Lots of folks have ably blogged the death of the old South Ferry station, which will close sometime in late January. (My favorites were from Forgotten NY and Second Avenue Sagas.) It’s on my list of things to do with the kids over the break to go see the old station before it’s gone.
Among the best things people can say about the new terminal are that a) it’s clean — though some say “sterile,” like an Apple store; b) it will shave approximately six minutes off the full 7th Avenue commute (for those Staten Islanders who work at 242nd Street); and c) it’s ADA-compliant. The last is certainly something to appreciate.
Among the old treasures that will be lost to the public, though, are the fifteen ornate Heins and LaFarge ceramic plaques depicting a sloop in the harbor:
The old station will apparently be used to store extra trains to dispatch during rush hour. I imagine it will become a destination for those who scheme for peeks at the forbidden NYC underground — the way the old City Hall station is now.
What’s been less discussed in the hubbub over the new terminal are the things uncovered during excavation. The MTA’s own site has a useful overview, and the rhetoric, at least, is friendly to archaeology and history, unusual for NYC construction projects.
The most major find during the dig, back in the fall of 2005, was a major chunk of the old Battery Wall, a colonial era bulwark that ringed the lower tip of the Island. From the MTA site:
[T]he battery would have had cannon mounted along it to fire at enemy
ships. Four different sections of the battery wall have been found,
spanning a distance of almost 600 feet. It ranges from about 8 to 10
feet wide. The largest section is about 75 feet long and up to four
feet high, although it would have been much higher when it was built.
The version of the Battery Wall unearthed during construction probably dates to the middle of the eighteenth century and would have been built before the Revolutionary War and was partially demolished and buried when the area was filled in the early nineteenth century to create Battery Park.
The Battery was, at least during the post-Revolutionary years, a popular promenade. After the war, barracks that had housed British troops during the occupation were pulled down, elm trees were planted, and the walk from the Bowling Green to the Battery was transformed into “one of the most delightful walks, perhaps in the world,” according to one city newspaper.
Anyone who’s read Royall Tyler’s 1787 play The Contrast, celebrated as the first play by an American playwright to be staged by professional actors, will recall that it opens with one of the leads, the coquettish Charlotte, recounting for a friend the previous night’s walk on the Battery:
It would have delighted you to have seen me
the last evening, my charming girl! I was dangling
o’er the battery with Billy Dimple; a knot of young
fellows were upon the platform; as I passed them I
faultered with one of the most bewitching false steps
you ever saw, and then recovered myself with such a
pretty confusion, flirting my hoop to discover a jet
black shoe and brilliant buckle. Gad! how my little
heart thrilled to hear the confused raptures of–
“Demme, Jack, what a delicate foot!” “Ha! Gen-
eral, what a well-turned–“
Her friend stops her, scandalized: “Fie, fie, Charlotte! I protest you are quite a libertine!”
Portions of the newly-discovered Battery have been preserved in the mezzanine wall of the new station.
What else has turned up at the old Battery? Pottery shards, bones, over-sized oyster shells, and yellow bricks used in Dutch construction. One fun find is a “counter,” or non-negotiable coin, commemorating the 1758 British capture of the French Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia.
But it’s hard not to think about what will be lost, especially when you compare the old signage with the new:
Could they at least photograph the old station lettering, the way they’re apparently doing at some stops in Brooklyn?