4, 5 at Bowling Green; 1 at South Ferry; R at Whitehall St.-South Ferry
If you want tickets to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, you will likely wind up at Castle Clinton. For many visitors, the experience here is limited to long waits in line before moving on to Lady Liberty, the main event. Yet the historic sandstone structure itself merits a quick look-around. Start off in the inconspicuous narrow room immediately to the right of the main entrance; it briefly chronicles the castle’s rich and varied past, displaying three dioramas of the fort and lower Manhattan as seen in 1812, 1886 and 1941. Take a turn around the inner castle perimeter, keeping an eye out for a 19th century cannon replica. Wind up in the open-air center, which houses two octagonal huts: The ticket booth and a tiny bookstore selling books related to immigration, military history and local landmarks, plus model naval cannons, colonial coins and quills.Background
The castle began as the Southwest Battery, one of five forts constructed in 1811 for the defense of New York Harbor and connected to Manhattan by a 200-foot wooden causeway and drawbridge. The fort’s 28 cannons sat through the War of 1812 without ever engaging in military action. Renamed for Mayor DeWitt Clinton and then transferred to the city by the US Army in 1823, Castle Clinton was reborn as Castle Garden, a popular spot for concerts, fireworks, demonstrations and even the rare balloon ascension. With the addition of a roof, the garden became a refined hall for opera and theater. In the 1850s, landfill extended Battery Park, placing the castle at its very tip. Shortly thereafter the concert hall was remade as the city’s first immigrant landing depot, processing more than 8 million immigrants between 1855 and 1890. Soon the immigration influx demanded a greater space, leading to the creation of Ellis Island and to the castle’s next identity as the New York City Aquarium. Narrowly saved from demolition in the 1940s, Castle Clinton was restored to its original, roofless, fort appearance and reopened as the National Park Service Visitor’s Center in 1975.
Ranger-led group tours are available on request, but groups of 10 or more must make arrangments at least two weeks in advance.