The New York Harbor

By Laura Smiros

The New York Harbor is an amazing place.  We all know millions have traveled through this harbor with twelve million immigrants coming to Ellis Island alone. Today we travel over, under, play on, work on, and live off this remarkable and serene harbor

A quiet Saturday morning on the harbor

It is a simple observation that all great cities grew up around rivers and harbors.  Until the early 1800s, only smaller boats could enter the harbor through narrows, except for at high tide. Prior to the discovery of a deeper channel by Lieutenant Thomas Gedney of the US Coast Survey, ships were guided into the harbor since 1694 by tug boats- which we still have today! 

A tug boat pulling a ship

This was just before the Erie Canal opened in 1825 at which point the NY Harbor became the most important port on the East coast, for the US and the world. It was once said that a person could walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan across all the boats packed in the harbor and narrows.  

The bustling NY Harbor in the 1800's

It’s no surprise that the importance of this port brought WWII German U-boats to our shores resulting in 1 in every 26 Merchant Marines dying to protect our harbor, the highest casualties for any branch of the American forces. Outside the NY Harbor during WWII, the Nazi’s lost 22 U-boats and we lost 609 ships. One quarter of the ships lost in the war. The Nazi’s called it “Second Happy Time” thanks to the back light of the city showing the silhouette of the boats leaving the harbor.  My great grandfather was a merchant marine. One can visit the monuments to the lost men on the West side of The Battery overlooking the harbor. The names of Merchant Marines, Marines, and Navy lost at sea stand tall, figuratively still guarding over the harbor.  There are even a few areas to launch a ship near the monuments.  It doesn’t get as much press as The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. but is just as powerful. 

Today the harbor is flourishing with NY & NJ working to clean up the environment. Groups are planting clams (a natural water cleansing shellfish) at Sandy Hook and other areas around the Harbor. Any given day, yachts, kayaks, 12 story cruise ships, small sailboats, cranes, tug boats, cargo ships, jet skis, commuter ferries, tourist ships, dinner, and party boats as well as occasional swimmers enjoy this beautiful harbor. 

Last year, The America’s Cup was held in the harbor. The boats docked at Ellis Island and raced in the harbor the first day due to inclement weather. Brave kayakers enjoy the harbor as well. A friend of mine has even been turned away in his kayak from Liberty Island by the US Coast Guard. 

Coast Guard off Liberty Island

"It’s a job", so my two nieces and nephew in the US Navy tell me.  And such is our crazy world. We are all one people, and we should all be careful.  NY Harbor, NY motto, Live Hard and Work Hard, Right? 


The NY Harbor at night