Liberty Island is a federally owned island in Upper New York Bay in the United States, best known as the location of the Statue of Liberty. The island is an exclave of the New York City borough of Manhattan, surrounded by the waters of Jersey City, New Jersey. Long known as Bedloe's Island, it was renamed by an act of the United States Congress in 1956. In 1937, by Presidential Proclamation 2250 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and in 1966,[3] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island.[4]

Geography and access

Coin-operated binoculars on Liberty Island. The island offers panoramic views of New York Harbor.

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 in the Upper New York Bay within the waters of Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey. It is one of the islands that are part of the borough of Manhattan in New York.[5][6][7] The historical developments which led to this construction created the rare situation of an 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 2,000 feet (610 m) east of Liberty State Park in Jersey City and is 1.58 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 serve the national monument, also stopping at Ellis Island.[8] Hornblower Cruises and Events, operating under the name Statue Cruises, holds the exclusive concession for ferry service to and from the island.


Great Oyster Island

At the time of European colonization of the Hudson River estuary in the mid-17th century, much of the west side of Upper New York Bay contained large tidal flats which hosted vast oyster beds, a major source of food for the Lenape native people who lived there at the time. Several islands were not completely submerged at high tide. Three of them (later known as Bedloe's/Love/Liberty, Ellis, and Black Tom) were given the name Oyster Islands (oester eilanden) by the Dutch settlers of 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.[9] Landfilling, started by the 1870s, particularly by the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Central Railroad of New Jersey, eventually obliterated the beds, engulfed one island and brought the shoreline much closer to the others.[10]

Bedloe's Island

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 Isaac Bedloe on December 23, 1667. The island was retained by his estate until 1732 when it was sold for five 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.[11][12][13][14]

In 1746, Archibald Kennedy (later 11th Earl of Cassilis) purchased the island and a summer residence was established,[15] along with construction of a lighthouse.

In 1753, the island is described in an advertisement (in which "Bedlow's" had become "Bedloe's", along with an alternate name of "Love Island") 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."[16]

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.[16]

Fort Wood

Fort Wood's star-shaped walls became the base of the Statue of Liberty.

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 Governors Island and Ellis Island). Construction of a fort 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 star-shaped fortification was named Fort Wood after Lt. Col Eleazer Derby Wood who was killed in the Siege of Fort Erie in 1813. The granite fortification followed an 11-pointed star fort layout with mounting 24 guns.[17][18] A larger fort mounting 77 guns was proposed under the third system of US fortifications but was not built.[19]

By the time it was chosen for the Statue of Liberty in the 1880s, the fort was outmoded and obsolete, disused and its substantial stone walls were then used as the distinctive base for the Statue of Liberty given by the Third French Republic for the American 1876 centenary celebrations. It had become a part of the base for the Statue of Liberty after the island was first seen by the statue's sculptor. The National Park Service (which had been created in 1916) took over operations of the island in two stages: 2 acres (8,100 m2) in 1933, and the remainder in 1937.[3] The military installation was completely removed by 1944.[20][21]

Statue of Liberty

The statue, entitled Liberty Enlightening the World, was a gift from the people of France to mark the American Centennial. It was agreed that the Congress would authorize the acceptance of the statue by the President of the United States, and that the War Department would facilitate its construction and presentation.[22]

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,[23] 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. The name Liberty Island was made official by Congress in 1956.[24]


On October 7, 2016, construction started on a new Statue of Liberty museum on Liberty Island. The new $70 million, 26,000-square-foot (2,400 m2) museum will be able to accommodate all of the island's visitors when it opens in 2019, as opposed to the current museum, which only 20% of the island's visitors can visit.[25] The original torch will be relocated here, and in addition to exhibits relating to the statue's construction and history, there will be a theater where visitors can watch an aerial view of the statue.[25][26] The museum, designed by FXFOWLE Architects, will integrate with the parkland around it.[26] It is being funded privately by Diane von Fürstenberg, Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, Coca-Cola, NBCUniversal, the family of Laurence Tisch and Preston Robert Tisch, and Mellody Hobson and George Lucas.[27] Von Fürstenberg heads the fundraising for the museum, and the project had garnered more than $40 million in fundraising as of groundbreaking.[26]

Jurisdictional disputes

The geography along the New Jersey banks of Upper New York Bay before landfilling. Liberty Island's location near New Jersey led to the state's attempts to assert jurisdiction.

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

State dispute

An unusual clause in the 1664 colonial land grant that outlined New Jersey's borders reads: "westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson's river"[28] rather than at the river's midpoint, as was common in other colonial charters.[29]

When the Province of New Jersey was separated from the Province of New York in 1674 it was argued that Staten Island belonged to the former. Then governor Edmund Andros directed that all islands in the bay that could be circumnavigated within 24 hours were part of New York. Captain Christopher Billopp sailed around it within the allotted time[30] and was soon thereafter granted a manor at its southern tip.[31] The border came to be understood as being along the shore of the Hudson River, the Upper New York Bay, the Kill Van Kull, and Arthur Kill.

In 1824 the City of New York attempted to assert a jurisdictional monopoly over the growing steam ferry service in New York Harbor in Gibbons v. Ogden. It was deemed by the court that interstate transport would be regulated by the federal government. This did not resolve the border issue. In 1830, New Jersey planned to bring suit,[32] but the matter was resolved with a compact between the states ratified by US Congress in 1834 which set the boundary line between them as the midpoint of the shared waterways.[7][33] This was later confirmed by the US Supreme Court in a 1908 case which also expounded on the compact.[34]

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 it is on the New Jersey side of the state line.[35] 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. The southwestern section, 4.17 acres (1.69 ha),[36] of the island was created by land reclamation.[37][38]

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.[39] This proved impractical to administer and New Jersey and New York subsequently agreed to share jurisdiction of the entire island.[6][32] This special situation only applies to Ellis Island and part of Shooters Island.

Federal ownership

National Park Service building on Liberty Island

Liberty Island has been owned by the federal government since 1801, first as a military installation and now as a national landmark. Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, encompasses land in both states[40] control of which is superseded by the United States. The undisputed boundary between New Jersey and New York is in the center of the Hudson River and the Upper New York Bay, with Liberty Island situated well on the New Jersey side of the water line with Liberty Island itself an exclave of the State of New York and a part of New York City, allowing the state and city of New York to retain sovereignty of Liberty Island, serve process there and collect sales tax from Liberty Island souvenir shops.[6]

In response to a FAQ about whether the Statue of Liberty is in New York or New Jersey, the National Park Service, which oversees Liberty Island, cites the 1834 compact.[40] 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," "New York," "New York City," and "on the Hudson" are acceptable.[41]

The Statue of Liberty itself is claimed as a symbol by both New York and New Jersey. It was featured on New York 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, still used by the Raritan Valley Line. (The Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal is nearby).

Though it is uninhabited, the United States Geological Survey includes it as part of New York's 10th congressional district as of the 114th United States Congress in 2015.[42] 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 Battery Park.[43]

See also


  1. ^ "Proclamation 2250: Enlarging the Statue of Liberty National Monument New York". Code of Federal Regulations: Title 3—The President 1936–1938 Compilation. National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration. 1968. pp. 120–121. 
  2. ^ "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places – Hudson County". New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection – Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved August 2, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Early History of Bedloe's Island". Statue of Liberty Historical Handbook. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2010-08-19. 
  4. ^ Sutherland, Cara A. (2003). The Statue of Liberty. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0760738904. Retrieved 18 June 2016. 
  5. ^ Hudson County New Jersey Street Map. Hagstrom Map Company, Inc. 2008. ISBN 0-88097-763-9. 
  6. ^ a b c New Jersey v. New York, 523 U.S. 767, page 779 (26 May 1998).
  7. ^ a b "Statue of Liberty National Monument – Frequently Asked Questions". National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  8. ^ "Ferry System Map – Statue Of Liberty National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)". National Park Service. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  9. ^ Kurlansky, Mark (2006). The Big Oyster. New York: Random House Trade paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-345-47639-5. 
  10. ^ "Providing Better Terminal Faciities for New York". Engineering News Record: 258. 31 July 1880. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  11. ^ "Spell it with a "W" It should not be Bedloo's Island but "Bedlow's"" (pdf). The New York Times. August 14, 1886. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  12. ^ Harvey, Cornelius Burnham (1900). "Genealogical History Of Hudson And Bergen Counties New Jersey Early Settlers of Bergen County". Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  13. ^ "History of the Statue of Liberty and Bedlow's Island". New York: Regimental Press. Archived from the original on February 4, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Lazaretto Quarantine Station, Tinicum Township, Delaware County, PA: History". ushistory.org. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  15. ^ "Liberty Island Chronology". Retrieved 2013-01-25. 
  16. ^ a b "Historic Buildings as seen and described by famous writers" (txt). archive.org. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  17. ^ Wade, Arthur P. (2011). Artillerists and Engineers: The Beginnings of American Seacoast Fortifications, 1794-1815. CDSG Press. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-9748167-2-2. 
  18. ^ Fort Wood at New York State Military Museum
  19. ^ Roberts, Robert B. (1988). Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States. New York: Macmillan. pp. 594–596. ISBN 0-02-926880-X. 
  20. ^ "Fort Wood". Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  21. ^ Moreno, Barry (2000). The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7385-3689-7. 
  22. ^ "Liberty's Statue Full Programme of the Inaugural Ceremonies" (pdf). The New York Times. 10 October 1886. Retrieved 2009-12-22. 
  23. ^ "Delaware Division of Libraries Blog". Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  24. ^ "USGS:LI". Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  25. ^ a b Durkin, Erin (October 6, 2016). "Statue of Liberty getting new $70M museum set to open in 2019". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  26. ^ a b c Plagianos, Irene (2016-10-06). "See Designs for the New Statue of Liberty Museum". DNAinfo New York. Archived from the original on 2016-10-09. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  27. ^ Pereira, Ivan (October 6, 2016). "Statue of Liberty Museum to open in 2019". am New York. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  28. ^ "The Duke of York's Release to John Lord Berkeley, and Sir George Carteret, 24 June 1664". The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  29. ^ Rieff, Henry. "Intrepretations of New York-New Jersey Agreements 1834 and 1921" (pdf). Newark Law Review. 1 (2). 
  30. ^ "New York vs. New Jersey: A New Perspective". Portfolio. The Port Authority of NY and NJ. 1 (2). Summer 1988. Archived from the original on 2012-02-22. 
  31. ^ Mershon, S.L. (1918). English Crown Grants. New York: The Law and History Club. 
  32. ^ a b Greenhouse, Linda (27 May 1998). "The Ellis Island Verdict: The Ruling; High Court Gives New Jersey Most of Ellis Island". The New York Times. 
  33. ^ United States Statues at Large: Volume 4
  34. ^ "Central R. Co. of New Jersey v. Jersey City, 209 U.S. 473 (1908)". Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  35. ^ "New Jerseyans' Claim To Liberty Island Rejected". The New York Times. Associated Press. 6 October 1987. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  36. ^ "Is Liberty a Jersey Girl". New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors. February 4, 2014. 
  37. ^ "Historic Fill of the Jersey City Quadrangle: Historic Fill Map HFM-53" (pdf). New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection. 2004. Retrieved 2014-08-31. 
  38. ^ http://www.njspls.org/?130
  39. ^ "National Park Service map showing portions of the island belonging to New York and New Jersey". Archived from the original on February 23, 2010. 
  40. ^ a b "Statue of Liberty National Monument". National Park Service. 13 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  41. ^ "Questions and Answers for New Pilot Naturalization Exam". U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 30 November 2006. Archived from the original on 5 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  42. ^ "USGS 1:1,000,000-Scale Congressional Districts of the United States - 114th Congress". data.gov. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2017-10-18. 
  43. ^ "Statue of Liberty Lighthouse". Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 

External links