Building Governors Island: Building 9, the first Post Hospital

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Building 9. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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.