Clinton is a famous name in New York City, and has been for 200 years, at least. Of course, the contemporary Clinton is Bill, whose Clinton Global Initiative is in its fifth year and whose meetings attract nearly as many flies to its honey (as in money, honey) as the United Nations General Assembly does world leaders, both in the last ten days of September every year.
There's a district named Clinton in the city, formerly called Hell's Kitchen, on the west side of Manhattan between 34th and 59th streets. It abuts the district named Chelsea to its south, and there is even a neighborhood newspaper called The Chelsea-Clinton News, but it predates the fame of the daughter of Bill and Hillary by several years, so it's another coincidence, and yes, funny. The district was named for Governor (1817-1822) DeWitt Clinton, often called "the father of the Erie Canal."
But we're talking a National Monument Clinton here, as in National Park, a place where immigrants landed, without fuss or hindrance, in the days before Ellis Island became the front door of the country. It was also the venue for such famous entertainment events as the performances by Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale" bombshell soprano who was the Marilyn Monroe, more or less, of the 1850s, brought here by no less than P.T. Barnum.
The Castle Clinton National Monument is a part of the National Parks of New York Harbor, which include 23 unique destinations, such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Teddy Roosevelt's Birthplace and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse.
Castle Clinton was built between 1808 and 1811, just before the beginning of the War of 1812, also known as the Second War of Independence, as one of several forts intended to defend New York Harbor. The Brits hadn't given up trying to exploit us even 23 years after signing a peace treaty with us. (And that treaty was 13 years after we had announced our own independence and fought with them all the time to ensure it.) The Southwest Battery, its original moniker, was renamed Castle Clinton in 1817 in honor of DeWitt Clinton, the mayor and later governor of New York. When the Army left in 1821, the fort was deeded to the city two years later. As the National Park Service website on the castle says, "Built to keep people out; now welcomes millions in."
By 1824, a new restaurant and entertainment center opened here, called Castle Garden. In the 1840s, a roof was added and it became an opera house and theater until 1854. People came here to see new inventions demonstrated, including the telegraph, Colt rifle, steam-powered fire engines and underwater electronic explosives. By 1855, the castle became an immigrant landing depot, processing over eight million people entering the country until it closed in 1890.
Finally, it became the New York City Aquarium from 1896 through 1941. Today it serves as a museum and the ticket office for the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and to Ellis Island.
Castle Clinton is open daily except Christmas Day, from 8:30am to 5pm, but might close if the weather is really bad. You can phone ahead if you're not sure, to tel. 212/344-7220.
You can take the guided tour, "A History of the Castle," daily at 10am, noon, and 2pm. It's a ranger-led tour, taking about 20 minutes, and illustrates the history of the castle and how it served as a fort, an entertainment center, an immigration depot (before Ellis Island) and an aquarium.
In summer, there are occasional outdoor concerts here. Year round, board a ferry here for the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island and its Immigration Museum. There's a book kiosk in the courtyard of the castle, too.
Fees and Reservations
There are no fees for any activities here, but certain after hour activities require a permit. And yes, there is a fee to board the ferries for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island here.
If you want to meet a ranger here, you can phone ahead and make an appointment at tel. 212/344-7220.
There were 3,727,030 visitors to Castle Clinton in 2008, the National Park Service says.
The official website of Castle Clinton National Monument is www.nps.gov/cacl.