Skip to main content

Flow On, East River: Brooklyn to Manhattan, Once Again Upon a Ferry

For two hundred years, crossing the East River by ferry was a commonplace activity although often unpredictable. Residents of Brooklyn routinely commuted to Manhattan by this variable way of water, subject to storms and tides, no doubt a stomach-churning experience during a fierce storm or frightening during the icy waters of winter. During the 18th century, in addition to weather hazards, commuters often complained about inebriated boatmen or boats overloaded with cattle. With its inaugural service in 1814, the steam-powered Fulton Ferry made the voyage not only safer and faster but much more pleasurable. Poets like Walt Whitman could then focus on the metaphors of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" as opposed to simply hoping to reach the other shore.

East River Ferry
Pier 11 at Wall Street

The decline of ferry service began with the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, putting many East River ferry routes out of business. According to Manhattan's Lost Streetcars by Stephen L. Meyers (Arcadia Publishing, 2005), at the time of the bridge's opening, "there were at least 12 ferry routes in operation between Manhattan and Brooklyn, using 10 different ferry terminals in Brooklyn and 11 in Manhattan." Now, a hundred and twenty years later, give or take a few years, we're back on ferries on the East River. Like the first Fulton Ferry, they are wildly popular. As noted in The Wall Street Journal ("Ferry Is Well Afloat"), the city counted more than 109,000 people riding the new East River Ferry from its inaugural voyage on June 13 through this past Sunday.

Operated by NY Waterway, the East River Ferry's regular weekday service connects two stops in Manhattan, one on E. 34th St. in Midtown and the other downtown at Wall Street's Pier 11, with four resurgent waterfront communities in Brooklyn and one in Queens. An additional route for Fridays in the summer adds Pier 6 at Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue and Governors Island. The company made the ferry free for the first two weeks, but now the $4 one-way trip is in effect. Riders need to obtain a ticket at the vending machines at each stop, and the ticket is good for starting at any terminal and arriving at another. Please consult NY Waterway's East River Ferry official site.

East River Ferry
The East River Ferry at the midtown Manhattan pier near W. 35th Street.

Designed for the modern-day commuter seeking alternative modes of transportation on the East River, the ferry will also likely continue to be popular with pleasure-seeking sightseers. The boats provide the thrill of the skyline and the bridges but also afford easy access to the refashioned waterfront Brooklyn neighborhoods of DUMBO, South and North Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and to Queens's Hunters Point South in Long Island City. Each of these neighborhoods have long developed their own visual culture and rhythms, though their respective present-day youthful demographics and new high-rise waterfront construction sometimes makes it difficult to hear the languages of older immigrant voices.

East River Ferry
"Edge" condominium development. 22 North 6th Street. North Williamsburg

From the vantage point of the ferry, the sights of the Brooklyn waterfront present the eclectic spectacle of the city in historical layers, remnants of the manufacturing and industrial city alongside the modernist high-rise condominium developments. At times, especially on a warm and sunny day, the scene looks more Miami than New York. The old Domino Sugar Refinery is still there, however, symbolizing the waterfront's industrial history. The original building for the company, which once processed the bulk of the nation's sugar, was constructed in 1856. Interestingly, Whitman's poem known as "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," a meditation on how the soul of a singular person can relate to a great city of strangers, was published that same year under the title "Sun Down Poem." The 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass includes the poem under its final title.

East River Ferry
In 2011 plans are underway to convert the closed Domino Sugar factory into residential units
 and four acres of the site into public spaces.

Whitman envisioned the day "ever so many hundred years hence" when others would see these same islands. In his imagination, he saw us standing with him on a boat and watching the summer sky, crossing the East River on a ferry.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from June 21, 2011.

Comments

Glenwood NYC said…
There is nothing quite like walking around in New York City and on the waterfronts it is becoming especially beautiful these days with the new esplanades. We hope they keep up the great work!

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

At the New Moynihan Train Hall, and the Zen of Going Nowhere

After slowly wandering around the Moynihan Train Hall , opened earlier this year in the James A. Farley Post Office Building across from Penn Station, an Amtrak worker approached me and asked if he could help with directions. “No,” I replied, “I’m just here to look at the station.”  Moynihan Train Hall, between Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, 31st Street, and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan I wasn’t taking a train anywhere, not an Amtrak train to Philadelphia or to Boston. I was here to look at this impressive, even enlightening building. The architectural design is somewhat restrained and serious. Bright signage at the Moynihan Train Hall At a time when the idea of actual travel is just picking up, for some New Yorkers like myself, just the novelty of seeing a new transportation project in the city seems to suffice. It’s like mental preparation for taking an actual trip.  Looking up I remember catching Amtrak trains at the old Penn Station, not the beautiful and monumental edifice that

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin