Roosevelt Island

28. August 2007 New York 1

It took a lot to convince the Dr. to take the tram to Roosevelt Island with me–like a homemade lunch and dinner kind of a promise–but he finally relented one hazy Saturday. From 59th Street and Second Avenue, we boarded the tram using our Unlimited Metrocards. The tram runs on a much slower schedule on weekends, but the ride took less than fifteen minutes.

We stopped by the visitors’ center to pick up a map to help us canvas the surroundings. From there, we walked south through the park and stopped in front of the Renwick Ruins, also known as the smallpox hospital constructed in 1856 when the epidemic was responsible for a lot of deaths in New York City. (James Renwick was its architect, the same architect responsible for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.) Because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, the island setting was considered ideal. It was turned into a nursing school residence when they transferred the patients of the hospital to another location. Today it is the city’s only landmarked ruin, covered in ivy, gated to keep trespassers off and lit at night.

We passed the Strecker Lab next to the ruins. It served as the pathology building for the hospital. We continued our walk to the southern tip of the island where there was, surprisingly, a bed of daisies. The Manhattan skyline was hazy from there, so we turned back and walked towards the north where the view of Long Island City in Queens was more pleasant.

A working hospital now stands behind the Roosevelt Island park where we saw a lot of patients on wheelchairs enjoying the view of the Manhattan skyline. The scene was a little eerie to me because, even though they have a nice view of the city, I felt that they were still isolated from the rest of the Big Apple. Residents who are more mobile live in some of the newly-built condos on the island. If not the tram, they take the F subway to get to Manhattan.

An interesting tidbit: Roosevelt Island appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as Blackwells Island when Nick and Jay drive into Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge.

1 thought on “Roosevelt Island”

  • 1
    Roosevelt Island 360 (Eric) on September 5, 2007

    It was referred to as Blackwell’s Island in the book as that was its name at that time. Actually it was named Blackwell Island from 1685 through 1921 when NYC changed the name to Welfare Island (named for the many public hospitals and other institutions then situated there. It remained as Welfare Island until 1973 when the name was changed to Roosevelt Island and the current residential buildings were first built.

    Prior to being named Blackwell’s Island it was named for John Manning, Robert Blackwell’s father in law. Manning was granted the island by King Charles of England in 1665 and it remained Manning’s Island until it passed down to his step daughter and wife of Robert Blackwell.

    Names prior to Manning included Varkens Island (after the pigs that were there) and was previously known by the Indians as Minnahanock.

    Sorry couldn’t resist the lesson.

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