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Mysterious Railroad Relic Unearthed on Governors Island

By Irene Plagianos on June 19, 2014 6:47am 

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 It's thought the relic is part of a train car or hand cart used on the Island's 1900s railroad system.
Governors Island Railroad Relic Unearthed
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GOVERNORS ISLAND — A recent dig on Governors Island unearthed a rusty relic of its military history — and island officials aren’t sure what it is.

While working on the island’s sewer systems, excavators found what appears to be part of a railway train car or hand cart once used on the island's early 20th century railroad system, said Elizabeth Rapuano, a spokeswoman for the Trust for Governors Island.

“It’s a fun surprise — we’ve never found anything like it before,” Rapuano said. “We’re still trying to figure out exactly what it is...we'd love to get responses from the public about [it]."

The island’s short-lived railway system was built around World War I to connect docks and warehouses filled with munitions and other wartime supplies housed on the Island, which was then a military base, Rapuano said.

The railroad that crisscrossed the island’s 172 acres with about 8 miles of rails was fully torn down by 1931, according to a New York Times article from that year. By the time it was fully dismantled, with only 1 1/2 miles of track left, the Times called it the “world’s shortest railroad.”

Although the railroad was short-lived, Governors Island's military history stretches from 1755 to 1996, making it one of the country's most continually active military sites. It was a headquarters for the U.S. Army and then a Coast Guard base before it was converted into public park space.

Rapuano said island officials are looking to find a place to display the artifact — and will keep researching its past. They are asking members of the public to come forward if they have information.

Head to the Governors Island blog for more information about the railway.

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