Few buildings in New York City reflect its changing landscape better than the historic fort at the tip of Battery Park. The building now best-known as the admission booth for the Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty ferry was built before the War of 1812 on what was then a separate island. After it and its sister forts around New York Harbor successfully deterred any wartime attacks, the city leased the island from the United States Army and turned it into an entertainment venue, christened Castle Garden. As immigration to New York exploded in the mid-19th century, New York State used the building as an immigrant processing center--replaced by the federal center on Ellis Island in 1890. For the first half of the 20th century, Castle Clinton was home to the New York City Aquarium, until the need for automobile access to the island threatened its demolition. Since the 1950s, it has been administered by the National Park Service and is open daily to visitors.
the saving of Castle Clinton evidences a new and deeper recognition of the need of preserving the diminishing landmarks of our history as an essential part of our National Heritage
What You Will See
Castle Clinton is, unexpectedly, among the most-visited of the 417 sites managed by the National Park Service. This does not reflect the popularity of the fort itself. Rather it is an accident of logistics: most of the 4 million people who visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island each year purchase a ticket within Castle Clinton's walls. Those who fail to take a few extra minutes to explore the building and its exhibits miss out on one of the most interesting, historic, and versatile structures in Manhattan. The fort is small--and seems even smaller when the admission lines are long--and can be thoroughly explored in less than an hour. A small exhibit presents dioramas recreating Castle Clinton and Lower Manhattan through its many roles and iterations, paired with historic artifacts from old New York. Tack on a free, 20-minute Ranger-guided tour and become a Castle Clinton expert without missing your ferry departure.
Why You Should Go
Most visitors go to Castle Clinton not because they want to, but because they have to. But the long summer ticket lines can be made all the more pleasant with an exploration of Castle Clinton and its history. Better yet, visit the Castle independent of the Statue of Liberty, free from the constraints and pressures of crowds, security checks, and departure times. It is a unique building with one of the city's best views of both the New York Harbor and the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan. While even enthusiasts would struggle to fill more than a couple hours, its location at the tip of Manhattan is convenient to just about anything else you'd like to see.