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Rediscovering Roosevelt Island

Updated: May 04, 2016 13:53
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Roosevelt-Island-1Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island. Whenever the term “New York City” comes to mind, we often think of these 5 boroughs. Yet, not much attention is paid to one particular part of New York City – one that has a tramway, one train stop, and has enough inhabitants to be considered a 6th borough. I am talking about Roosevelt Island. The Island is one of New York City’s underrated areas.

Roosevelt Island (formally called Hogs Island, Blackwell Island, and Welfare Island in that order) has seen a lot of history since Dutch Governor Wouter Van Tiller purchased it from the Canarsie Indians in 1637. It was a huge farmland for the Blackwell family from the colonial era up to the early 19th century when the City purchased it for $32,000 and used it for hospitals, an insane asylum, and a prison. Today, it is a huge, peaceful, quiet residential area for extremely lucky or just plain rich folks.

I visited Roosevelt Island via the Tramway this past week and decided to scope out a location or two for you to check out because this overlooked area has a lot of history, and I encourage readers to not only google the island, but visit it, and explore further.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park


Smaller than Central Park, but man, is it way more show-offy. Located at the Southern most tip of Roosevelt Island, Four Freedoms Park is a four-acre memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address (famously known as the ‘Four Freedoms’ speech, duh). Conceived by Louis Kahn in 1973, actual construction did not begin until 2010 when funds from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the numerous other private donors started piling up.

The park is still brand spanking new, having been opened in 2012, and has already seen some recent history as Hillary Rodham Clinton used the park almost a year ago as her first major presidential rally and to kick off her campaign. (Which, to think the 2016 election started a year ago, makes me want to inhale massive amounts of helium, take a decent dose of Valium, pass out and die.)

Smallpox Hospital (AKA Renwick Ruin)


Built in 1857, This was then-Blackwell Island’s Smallpox hospital. While the Smallpox vaccine was available, New York City still had massive outbreaks of the disease (partly due to the new arrival of immigrants). In 1875, the hospital closed and became a training facility for nurses preparing to enter the City Hospital. Constructed by James Renwick Jr., a man whose work extends to most of the landmarks on the Island, this hospital became obsolete with the prison and the City hospital when all operations had moved to Queens by the 50s.

The building has fallen into disrepair ever since, although landmarked by the City, it still represents the creepiness and eeriness 19th-century medical practice once prevailed. You can’t go in it (I mean, great if you have the iron balls/ovaries to enter, but it’s illegal), but you can still take pictures, oogle with it and stare at the geese who just seem to absolutely adore defecating on the front lawn of this ruin.

If any of what I said tickled any fancy you may have of going to the Island, then I suggest you get your bum to the nearest F train, or take the Tramway, and have at it.

*All pictures courtesy of the author

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Zack Daniel Schiavetta

Zack Daniel Schiavetta

Zack Daniel Schiavetta is a quiet kid, musician, writer, village idiot, and student. He is currently studying at Baruch College, contributing to the Opinions section of his college's newspaper, The Ticker. He's also a history buff. His music can be found at He can be contacted via

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