HISTORIC CASTLE GARDEN.
SOON TO BE ABANDONED AS A LANDING PLACE FOR
A Fort Early in the Century, Then the
Home of Opera and the Drama in New York, and, Lastly, During 35 Years,
the Depot for Nearly 10,000,000 Immigrants--Henceforth Perhaps a Place of
Amusement or Merely a Respectable Relic.
The determination of the United States Government to
take the management of the landing of immigrants at this port out of the
hands of the State Board of Emigration and remove the landing station from
Castle Garden to Bedlow's Island leaves the fate of the old circular
building at the Battery an interesting question. Probably few will regret
the banishment of the immigrants and their attendant lodging-house runners
from Castle Garden. The old building and the beautiful park upon which it
opens have been but grudgingly given up to these newcomers by the citizens
of New York. There is no more delightful spot upon the Island than the few
waterfront acres of which Castle Garden is the centre. But for the
thirty-five years that the old fort has been leased by the Board of
Emigration, Battery Park has been practically deserted by the town folk.
Since it has been announced that the landing station is to go elsewhere, a
very general hope has been expressed that Battery Park will become again a
popular summer breathing spot.
But what of Castle Garden? The lease to the Board of
Emigration having expired, the property will go back to the city. Assuming
that Battery Park will remain a park, it is most likely that the old round
fort will be again leased as a pleasure resort, as it was 40 years ago,
but it is hardly likely that it will become again the summer home of the
best opera and drama. Perhaps it will become a mere summer garden for the
dispensing of music and soda water, and the enjoyment of sea breezes. Or
it may sink into a respectable but unostentatious old age, and exist
merely as an honored relic of the past, a curiosity that visitors to the
city are advised by their guide books to see. Of one thing everybody feels
sure, and that is that the historic old building will not be leased as had
been rumored, to a shipping house for the purpose of trade.
There is probably no building now standing in the city
which so closely connects the present with the past, or about which
cluster so many memories appealing directly to the people, as Castle
Garden. It is not very old--it was built in 1805--but it was the immediate
successor of another old fort at the Battery, which dates way back into
Dutch times. The old fort was destroyed soon after the yoke of England was
shaken off. Castle Garden took its place as an American fort, and figured
in later years as a famous New York resort.
The old fort was built by the Dutch on a site now
nearly embraced by State, Pearl, and Whitehall streets and Bowling Green.
It was an earthwork at first, which from time to time was strengthened by
stonework until it was gradually developed into a stone fort. It was
occupied as a place of residence by a number of successive Dutch
Governors, the last of whom was Gov. Stuyvesant. He could not stand the
disagreeable spot, and moved out to a farmhouse of his own, several miles
out of town. When the English got possession the appearance of the English
flag above the ramparts of the fort where Dutch Governors had lived for
fifty years was a continual irritation to the old Dutch burghers, who a
few years after the capture took advantage of the absence of Gov. Francis
Lovelace in Connecticut to recapture the fort and plant their own
standards facing Bowling Green. What was, under the English, fort James,
became now Fort William Hendrick. But not for long, for by treaty the fort
came again into English hands. The colonists next rose against the
English. This was in 1689, and was due partly to the fall of the Stuarts
in England and chiefly to the unpopularity of the English Governor of New
York, Col. Dongan. The colonists seized the fort and held it for two
years, when the home Government regained it and remained in possession
until the Revolution.
After the establishment of the new nation the fort was
torn down and a residence for the President of the United States was
erected on the site. This was never used, however. When the old fort was
torn down a new fort was projected to take its place on the extreme
southern point of the island, but was not built until 1805. It was then
named Fort Clinton, but was popularly called the Castle from its shape. It
became known as Castle Garden when it was made a pleasure resort in 1847.
The builder of Castle Garden was Col. Jonathan
Williams, the son of a Revolutionary patriot and the grandnephew of
Benjamin Franklin. He studied military science and fortifications in
France, and was made Chief Engineer of the American army in1805, when he
built most of the forts in the inner harbor of New York, including Fort
Columbus, Fort Clinton, and Castle Williams on Governor's Island, which
was named for him. As originally built, the fort was separated from the
mainland of Manhattan Island by a strip of water which was bridged by a
draw, and which was filled in later. It was a circular building of solid
stone masonry, with walls in some places thirty feet thick. It was mounted
with barbette and casement guns. It was regarded at the time as a triumph
of skill and solidity, though it would be little more than an egg shell
against modern guns. The original walls built by Col Williams still stand.
Fort Clinton was regarded for a number of years as the chief defense of
the city of New York. It was liberally armed and garrisoned by the
Government, and was considered by military men one of the best forts in
During the second war with England, Fort Clinton was
the centre of a great deal of activity on the part of the citizens of this
town. In 1814 the blockade which the English had established at Southern
ports was extended all along the coast and included New York. The
possibility of a naval attack at once presented itself, and early in the
spring the Common Council called a mass meeting of citizens to consider
the situation. A final meeting was held in City Hall Park on Aug. 11,
1814, which was presided over by Col Henry Rutgers, with Oliver Wolcott as
secretary. The citizens pledged themselves to rally for the defense of the
city. Enlisting stations were at once opened, and companies and regiments
were rapidly formed, and drilled opposite Fort Clinton under the
supervision of the officers stationed there. Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins and
Major-Gen. Morgan Lewis were then in charge of military affairs in the
city. Fort Clinton was much strengthened at this time by gangs of citizens
working with trowel and spade. The intense excitement of the times,
centering at the Battery, spread in all directions about the port and,
largely by volunteer labor of citizens, works were thrown up on Brooklyn
Heights, Ellis Island, Bedlow's Island, and Staten Island, and forts were
built all around the lower bay and along the shores of the East River.
McGowan's Pass was fortified to protect the city from approach by way of
Harlem, and at Manhattan Pass a battery was trained on Bloomingdale.
After the war Fort Clinton was kept in good
military shape for a few years only because the defenses in other
approaches to the city had made it practically useless. It was
deeded to the State in 1822. Then began its civic existence, which
is more interesting than its military career. From 1824, when
Lafayette landed there on his visit to this country, until 1853,
when theatrical representations of a rather cheap sort were produced
there, the fort was a popular resort.
photo: Castle Garden, 1924.
The guns and munitions of war were gone, but the fort
was in all other respects unchanged. On festive occasions the fort in
front of the drawbridge was lighted with colored lamps, and the draw
decorated with bunting. Bird cages and hanging baskets were hung in the
casements where cannon had frowned. Groves of trees were planted in the
parks, and at night the whole was brilliantly illuminated. Early in this
period the fort was in the most fashionable portion of the town. Canal
street was out of town and Bleecker street a suburb. Chambers street was
lined with the residences of the rich and Columbia College was at the foot
of Park place. The up-town movement was felt somewhat in the quarter
around Bowling Green and State street, but still that section was the
centre of the conservative Knickerbockers and social leaders of the day.
An old print, which is one of the most highly prized treasures in Mr.
Jackson's office in Castle Garden, shows the Battery Park of this period.
The park contained a few small trees and flowers were planted along the
walk. Men in fashionable clothes are pictured strolling along the water
front, and mothers innumerable walking with their daughters. At night,
books of the period relate, hundreds of people, representing the
wealthiest and most respected families of the city, used to stroll about
the park and into Castle Garden.
The reception given to Lafayette in 1824 was one of the
great events of that period. The newspapers relate that carpet was spread
on the steps of Castle Garden leading from the landing where Lafayette
stepped ashore from the steamboat Robert Fulton. He had landed on Staten
Island upon arriving from England.
That night there was a great ball given in his honor in
Castle Garden, and a huge illuminated balloon in the shape of the race
horse Eclipse was sent up from the roof. In 1832 there was a reception in
honor of President Jackson in Castle Garden, and in 1843 one in honor of
President John Tyler.
A reception was given to Henry Clay at Castle
Garden in 1848, and John Quincy Adams's remains were landed there.
In 1850 a great Union meeting was held there, which was addressed by
Henry Clay, Gen. Cass, Mr. Webster, H. C. Winthrop, and Ogden
Hoffman. Mass meetings and celebrations without number were held
there of the sort for which New Yorkers to-day hire Cooper Union or
the Metropolitan Opera House.
photo: Castle Garden, c. 1845-50.
In 1847 Castle Garden began its career as a theatre
and opera house. In this capacity its fame was great. It was here that
Jenny Lind made her famous appearance in America under the management
of P. T. Barnum. Here also many of the greatest actors and singers of
the day appeared. Richard French, afterward the builder and proprietor
of Frenchis Hotel, next to THE SUN
office, was the man who first saw the possibilities of Castle Garden
as a resort. For several years he made attempts to secure it, without
success. At last he obtained a lease of several years, the lessees
being the firm of French & Heiser.
The building was remodeled inside, and shut in with a
high roof. It was fitted up as luxuriously as any place of amusement in
the country at that time. A sketch of the interior, copied fro a book of
the period, is reproduced here. The purpose was to make Castle Garden a
summer theatre, in which none but the best actors and singers should
appear. The house was opened on the evening of June 28, 1847, with a
theatrical company which included Herr Cline, Holland, Walcott, Miss
Clark, Miss Phillips, and Miss Isherwood. On Aug. 18 the Havana Opera
Company, the leading opera organization of the period, appeared in "Ersani,"
which was alternated afterward with "Norma," "Somnambula," and "Saffo."
The following summer George Holland became the dramatic director of Castle
Garden, and produced a number of plays new to Americans. A notable
performance was the American production of "Le Garde Mobile," on June 24.
The cast was:
Later Rosalie Cline (Mrs. Merrifield) made her first
appearance here in "Sweethearts and Wives." In August a benefit to the
returning volunteers of the Mexican war was a popular event. The season of
1848 was closed by a great ball, which the comedian Holland gave to his
patrons. It was preceded by a performance of "Box and Cox." The Havana
Opera Company again appeared in 1850.
It was in 1850 that New York first heard Jenny
Lind. She came over under the management of Phineas Taylor Barnum. Mr.
Barnum contracted to pay her $1,000 a night, the first two nights,
however, to be share and share alike. There was great excitement in
New York over the coming of the prima donna. Seats in Castle Garden
were sold at auction, and so great was the crowd that a shilling
admission was charged to the auction, so as to weed out all except
those who wanted to bid. The first choice was secured by John N. Genin,
the leading hatter of the city, for $225. A thousand tickets were sold
for $10,141, and the total receipts were $17,864.05.
Jenny Lind at Castle Garden, 1850.
The first concert was the occasion of a great ovation
to the singer. P. T. Barnum has described the scene in his book. He says:
P. T. Barnum
"My arrangements for the concert room were very complete. The great
parterre and gallery of Castle Garden were divided by imaginary lines into
four compartments, each of which was designated by a lamp of a different
color. The tickets were printed in colors corresponding with the location
which the holders were to occupy, and 100 ushers, with rosettes and
bearing wands tipped with ribbons of several hues, enabled every
individual to find his or hear seat without the slightest difficulty.
Every seat was, of course, numbered in color to correspond with the check,
which each person retained after giving up an entrance ticket at the door.
Thus tickets, checks, lamps, rosettes, wands, and even the seat numbers
were all in the appropriate colors to designate the different departments.
These arrangements were duly advertised, and every particular was also
printed on each ticket. In order to prevent confusion, the doors were open
at 5 o'clock, while the concert did not begin till 8. The consequence was
that although about 5,000 persons were present at the first concert, their
entrance was marked with as much order and quiet as was ever witnessed in
the assembling of a congregation at a church.
"The reception of Jenny Lind on her first appearance in
point of enthusiasm was probably never before equaled in the world. As Mr.
Benedict led her toward the footlights the entire audience arose to their
feet and welcomed her with cheers, accompanied by the waving of thousands
of hats and handkerchiefs. This was by far the larges audience to
which Jenny Lind had ever sung. She was evidently much agitated, but the
orchestra commenced, and before she had sung a dozen notes of 'Casta
Diva," she began to recover her self-possession, and long before the
scena was concluded she was in her own drawing room. Toward the last
portion of the cavatina, the audience was so completely carried away by
their feelings that the remainder of the air was drowned in a perfect
tempest of acclamation. Enthusiasm had been wrought to its highest pitch,
but the musical powers of Jenny Lind exceeded all the brilliant
anticipations which had been formed, and her triumph was complete. At the
conclusion of the concert Jenny Lind was loudly called for, and was
obliged to appear three times before the audience could be satisfied. Then
they called vociferously for Barnum, and I reluctantly responded to their
demand. On this first night Mr. Julius Benedict firmly established
with the American people his European reputation as a most accomplished
conductor and musical composer, while Signor Belletti inspired an
admiration which grew warmer and deeper in the minds of the American
people to the end of his career in this country."
Jenny Lind contributed $10,000 of her share of the
proceeds of her first two nights to the charities of the city. The
proceeds of the second night's concert were $14,203.03.
The appearance of the Swedish singer was Castle
Garden's greatest triumph. The year following Maretzek inaugurated
entertainments at a popular price there. "Marino Faliero" was sung for
several weeks with an admission fee of 50 cents to the best seats, and
proved a paying attraction. A notable benefit performance was given in
August of that year to E. A. Marshall, lessee of the Broadway Theatre. It
was called a dramatic jubilee. It lasted from 10 A. M. until midnight, and
consisted of selections from numerous plays and operas, presented by
different companies. Mme. Ponisi appeared at different times in the course
of the day in different parts. Her name appears frequently upon the Castle
Garden play bills during the whole tie it was a theatre. In 1852 the
Julien concert group gave some notable concerts there, and Sontag
appeared. The last year or two of Castle Garden's career as a theatre, the
productions were of a more popular character.
In May 1855, French & Heiser's lease expired, and
Castle Garden was leased by the State Board of Emigration. It has
since then been used as a landing depot for immigrants. Its history
under its present control has been hum-drum. Up to Jan. 1, 1890,
9,639,635 immigrants had landed at Castle Garden, and scattered
themselves over the land. The building was burned out on July 10,
1876, and there was talk then of moving the landing station to some
other place, but nothing was done. The rebuilding cost $30,000. The
original walls were not injured by the fire.
photo: interior of Castle Garden,