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Castle Clinton :: Manhattan, New York

June 5, 2010 by  
Category: Landmarks

Castle Clinton. Wait, you mean they even have a castle? Well, no. The Clinton honored in this naming was DeWitt Clinton; mayor of New York City from 1803 to 1815 and governor of New York State from 1817 to 1822 and 1825 to 1828. In admiration of his service to the state, a sandstone fort built to protect the United States from the British in the War of 1812 was named in his honor. Actually completed in 1811, it was constructed on a man made island off the coast of Manhattan. Despite its original (and obvious purpose) Castle Clinton never saw a single battle. Well not a war based one, anyway.

After a bit of creative landfill, the island became part of Manhattan and Battery Park. By 1823, its use as an entertainment venue for New York City was more or less set, and the property was given to the city where it quickly was turned into a restaurant, beer garden, and amphitheatre. It was so popular as a theatre that in the 1840s a roof was added and Castle Clinton was turned into an opera house that saw some of the greatest performers of all time. After about 30 years of welcoming New Yorkers, in 1855 it became the very first immigrant processing center in the nation, predating Ellis Island. Some of those who first pledged allegiance here are Harry Houdini, Nikola Tesla, and Joseph Pulitzer. It actually currently serves as a departure point for Ellis Island visits, but more on that later.

By 1890, after seeing 8 to 12 million new Americans pass through its doors, its immigrant processing days were over. Using some clever remodeling tricks, Castle Clinton opened up six years later as the New York City Aquarium. Averaging around 5,000 visitors a day (and a full 30,000 on opening day) their colorful marine life and friendly Beluga whale made it one of New York’s most popular destinations. At the start of World War II, the aquarium was closed and almost saw the ugly end of a wrecking ball. After significant public outcry, Castle Clinton was declared a National Monument. Today, although many people see this historic wonder, they don’t go there for the same reasons. Here is the gathering point and port of call for the boats that take millions every year to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Though not as popular as it was in its glory days, this magnificent circular fort is worth visiting if just for the sheer magic of discovering a little more about its history.

New York City (Lonely Planet City Guide)
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Retail Price: $19.99
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