As you might have guessed from looking at my profile pics, I am something of an avid bike rider. My friends and I will generally go out early every Sunday morning and ride 60 or so miles around Westchester county, through beautiful horse country.
As much as I love it, I am usually up for a change of scenery.
This Independence Day, a friend of one of my co-riders suggested doing a special “patriotic” ride in the city (NYC).
There are several interesting phenomena when it comes to NY’ers.
First, Manhattanites virtually NEVER venture into the other boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx). Oh, maybe to see a Mets or Yankees game, but then they just hop the subway, or take a cab or limo and get deposited right at the stadiums.
Those in the outer boroughs usually only come into Manhattan for work, when the population of the little island swells from a few hundred thousand into the millions. Or they may come in for the wonderful cultural events.
Throughout the city, there are amazing sites that often go ignored. Hundreds of parks, public art, historic sites, etc.
What is generally not known, because Americans, no different from NY’ers really know little of their own history, are the many incredibly historically significant landmarks.
Manhattan was the site of the largest riots in American history, the draft riots of the civil war which led federal troops to fire artillery into lower Manhattan.
And so much more.
But, this Wednesday, we decided to do a ride to see some of the Revolutionary sites, with others sprinkled in.
We started on 89th St. and Riverside drive looking at the soldiers and sailors monument. An enormous rotunda and sculpture that stands at the entrance to Riverside Park commemorating all the NY’ers who have died in all of the Wars in this country.
We then rode up Riverside Drive (for those wondering, the river is the Hudson river, itself an historic site) to Grants tomb. Dedicated to the memory of Ulysses S. Grant and the basis for the trivia question “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb”? Not Grant himself, who is interred at Arlington National in Washington, but his wife).
The tomb covers an entire city block and during the drug days of the 1970′ and 80’s was the a notorious crack den.
It has been lovingly restored and now stands as a true monument. We discussed also Fort Tryon, now site of the “Cloisters” a branch of the Metropolitan Museum and some of it’s medieval collection.
It was named for the British Governor of NY. IT was the site of the Battle of Fort Washington, it’s original name in which American troops faced the Hessian mercenaries hired by the British.
It was part of the fall of NY (more below) but was also the site of the death of the first “American” woman to be wounded in battle. Margaret Corbin.
Next we headed back down, took a brief stop at the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt at the 79th St. entrance to Riverside park and made our way onto the fabulous new West Side Greenway/Bike and Pedestrian path.
100 or so blocks later and we were at Ground Zero which was teeming, even at 9 in the morning on this day.
For those who have not been, it still takes ones breath away, reverberating in deep sadness. Just a pit, with fencing and construction cranes around, if you listen closely, you can hear the screams of the victims.
Next we proceeded all the way south, to Battery Park. As the name implies, the Park was the site of original cannon batteries and was part of the escape of American troops from the victorious British.
We circled around and stood in the southern tip of Battery Park City and gazed at Governeurs, Ellis and Liberty Islands. These you probably know the significance of. Lady Liberty, a gift from the French, who were instrumental in helping America become free, has inscribed on her tablet the date, July 4th 1776.
We then headed up to the world financial center, opposite ground zero to read the dedication and information on the construction of the new liberty tower.
This building is a magnificent piece of architecture whose centerpiece is an incredible atrium known as the Wintergarden. It was destroyed on 9/11, not by the falling of the towers, but by the bodies of those who chose to jump from the Trade Center rather than die in an inferno. They came crashing through this totally glass building.
We crossed the island towards city hall and then mounted the Brooklyn Bridge stopping at the center supports to read the history of this magnificent structure.
We then headed to the Brooklyn side. Originally named Breuklyn by the Dutch, it became Brookland under the English and is now a bastardization of the 2 names.
Circling under the bridge we came to the Fulton Ferry port. The ferry landing here was used by Washington and his troops to escape to the island of Manhattan, crossing the East river under cover of the night to escape the advancing British troops as the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, also known as the Battle of Long Island, was lost.
Because of the fame of this event, when Ferry service was created between Brooklyn and Manhattan, Robert Fulton chose this spot to begin with his new “steam” ferries.
The real significance of the Battle of Brooklyn was the loss of NY which than stayed in British hands for the duration of the war. It is also noted for the execution of Nathan Hale (“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” ).
After the siege of Boston, the British had retreated to Nova Scotia, Long Island and established headquarters at New Dorp on Staten Island.
After being pushed back and then retreating to the southern tip of Manhattan, Washington then escaped across the Hudson to New Jersey for the famous Winter in Trenton and the eventual crossing of the Delaware.
Finally, we headed through the historic Brooklyn neighborhoods, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Cobble Hill and headed towards Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park in Manhattan.
The entrance to Prospect Park is Grand Army Plaza, designed to look like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It is the center point of many of the famed Brooklyn Avenues that you may have heard of – Flatbush, Ocean Parkway, [image].
The Arch was designed by John Duncan, who would go on to design Grant’s tomb. The cornerstone was laid by famed Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, unfortunately largely forgotten, but one of the true heroes of the civil war.
The arc, and the statues were originally designed as a memorial for the defenders of the union in the civil war, and is now considered the most successful entryway to a public park in the world.
Finally, we headed back through Brooklyn, making a brief stop at the other side of Prospect park to see the large bas relief and free sculpture of the Marquise de Lafayette, the Frenchman so critical to helping us achieve independence.
From there we went through the Financial District, past the New York Stock exchange on Wall Street to stop and look at the large sculpture of George Washington, on the steps of Federal Hall, where Washington took the oath of office.
As a point of history – for those that don’t know, during revolutionary days, New York was really a secondary city, never more than the fourth largest, behind Philadelphia, Boston, Richmond etc.
It was only after the civil war that it exploded, and not until then that the southern tip, where Washington had made his escape, became anything more than “country side”.