Judith Berdy, President, PO Box 5, Island Station, NY NY 10044
Phone: 212 688-4836
Fax: 212-207-8845

History talk & exhibits by RIHS at Roosevelt Island library.
The mission of the society is to Preserve the history of the island thru educational projects, lectures, tours, exhibits and outreach to the community and others interested in this unique community; Restore and preserve the landmark structures on the island; Collect and maintain an archive of written material and memorabelia.

The Roosevelt Island Historical Society, formed by islanders in 1976, keeps alive the unique story of our Island and calls for the preservation of its landmarks in the context of the human history of our great metropolis.

In conjunction with The Wire, the Roosevelt Island newspaper, a timeline for Roosevelt Island is now available on-line. The archive is open to the public, by appointment. To make an appointment, use the contact information above.

Our Other Book!

IMAGES OF AMERICA: QUEENSBORO BRIDGE Authors: Greater Astoria Historical Society and Roosevelt Island Historical Society ISBN: 073855488X Number of Pages: 128 Publisher: Arcadia Publishing



Vice President



A page from the Roosevelt Island
Historical Walk
now on-line.
Over a span of nearly 175 years, the NYC Dept. of Correction has been associated with an Island in the East River having a succession of first names: Blackwell's, Welfare and currently Roosevelt.

The island was acquired by the city in 1828 to erect a penitentiary as well as health-related facilities. Today, the municipal jail agency maintains a small unit on the island for terminally-ill inmates.

The New York Correction History Society is honored RIHS chose www.correctionhistory.org as the site for sharing Roosevelt Island Historical Walk on the web.

The Roosevelt Island Historical Walk was planned, researched, and written by Eagle Scout candidate Neil Tandon under Boy Scout Troop 59, Roosevelt Island, auspices.

The Walk was created for the benefit of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society (RIHS), the people of Roosevelt Island and those visiting it. Complete funding for the project was provided by NYS Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC).

It was designed to guide history-interested residents and vistors on a walking tour of the island from the old lab at the south end to the lighthouse on the northern tip.

NYCHS has converted the 17 walking guide pages into an on-line virtual tour. Each of the 17 on-line web pages also has a link to its equivalent in PDF downloadable printable format in case someone wants to have hardcopy in hand to walk the tour. Note that PDF files require Acrobat Reader. It can be downloaded for free from Adobe.

The Roosevelt Island Story

Roosevelt Island! But the Indians called it "Long Island" and the first Dutch owners knew it as Hogs Island - far off farm property in the middle of the East River.

The Blackwell family, taking possession of the island in 1676, held it for over 150 years, mined its quarries, farmed its fruit trees and during the post Revolutionary era built its now restored farmhouse, Blackwell House.

In 1828, New York City purchased the Blackwell's Island for $32,500. South of today's tram station a vast penitentiary soon was erected. The first of the innumerable city institutions to sprawl across the Island and hold millions of New Yorkers, small and great, it set the scene for decades of architectural, social and medical advance and defeat.

The massive octagonal ruin at the northern end of the island and below Coler Hospital is the only relic of the next institution founded here, America's first "Municipal Lunatic Asylum" (1839). Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, pioneer of our nation's Greco-Roman revival, it was visited by Charles Dickens in 1841. Dickens commented on its magnificent staircase, its woe-be-gone inmates and the tourists flocking to see both.

Our lighthouse overlooks the swirling Hellgate waters. Its construction in 1874, according to a Renwick Design, was preceded by long "negotiations" with John Mc Carthy, an asylum inmate who'd built his own clay fort there to defend us against British invasion. Until the 1960's Maxey's (Mc Carthy's nickname) crudely carved plaque remained:

This is the work
Was done by
John Mc Carthy
Who built the light
House from the bottom to the top
Let all ye who pass by
Pray for his soul when he dies.

In 1895, Metropolitan Hospital occupied its buildings and joined the island's City Hospital as two of the world's largest institutions. The City Hospital Building was demolished in 1994.

Our book!
Images in America: Roosevelt Island
Click cover icon above to see text & image excerpts.
Use our site search page to find more NYCHS web pages about Blackwell's, Welfare and Roosevelt Island.
From Brooke Kroeger's Nellie Bly, excerpts about Bly before, during and after her Lunatic Asylum exposé. Click image.

The Island had several names changes - in 1921 from Blackwell's to Welfare and then in 1972 from Welfare to Roosevelt. In 1969 the City of New York deeded the island to the State of New York for 99 years.

At the island's lower end brood the ruins of Smallpox Hospital, first in our nation to receive victims of contagion and plague (1854). James Renwick, famed architect of Grace Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral was its designer.

In 1875, America's third school of Nursing occupied its buildings. Our 8,300 apartment dwellers, who in 1975 began joining 2,000 long term hospital residents in forming the new Roosevelt Island community, finding the restored Chapel of the Good Shepherd central to their religious, cultural, political and social life.
Chaplain Chapin's Cards: 17 Island images
To see card presentation, click any slide above.

Architect Frederick Clark Withers planned the handsome structure, and a $85,000 gift in 1889 of George Bliss to the New York Episcopal Mission Society for its ministry of comfort and hope to the unwanted poor and sick in the surrounding almshouses.

The chapel's bell, now in Good Shepherd Plaza, summoned them not only to worship, but daily from their straw beds to long listless hours of loneliness.

Withers also designed Strecker Memorial Laboratory (1892), now being restored to the south of Goldwater Hospital.

Strecker overshadowed three generations of unparalleled medical research.

The Roosevelt Island Historical Society promotes awareness of our Island's unique story and pursues preservation of its landmarks and artifacts.

Home Page
Blackwell's Was
DOC's Island Home
Before Rikers (3 Parts)
Origins in the
City of New York
Rikers, Welfare Island
Penitentary Photos
Display Case Mystery
Ben Shahn's mid-1930s
Welfare Island
Penitentary Photos
Nellie Bly's
lunatic asylum
exposé - Before,
During & After
IMAGES OF AMERICA:THE QUEENSBORO BRIDGE Authors: The Greater Astoria Historical Society and the Roosevelt Island Historical Society ISBN: 073855488X Number of Pages: 128 Publisher: Arcadia Publishing