Castle Williams
Castle Williams is a circular fortification of red sandstone on the northwest point of Governors Island, part of a system of forts designed and constructed in the early 19th century to protect New York City from naval attack. It is a prominent landmark in New York Harbor. Together with Fort Jay (Fort Columbus), it is managed by the National Park Service as part of Governors Island National Monument.

Design and construction
Castle Williams was designed and erected between 1807 and 1811 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Jonathan Williams, Chief Engineer of the Corps of Engineers and first Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. The castle was one component of a defensive system for the inner harbor that included Fort Columbus (later renamed Fort Jay) and the South Battery on Governors Island; Castle Clinton at the tip of Manhattan, Fort Wood on Liberty Island, and Fort Gibson on Ellis Island. Its pioneering design consisted of enclosed or casemated and multiple levels gun emplacements and set the prototype for American coastal fortification design for the rest of the 19th Century. The 40 foot high nearly circular fortification of 210 feet in diameter was constructed of sandstone walls 7 to 8 feet thick. Each of its four levels had 13 casements that could hold 26 cannons of varied caliber each. The castle was eventually named for its designer builder in an order issued on November 24, 1810 by Colonel Henry Burbeck, commanding the defenses of New York. "In future the Stone Tower on this Island (by the approbation of the Secretary of War) will bear the name of CASTLE WILLIAMS, in honor of the commandant of the United States Corps of Engineers, who designed and erected it."

Civil War
During the Civil War, the casemates (bombproof vaults) of Castle Williams were alternately used to house newly recruited Union troops, a barracks for the garrison's troops and to imprison Confederate enlisted men and deserters from the Union Army. After 1865 it became a low- security military prison that was also used as quarters for recruits and transient troops. The castle was considered to be an aging and obsolete fortification by the 1880s, with pitted and crumbling walls. Improvements including the installation of central heating and plumbing were most likely made in 1895 when Castle Williams was designated as one of a system of 10 military prisons in the U.S. Army.

Use as a prison
A commitment to preserve the forts of Governors Island was made in the early 20th century by Secretary of War Elihu Root when landfill operations doubled the size of Governors Island between 1901 and 1912. The castle was fitted up as a model prison in 1903, and was most likely wired for electricity when it became available on the island in 1904. Remodeling of the angled gate walls occurred in 1912- 13 to create a two- story guardhouse, using stones from two demolished magazines within the courtyard. Castle Williams became the Atlantic Branch of the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks in 1915, and the Eastern Branch of the United States Disciplinary Barracks in 1921. Expansion of the plumbing system occurred in 1916, and complete renovation of the plumbing, central heating, and electrical systems was carried out in the 1930s. The floors and roof were also reinforced with steel in the 1930s, and steel grating and solitary confinement cells were installed in selected casemates of the second and third tiers. Extensive renovations were carried out in 1947-48, resulting in the industrial appearance of the courtyard today. Concrete balconies enclosed with steel sashes replaced existing wooden galleries, and a three- story brick addition enclosed a steel stair. Concrete floors and brick partitions were installed in the casemates of the second tier, and steel security sashes and doors replaced those made of wood. Castle Williams ceased operations as a military prison in 1965, as the U.S. Army closed its post at Fort Jay and moved Headquarters, First United States Army from Governors Island to Fort Meade, Maryland.

Final years of use and preservation
With the arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard to Governors Island in 1966, there was initial consideration to demolishing the castle, but instead it became a community center including a nursery, meeting rooms for Scouts and clubs, a woodworking shop, art studios, a photography laboratory, and a museum. With the relocation of those civilian functions to new locations on the island in the mid-1970s, the castle ended its military career in a state of mild neglect as a storage facility and landscape shop for the Coast Guard. In 1997, with the closure of the Governors Island Coast Guard base, the General Services Administration stabilized the building with replacement windows and a new roof. In 2003, Castle Williams and neighboring fortification, Fort Jay, was transferred to the National Park Service and now administered as part of the Governors Island National Monument. It is a National Registered Historic Place.

Building Activity

  • removed 2 media
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com