Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fort Jay and other Star Forts

Yesterday morning I finished the text to a paper I have been trying to write for several years about my geoarchaeological investigations on Governors Island in New York Bay. I still have some figures, tables, and so forth to revise in order to get a camera-ready copy out the door to the editors. The intact archaeological contexts on the island are mostly associated with the above star-shaped fort, Fort Jay, built between 1806 and 1809. In 2001, several years after I completed my fieldwork, the Governors Island National Monument was created to circumscribe both Fort Jay and Castle Williams, built between 1807 and 1811 along the northeastern shore of the island.

My role as geoarchaeologist did not require much familiarity with the details of the historic structures on the island, and I surfed the web a bit yesterday looking for primary information beyond what is incorporated into the seemingly quite accurate Wikipedia entries on Fort Jay and on Governors Island. My own studies encompassed a "national historic landmark district" of 92 acres which the Wikipedia entry suggests may still exist in spite of the subsequent designation of a much smaller "national monument" of only 22 acres linking the two forts. The star fort, Fort Jay, is part of the "First System" of American coastal fortification. Fort Jay was known as Fort Columbus until 1904 due to the unpopularity of John Jay because of his negotiations with Great Britain. The circular casemated work, Castle Wiliams, was part of the "Second System" of American coastal fortification. Castle Williams was used to hold Confederate prisoners during the civil war and as a military stockade thereafter until 1966, when the army turned the island over to the coast guard.

Coast Guard "brats" who grew up living on the island between 1966 and the closing of the coast guard base in 1996 have their own webpage about the island. Excellent photographs posted by bloggers jschumacher and Mike (Satan's Laundromat) have prompted a variety of comments on the past, present, and future of the island. If you have a personal interest or opinion about what is going to be done with the island, then the place to go is the Governors Island Alliance. I just voted there for a "prow" design in which most of the artificially created southern end would be turned into green space surrounding a large basin.

The most interesting webpage that I ran across in this mad surfing was a star forts database that has been developed by Oliver Bromley. Mr. Bromley appears to have used java to code this database in such a way that every photograph or drawing is linked as an object both to other objects in the database and to primary source material available on the internet at webpages for other authors and institutions. Not only did I learn a great deal about the long history of design and construction of star forts, Mr. Bromley's creative programming for internet applications gives me hope for new sharing and integration of scientific information as the internet takes on a more open architecture.

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At 11:55 PM , Blogger MoonDanzer said...

I have loved history. As far back as I can remember. We live about 6 mls. from Ft. Washita in Ok. It's primary use was as an encampment for the native Americans as they were being moved around. It also served as a school for them for a while. There are of course many rumors concerning the ghosts of the soldiers once posted there. But, you know, when you visit a place such as this, and, if you remain very quite and still. One can sense the presence of an era long since past. I really enjoyed the read. I would love to have your job.

At 9:18 AM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

I believe that I may have camped at Fort Washita on my way out west once. Is that near Lawton Airforce base?

At 10:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Don;
It's interesting that you made this post this week, lol, I've just been looking into some of the sights of New York for a 2-3 day excursion I'm planning in november. I'll have to see if maybe I can fit in some time to take a little tour of Governors Island.

Take Care;

At 10:20 AM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

If you do, you may see evidence of recent archaeology between Fort Jay and Castle Williams. The National Park Service was planning to document some damage there by maintenance workers preparing the golf course for a tournament.


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