Roosevelt Island is located in no man’s land between Upper East Side and Queens. It is only 2 miles long and 800 feet wide at its widest point. This pretty island that sits isolated in the East River is where the city once kept prisoners. In fact, back in the day, (from 1832-1930’s) people who were infected with the highly contagious smallpox were quarantined there.
Over the years, Roosevelt Island dramatically transformed. Now, it is packed with apartment buildings, skyline views, picnic spots, and parks just like the rest of New York City. Roosevelt Island is famously known for its rich history.
However, when crossing over to the Island it feels as though you are going from the city to a suburb.
The History of Roosevelt Island
Let us go back to 1973. The Island was named after President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later on in the 19th century, New York City’s undesirables were housed in the Island. In fact, there was a hospital to serve the needs of its inmates, a penitentiary, a workhouse to hold those convicted of lesser crimes, a smallpox hospital and a lunatic asylum.
The Penitentiary was built first in 1829. Inmates were punished with hard labor, forced to break rock in the quarry. Later, the rock was used to build other of the island’s institutions.
The Lunatic Asylum was active from 1841-1894. In 1887, Nellie Bly a female journalist went undercover in the mental hospital for 10 days to expose the wretched conditions. Today, the asylum has been replaced by a high-rise apartment building called The Octagon.
At the Renwick Smallpox Hospital, 13,000 people passed away from Smallpox in this 100 bed hospital. It was abandoned in the 1950’s. The hospital stands tall with ivy-covered gothic architecture. It is a good place for people who are interested in ghost hunting. At night it is illuminated, making it even spookier.
Here is a fun fact – A lighthouse, named the Blackwell Island Light, was built by convicts and still stands today.
During the second half of the 20th century, the United Nations headquarters opened nearby. Therefore, several dignitaries took up residence there to be close to work. Equally important, famous architect firms began erecting apartment buildings for more than 20,000 residents. Slowly, a park, named the Frank D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. The park was designed by Louis I. Kahn, a fmous 20th century architect. Later on, a tram and a subway station followed.
Things to Do at Roosevelt Island
During the summer, the locals put on a rollicking Roosevelt Island Day celebration. Here you can find live music, carnivals rides, and the city-wide beautification projects.
Furthermore, on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island is a memorial to the late president, Franklin D Roosevelt. Furthermore, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park hosts a plethora of events—lectures, film screenings, festivals, concerts, and more—in the summer. You can also get an excellent view of the United Nations building across the river.
At the most northern stretch, is a 50-foot-high lighthouse built by prisoners in 1872. Currently, it is the National Register of Historic Places. It is surrounded by a picnic-popular, panoramic view-providing park.
In additon to that, the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association gallery features the work of local and international guest artists; from computer artists, painters, sculptors, graphic designers, ceramists, and installation artists all exhibit their masterpieces here. It is open daily Wednesday through Sunday.
Then, there is the Strecker Memorial Laboratory. Built in 1892, it was the first laboratory in the country devoted exclusively to pathological and bacteriological research.
If you got your puppy who wants to go for a walk, then you need to head to Mansion Park. Not only will you make your dog happy, but you will also explore Cornell Tech campus’ grassy knolls.
Food and Drinks at the Island
After a long day of exploring Roosevelt, treat yourself to Japanese food at Fuji East Japanese Bistro. They have 70 different rolls on offer. The price is also moderate and fair.
If you want to go to the market place, then they have sandwiches, salads, burgers, pizza, soup, bread and butter. You can also pick up snacks at Wholesome Factory.