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DEADLINE EXTENDED! Apply by December 8 to see your designs carved to life at the 2024 Governors Island Ice Sculpture Show—no ice carving experience required. Click here.

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Apply by December 8 to see your designs carved to life at the 2024 Governors Island Ice Sculpture Show—no ice carving experience required. Click here.

Build­ing Gov­er­nors Island: Build­ing 9, the first Post Hospital

Over 50 beau­ti­ful, his­toric build­ings per­me­ate the 92-acre His­toric Dis­trict that cov­ers Gov­er­nors Island’s north­ern half. In the Build­ing Gov­er­nors Island series, we’ll exam­ine some of these notable struc­tures, their indi­vid­ual his­to­ries and the roles they’ve played in the Island’s his­to­ry as a whole, begin­ning with Nolan Park’s Build­ing 9

A few his­toric build­ings stand out from the yel­low wood­en hous­es that dom­i­nate Nolan Park. Some grab more atten­tion than oth­ers; it’s hard not to notice the can­non-flanked entrance to the Admiral’s House. Build­ing 9, a cube of brick and stone sand­wiched between two of the icon­ic hous­es, attracts few­er glances. While not always the cen­ter of atten­tion, Build­ing 9 embod­ies the last two cen­turies of Gov­er­nors Island’s his­to­ry bet­ter than most oth­er build­ings on the Island today. 

An 1859 map of GI show­ing Build­ing 9 pre­dat­ing Nolan Park. Image cour­tesy of Ann Buttenwieser

Built in 1839 to serve as Gov­er­nors Island’s mil­i­tary Post Hos­pi­tal, Build­ing 9 has seen a vari­ety of uses and names through its 180-year his­to­ry. It helped define the area of Nolan Park long before the yel­low hous­es appeared and today stands as one of the old­est struc­tures on the Island. Even while serv­ing its orig­i­nal pur­pose of hos­pi­tal and med­ical train­ing cen­ter, Build­ing 9 housed offi­cers and pris­on­ers as well, being referred to as the Block House for that pur­pose. Notably, a young Lieu­tenant Ulysses S. Grant stayed in the Block House in 1852 while his unit was briefly sta­tioned on the Island. 

Ele­va­tion of Build­ing 9 with Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal wing

As the Island’s Post Hos­pi­tal, the facil­i­ty was often stretched to its lim­its. An influx of wound­ed Union sol­diers and thou­sands of Con­fed­er­ate pris­on­ers dur­ing the Civ­il War rein­forced the need for a more robust hos­pi­tal on GI. In 1862, a large wood­en struc­ture was added to the build­ing, near­ly dou­bling the hospital’s capac­i­ty. This expan­sion, which no longer exists today, ele­vat­ed the facil­i­ty to the rank of Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal, des­ig­nat­ing Gov­er­nors Island as a des­ti­na­tion for treat­ment and recovery. 

Build­ing 9’s wood­en hos­pi­tal wing addi­tion in 1864. Image cour­tesy of Ann Buttenwieser

The Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal wing came and went, and even­tu­al­ly a new struc­ture was built to serve as Post Hos­pi­tal for the Island. In 1874, the Army con­vert­ed Build­ing 9 to fill oth­er roles includ­ing kitchen and mess hall, court cham­bers, chapel and even ball­room. Now, Build­ing 9 serves as hous­ing for Gov­er­nors Island fer­ry crews who stay there when the Samuel Coursen (Gov­er­nors Island’s main fer­ry, in ser­vice since 1956) docks on the Island overnight.

Pho­to by Eri­ka Clark

The his­to­ry of Build­ing 9 echoes the his­to­ry of the Island itself in some ways. It has served many pur­pos­es, gone by dif­fer­ent names, and housed an impres­sive vari­ety of occu­pants. While not the grand­est build­ing in Nolan Park, its hum­ble exte­ri­or belies its rich his­to­ry as one of the most sto­ried struc­tures on Gov­er­nors Island.