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Another Tiny Mystery

In some of the photos I’ve been reviewing of Battery Park and its surroundings, I noticed a distinguished little stone castle on the waterfront, just south of the South Ferry terminal complex. Above, we’re looking out towards Governors Island in 1894, and it’s on the right with the flag flying from its tower. I wanted to find out what it is, and then once I found out what it is, I wanted to know what that meant. Here’s an 1891 map of the area:

That’s Battery Park on the left. The ferries that docked here went to southern Brooklyn – Hamilton Avenue, Bay Ridge, and 39th Street are all far to the south, along the harbor-facing west shore of Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the elevated station that is prominent in the photo is not shown here, just the word “station” to indicate its presence. The way the el meets the ferry buildings makes it look like the castle would be the building for the Staten Island and Bay Ridge ferries. A later map is more clear about the el location:

That’s 1916, and the private ferry company and it’s straggling buildings have given way to a city-run ferry and a larger building. The el clearly meets the river south of the Hamilton ferry building, which means the building immediately to the right of the el in the photo is the Staten Island Ferry, which means the castle is the Barge Office. Once you have a name…

There’s the Barge Office in 1900. It was a federal building constructed in 1880. What it’s most famous for today is that it served for two brief periods as New York’s immigration station: in 1890-1891, when Castle Clinton was closed but before Ellis Island opened, and again in 1897-1900, when Ellis Island was partly closed by a fire. That raises the second question that I don’t have an answer for: what was the office for? The castle was replaced by a larger building, also apparently called the Barge Office, after 1910:

This was eventually replaced by a new Staten Island ferry terminal in 1953-56; that widely-hated building was replaced in stages between 2000 and 2005 by the current Staten Island ferry terminal.

I’m sure that the Barge Office was a mundane place, but the romance of the 1880 building and not knowing what it actually was has given an air of mystery for me.