The lowest and one of the largest of the pleasure grounds of the city, is the park lying at the extreme end of the island, at the junction of the Hudson and East rivers, and known as the Battery. At the first settlement of the Dutch, the fort, for the protection of the little colony, was built at some distance from the extreme edge of the island, which was then rocky and swampy, but near enough to it to sweep the point with a raking fire. This fort occupied the site of the present Bowling Green. In 1658 Governor Stuyvesant erected a fine mansion, afterwards known as “The Whitehall,” in the street now called by that name, but “Capsey Rocks,” as the southern point of the island was called, remained unoccupied. In 1693, the Kingdom of Great Britain being at war with France, the Governor ordered the erection of a battery “on the point of rocks under the fort,” and after considerable trouble, succeeded in obtaining from the Common Council, who were very reluctant to pay out the public money for any purpose not specified in the charter—a virtue which seems to have died with them—the sum necessary for that purpose. In 1734 a bill was passed by the General Assembly of the Province, ordering the erection of a battery on Capsey Rocks, and forbidding the erection of houses which would interfere with the fire of its guns, “on the river, or on parts which overflow with water, between the west part of the Battery, or Capsey Rocks, to Ells Corner on the Hudson River,” (the present Marketfield street).
During the years preceding the Revolution, and throughout that struggle, the Battery was used exclusively for military purposes. About the year 1792 measures were taken for filling up, enclosing, and ornamenting the place as a public park, to which use it has since been devoted.
During the first half of the present century the Battery was the favorite park of the New Yorkers, and was indeed the handsomest. The march of trade, however, proved too much for it. The fashion and respectability of the city which had clustered near it were driven up town. Castle Garden, which had been a favorite Opera House, was converted into an emigrant depot, and the Battery was left to the emigrants and to the bummers. Dirt was carted and dumped here by the load, all sorts of trash was thrown here, and loafers and drunken wretches laid themselves out on the benches and on the grass to sleep in the sun, when the weather was mild enough. It became a plague spot, retaining as the only vestige of its former beauty, its grand old trees, which were once the pride of the city.
In 1869, however, the spot was redeemed. The sea-wall which the General Government had been building for the protection of the land was finished, and the Battery was extended out to meet it. The old rookeries and street-stands that had clustered about Castle Garden were removed, the rubbish which had accumulated here was carted away, and the Battery was again transformed into one of the handsomest of the city parks.
It now covers an area of about twelve acres, and is tastefully and regularly laid off. Broad stone paved walks traverse it in various directions, and the shrubbery and flowers are arranged with the best possible effect. A tall flag-staff rises from the centre of the park, and close by is a stand from which the city band give their concerts at stated times in the summer. A massive stone wall protects the harbor side from the washing of the waves, and at certain points granite stairs lead to the water.
The view from the Battery embraces a part of Brooklyn and the East River, Governor’s and Staten islands, the Inner Bay, the Jersey shore, North River and Jersey City. The eye ranges clear down to the Narrows, and almost out to sea, and commands a view which cannot be surpassed in beauty. Here the sea breeze is always pure and fresh, here one may come for a few moments’ rest from the turmoil of the great city, and delight himself with the lovely picture spread out before him.