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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Atlas Obscura Visits Roosevelt Island - History Includes Prison, Insane Asylum, Smallpox Hospital And Plans For Neo-Classical Civic Center Never Built

Interesting article on the history of Roosevelt Island from Atlas Obscura. An excerpt:
The history of Roosevelt Island goes to the very first days of New Amsterdam. First occupied by the Canarsie Indians, the island was bought from the natives in 1637 by a Dutch trader with the amazing name of Wouter van Twiller. Twiller lost the land when the British took over the territory, and after a brief transition period, it passed into the hands of its first significant owner — a British subject by the name of Robert Blackwell. The island would be known as Blackwell's Island until 1923, when the city renamed it to the less charming, but accurate, Welfare Island.

The city of New York purchased the island in 1828, and spent the next two decades building all of the things they no longer wanted in town: insane asylums, workhouses, a prison, and a smallpox hospital — all with a slightly Gothic grandeur.

Archive illustration of Welfare Island (via

After all this ambitious building of things to service the city's least desirable tenants, there was brief shining exception to the idea of using the island as a sort of fortress of isolation. In 1904, this beautiful concept was presented to the city: an imagining Roosevelt Island connected to the city by a series of new, stately bridges and home to a neo-classical Civic Center complex, strategically located outside any of the five boroughs proper....
Click here for the entire Atlas Obscura article and more cool historic Roosevelt Island pictures.

Here's a timeline of Roosevelt Island history from previous post.


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