Roosevelt Island Historical Walk
by Neil Tandon for the Roosevelt Island Historical Society©


Page 8 of 18

Blackwell's Island was owned and farmed by the Blackwell family from 1686 until 1828, when the family sold it to the city for $52,000. For the last 30 years of this ownership, the family lived in this modest clapboard cottage, built by James Blackwell in 1796.

The residence would have never been built if the attempts of the financially pressed James Blackwell to sell the island in 1784 had proved successful. Instead, due to either unsuccessful marketing or financial turnaround, he built this house.

Above, rebuilt Blackwell House, eastern view,
ca. 1985.

Below, ca. 1893. Northern wing (right) was razed when house rebuilt in 1973.

It now stands as the oldest structure on Roosevelt Island, the sixth oldest house in New York City, and one of the city's last examples of eighteenth-century architecture.

Under city ownership, various administrators for the island's institutions resided here, including the keeper of the nearby Blackwell's Island Almshouse, a city-run facility for paupers. In the mid-1900s, the house was abandoned, and by the 1960s, it had fallen into considerable disrepair.

A piece of Roosevelt Island's history dear to those who grew up here: Above, the old wooden Blackwell Park playground, 1976. Below, the playground's 1990 renovation.

In 1973 Giorgio Cavaglieri rebuilt Blackwell House, maintaining the southern kitchen wing and a Greek Revivalist portico over the western doorway (a city addition). In 1975 the house was designated a New York City landmark, and Nicholas Quennell Associates designed the park that now surrounds it. In 1986 a collaborative community effort refurbished the interior. The house has served as a meeting place for the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

Roosevelt Island Historical Walk ©2000 by Neil Tandon & Roosevelt Island Historical Society
RIHS home page
PDF version
Neil Tandon's own RI Walk site
Previous page
Next page
Home Page
Blackwell's Was
DOC's Island Home
Before Rikers (3 Parts)
Origins in the
City of New York