This blog was written by Jonathan Hazin
Anyone describing Nolan Park as shaded and tranquil would be correct, but they’d be missing something crucial. Sure, resting under a grove of trees is a great way to spend a summer afternoon—and on Governors Island, one should take any shade they can get!—but that’s only the beginning of what makes Nolan Park noteworthy and interesting.
Like all of New York, the stories of Nolan Park’s past are invaluable. Many of its houses were built in the 1800s, but the area wasn’t formally named until the 1930s in honor of Major General Dennis E. Nolan, an army commander stationed on the island at Fort Jay in the years leading up to World War II. Nolan and his fellow army leaders lived in the yellow-painted houses that surround the red-brick pathways and grassy patches of the park.
The houses in Nolan Park were comfortable, with most containing at least three bedrooms along with porches, sunrooms, and garages. Unique among the houses is the Admiral’s House, a brick mini-mansion adorned with Greek Revival columns and wing expansions on all sides of the house.
Here lived Governors Island’s commanding officer and his family. Notable residents have lived here throughout most of American history, from 1880 Democratic presidential candidate Winfield Scott Hancock to World War II Five Star General Omar Bradley.
Today the culture of Nolan Park is very different. Long gone are permanent residences, or drinkable running water for that matter, and instead family houses have been transformed into small businesses, art galleries, and performance spaces. The lawns are taken up by makeshift playgrounds, seating areas, and sculptures.
Visitors come and go, some on foot while others peddle around on rented four-wheeled “bike cars” called surreys. Nature and tourism co-exist in a way that I have never witnessed before in another place. Couples enjoy the gardens as kids run wildly toward the Parade Ground, stopping only to watch the birds dip, dive, and circle above them.
And speaking of birds, their natural presence on the island perfectly complements and enhances the New-York Historical Society’s exhibit on the work and life of John James Audubon. Come enjoy the beauty of his paintings and teen-curated information and activities, all in the comfort of House 18 in historic Nolan Park!
Governors Island Map of Nolan Park: