Castle Clinton: Born For War
In the early 1800s tensions between the US and Britain were boiling hot. The American Revolutionary War remained fresh in the minds of both countries. That there would be further conflict seemed likely.
The end of the Revolutionary War had seen the old Dutch fortress Fort Amsterdam demolished, leaving South Manhattan in need of fortification. A string of defences were proposed in 1805 and, in 1808, construction began on what would one become Castle Clinton.
In 1810, the castle still incomplete, the British attacked the USS Chesapeake. War seemed inevitable and, two years later, when the castle was at last finished, it was outright declared by the US.
Castle Clinton Braces For Combat
A circular red brick fort adrift on an artificial island and stocked with two 32-pounder cannons, Castle Clinton (or West Battery as it was then known) was ready for battle. Much like Fort Wadsworth however it never saw conflict.
Through almost three years of war it stood, manned but unused until, in 1815, the Treaty of Ghent once again brought peace. It was then renamed in honour of Major DeWitt Clinton and made the administrative HQ of the army.
By 1821 however it had become surplus to military requirement. The army stopped using it and, over the next few years it grew popular with fishermen, who would dangle their rods off of the bridge that connected the fort to mainland Manhattan.
Castle Clinton Becomes A Place Of Public Entertainment
In 1824, the castle was leased to the city and made into 'Castle Garden', a restaurant and entertainment center. Over the decades that followed it hosted many prestiguous performances including the US debut of opera singer Jenny Lind 'The Swedish Nightingale' and the US premiere of Verdi's Lusia Miller.
Immigration At Castle Clinton
The mid 1800s saw an increasing number of immigrants arriving into the city. Because of this, the castle was converted, in 1855, into the Emigrant Landing Depot. The 1860s saw it joined to Manhattan's mainland by landfill and over the next 30 years it processed an estimated 8 million new arrivals to the US, two-thirds of the country's arrivals as a whole.
During this period the depot was a hotbed of corruption. Immigrants were stolen from, extorted and some even died because of the negligence of the staff. It was such a chaotic place that it gave birth to the term 'Kesselgarten'. This was the German name for Castle Clinton and refers to a place or situation that is noisy, confusing, chaotic or a 'babel' of different languages.
In 1890, the federal government interceded, taking control of the depot and moving its operations to Ellis Island.
Castle Clinton National Monument
From 1896 to 1941 the castle was the home to the NYC Aquarium, a popular attraction that was visited by thousands every year and is now commemorated by the nearby Seaglass Carousel. 1941 saw it threatened with demolition however, this being deemed pragmatic for the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel.
Preservationists protested, causing such an uproar that, in 1946, Castle Clinton was made a National Monument by presidential decree. Despite this, it was city property and the city still wanted to demolish it. The site remained in peril until 1950 when it was at last obtained by the federal government.
Castle Clinton National Monument Today
In the 1970s the castle was renovated extensively, reopening in 1975. It is now part of Battery Park and a popular departure point for those wishing to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It also hosts a small history exhibit and the occasional concert.
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Discover more historic castles in our articles on Farleigh Hungerford Castle and York Castle.