An Afternoon on Roosevelt Island

Have you ever heard of Roosevelt Island? I hadn’t either, at least not until I moved to NYC last year. For those who don’t know, Roosevelt Island is a small island between Manhattan and Queens, named after FDR in 1971. It only took a year, but I finally made the short trip one afternoon with a friend and it was definitely worth it!

Roosevelt Island: A little history

For as relatively unknown that Roosevelt Island is, it really does have a fascinating history. It was bought in 1637 by Dutch Governor Wouter van Twiller from the Canarsie Indians. It was then seized by the English in 1666 by someone named John Manning, who named it Manning Island. His great-great-grandson built Blackwell House, which is the island’s oldest landmark and one of NYC’s few remaining examples of 18th-century architecture.

After the City of New York bought the island for $32,000 in 1828, they built a penitentiary and the New York City Lunatic Asylum (below), which exists today as a residential building (talked about a haunted house!).

The Octagon Tower, which was part of the insane asylum and is today a residential building

The island has also housed a smallpox hospital, a polio hospital and a hospital for prisoners and poor NYC city residents. As the prisoners and mentally ill were vacated from the island, a chronic care facility opened. Almost 10,000 people lived on the island in the 1940s, most of them in these institutions.

Roosevelt Island today

Today, Roosevelt Island is very residential and is home to over 11,000 people. It has lots of green space and seemed to be frequented by many families. It was also incredibly quiet, making me almost forget that I was in the middle of New York City.

roosevelt island park

My friend and I took time walking around the length of the northern part of the island, from the tramway exit to the north tip on the east side and back around the west side to the tramway again. It was a beautiful day out (not yet the stifling heat of summer) and we enjoyed seeing a part of New York that we hadn’t yet explored.

We even discovered a secret garden! Thanks to the help of some guys working on plots of land, they told us to go through this hidden wooden fence, and down a tree-lined path to find a little pond. While I don’t normally follow directions from men, they seemed nice enough, and I wasn’t alone, so I figured it couldn’t really be that bad. I’m definitely glad we followed their directions.

roosevelt island secret corners

After creeping on some peoples’ plots of land and finding some pretty flowers (see below), we continued north, past the octagon tower that was once home to the asylum and to the tip of the island.

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roosevelt island flowers

Reaching the north end of the island, I took a couple pictures of the lighthouse and we planted ourselves on the sea wall to soak in the sun and relax before the weather got too grey.

roosevelt island lighthouse

The Blackwell Island Lighthouse was built in 1872 and restored in 1998.

roosevelt island looking over to manhattan

Looking over to Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side

roosevelt island waterfront

roosevelt island pathway

Our walk back south led to an interesting discovery of some cute little art installations in the water from 1996.

roosevelt island water art the marriage of money and real estate

roosevelt island art

Unfortunately, we couldn’t do much more exploring as some dark storm clouds rolled in as we got closer and closer to the tram. Luckily, this means I’ll have much more to explore on my next visit there!

roosevelt island

Getting to Roosevelt Island

Getting to Roosevelt Island is super easy. You can either take the F train towards Queens, which stops at Roosevelt Island OR you can take the tram from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue for the same price for beautiful views of the Manhattan. Definitely opt for the latter because the views are so worth it. Next time I go, I’ll definitely take pictures, but I didn’t this past time because I wanted to take everything in.

roosevelt island queensboro bridge

The tramway runs parallel to the bridge


roosevelt island united nations

A look at UNHQ as the storm clouds rolled in. I miss my former work-home!

Have you been to Roosevelt Island before?

Roosevelt Island is a small island in NYC between Manhattan and Queens. It makes a great, easy break from the noise and fast-paced life of New York City.

NYC, Travels
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  • Reply
    Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
    4 July 2017 at 04:21

    in NYC? cool!:)

    • Reply
      4 July 2017 at 10:01

      Yeah, you would never really guess it! But it’s right smack in the middle!

  • Reply
    Tony Pringle
    10 January 2018 at 14:42

    Did this in November. Tram was fun, apparently it holds 120 people max. 65 on our trip and it felt rammed. Did the opposite end to you, tram station then south. Cracking views.

    • Reply
      18 January 2018 at 22:34

      The tram is really cool but I completely agree–very crowded even at a low capacity. I live close by so I am determined to find it on a day when it’s empty so I can get the whole thing to myself. It does have wonderful views of NYC though!

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