from historians and preservationists. The demolition is halted in 1942 due to the world war, but by then only the walls of the castle are standing. 

Following the efforts of the preservationists, Castle Clinton is declared a National Monument with an act of the US Congress in 1946. The National Park Service, in 1975, restored the castle to its early military appearance and it is opened to the public as Caste Clinton National Monument. 

Today Castle Clinton houses the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. A small exhibition hall, close to the front entrance, has on display amazing photos, some from old books.

Comments (2)

  1. Kristin

    Too bad they destroyed the aquarium. I suppose they built another one in the city.

  2. Molly of Molly’s Canopy

    Nice post and photos! I believe my Italian and German immigrant ancestors also passed through Castle Garden, although I am still in search of their records.


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