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Liberty Island



Liberty Island is a small uninhabited island in New York Harbor in the United States, best known as the location of the Statue of Liberty. Though so called since the turn of the century, the name did not become official until 1956. It became part of the National Register of Historic Places site Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island in 1966.




According to the United States Census Bureau, the island has a land area of 59,558 square meters, or 14.717 acres, which is the property of the federal government. Liberty Island is located completely within the boundaries of Jersey City, New Jersey, but its built portions and docks fall under the jurisdiction of the City of New York, of which they wholly are part. The historical developments which led to this construction created the rare situation of exclave of one state, New York, being situated in another, New Jersey. The island is operated by the National Park Service, and since September 11, 2001, guarded by around-the-clock patrols of the United States Park Police Marine Patrol Unit. Liberty Island is 2000 feet (600 m) east of Liberty State Park in Jersey City and is 1-5/8 statute miles (2.6 kilometers) southwest of Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Public access is permitted only by ferries from either of the two parks, which also serve nearby Ellis Island to the north.




At the time of European colonialization of the Hudson River estuary in the 17th century, much of the west side Upper New York Bay contained large tidal flats which hosted vast oyster beds, a major source of food for Lenape population who lived there at the time. There were several islands which were not completely submerged at high tide. Three of them (later to be known as Liberty, Ellis Island and Black Tom) were given the name Oyster Islands by the settlers to the New Netherland, the first European colony in the Mid-Atlantic states. The oyster beds would remain a major source of food for nearly three centuries. Landfilling after the turn of the century, particularly by Lehigh Valley Railroad and Central Railroad of New Jersey, eventually obliteraterd the beds, engulfed one island and brought the shoreline much closer to the others.


After the surrender of Fort Amsterdam by the Dutch to the British in 1664, the English governor Richard Nicolls granted the island to Captain Robert Needham. It was sold to Isaack Bedloo December 23, 1667. The island was retained by his estate until 1732 when it was sold for 5 shillings to New York merchants Adolphe Philipse and Henry Lane. During their ownership, the island was temporarily commandeered by the city of New York to establish a smallpox quarantine station


In 1746 the island was purchased by Archibald Kennedy, Earl of Cassils for use as a summer home. In 1753 the island is described in an advertisement (in which "Bedloo's" had become Bedloe's") as being available for rental:


To be Let. Bedloe's Island, alias Love Island, together with the dwelling-house and lighthouse being finely situated for a tavern, where all kinds of garden stuff, poultry, etc., may be easily raised for the shipping outward bound, and from where any quantity of pickled oysters may be transported ; it abounds with English rabbits."


In 1756 Kennedy allowed the island to again be used as a smallpox quarantine station, and on February 18, 1758 the Corporation of the City of New York bought the island for £1,000 for use as a pest house.


When the British troops occupied New York Harbor in the lead-up to the American Revolutionary War, the island was to be used for housing for Tory refugees, but on April 2, 1776, the buildings constructed on the island for their use were burned to the ground.




On February 15, 1800, the New York State Legislature ceded the island to the federal government, for the construction of a defensive fort to be built there (along with Governor's Island and Ellis Island). Construction of a land battery on the island in the shape of an 11-point star began in 1806 and was completed in 1811. Following the War of 1812, the fort was named Fort Wood after Lt. Col Eleazer Derby Wood who was killed in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. This 11-pointed star granite fortification led to the nickname "Star Fort". It later became the part of the base for the Statue of Liberty. The National Park Service (which had been created in 1912) and took over operations of the island in two stages: 2 acres in 1933, and the remainder in 1937.The military installation was completely removed by 1944.


The national monument is a gift from the people of France to mark the American Centennial. It was agreed the people of the United States were to build the base and the French people were responsible for the statue and its assembly in the States. The site was authorized by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1877. The construction of the statue was completed in France in July 1884. The cornerstone was laid on August 5, 1884, and after some funding delays, construction of the pedestal was finished on April 22, 1886. The statue arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885 on board the French frigate Isère., was stored for eleven months in crates waiting for its pedestal to be finished, and was then reassembled in four months. On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled by President Grover Cleveland in front of thousands of spectators.






There have been a number of disputes of the jurisdictional status of Liberty Island.


An unusual clause in 1664 colonial land grant outlined the territory the propriators of New Jersey would receive as "westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson's river", rather than at the river's midpoint, as was common in other colonial charters. Though not specified, the border was understood to be along the shores of the western shore of Hudson River, the Upper New York Bay, and Arthur Kill, making the islands of the bay (the largest being Staten Island) part of New York.


This was not contested until 1833. New Jersey planned to bring suit, but the matter was resolved in 1834 with a compact between the states, and ratified by US Congress which set the boundary line between them as the middle of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.


In 1987, US Representative Frank J. Guarini and Gerald McCann, then Mayor of Jersey City, sued New York City, contending that New Jersey should have dominion over Liberty Island because is on the New Jersey side of the state line. By default—since the court chose not to hear the case—the existing legal status was unchanged. Portions of the island that are above water are part of New York, while riparian rights to all of the submerged land surrounding the statue belong to New Jersey.


A 1997 United States Supreme Court decision involved such riparian rights around nearby Ellis Island. Being mostly constructed of artificial infill, New Jersey argued and the court agreed that the 1834 compact covered only the natural parts of the island, and not the portions added by infill. Thus it was agreed that the parts of the island made of filled land belonged to New Jersey while the original natural part belonged to New York. This proved impractical to administer and New Jersey and New York subsequently agreed to share jurisdiction of the entire island. This special situation only applies to Ellis Island and part of Shooter's Island. The court chose not to comment on the precedent in the unlikely event that Liberty Island would be expanded.


Jurisdiction of the island is extremely limited, allowing New York state and city to serve process there. It has been owned by the federal government since 1800, first as military installation and now as a national landmark. Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, listed on the the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, encompasses land in both states control of which is superseded by the United States. It is indisputable the boundary between New Jersey and New York is in the center of the Hudson River and a the Upper New York Bay with Liberty Island situated well on the New Jersey side of the line and that the built portions are an exclave of the State of New York and a part of New York City.


In response to a FAQ about whether the Statue of Liberty is in New York or New Jersey the National Park Service, which oversees it, sites the 1834 compact. Question 127 on a naturalization examination piloted in 2006 asks "Where is the Statue of Liberty?" The U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services gives "New York Harbor" and "Liberty Island" as preferred answers, but notes that "New Jersey," "near New York City," and "on the Hudson" are acceptable.


The Statue of Liberty itself is claimed as a symbol by both New York and New Jersey. It was featured on New York State's license plates from 1986 through 2000 and on a special New Jersey license plate celebrating Liberty State Park in Jersey City. The Statue is also seen on the New York State Quarter. The national monument was the symbol of the Central Railroad of New Jersey (whose Communipaw Terminal is nearby), still used by the Raritan Valley Line.


Though uninhabited, the USGS includes Liberty Island in New York's 8th Congressional District. Both New York City and Jersey City have assigned the island lot numbers. Utility services, including electricity, water, and sewage, to Liberty and Ellis Islands are provided from the New Jersey side. Mail is delivered from the Battery.









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