Roosevelt Island A River Runs By It

Named after the 32nd president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Roosevelt Island is a narrow island sitting in the middle of New York City's East River. It lies between Manhattan Island to the west and the borough of Queens on Long Island to the east, and is part of the borough of Manhattan. 

The island recently hosted a campaign and fundraising event for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton which angered some longtime residents but also put the island back on the national radar. Running roughly from East 46th to 85th Streets on Manhattan Island, Roosevelt Island is a 2-mile sliver of land, with a maximum width of 800 feet and a total area of 147 acres. The 2000 U.S. Census offered a population estimate of 9,520, but the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) estimates that the island’s population now is about 12,000 to 14,000. 

The island was called Minnehanonck by the Algonquin Indians and Varckens Eylandt (Hog Island) by the Dutch. During colonial times and later, when the Blackwell family owned it, it became known as Blackwell‍ '​s Island. When it was used principally for hospitals from 1921 to 1971, it was referred to as Welfare Island. It was re-named Roosevelt Island in 1971 in honor of FDR.

Roosevelt Island is owned by the city, but was leased to the state of New York's Urban Development Corporation for 99 years in 1969. Most of the residential buildings on Roosevelt Island are rental buildings. There is also a cooperative (Rivercross) and a series of condominium buildings (Riverwalk). One rental building (Eastwood) has left New York State's Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, though current residents are still protected. Three other buildings are now working toward privatization, including the cooperative.

Institutional History

Although its ownership changed hands several times in the 1600s and 1700s, most people probably associate Roosevelt Island with the charity and smallpox hospitals, prisons and mental health facilities that were housed there for many years. Blackwell Island Penitentiary housed a number of famous and infamous guests in its heyday, including actress Mae West, singer Billie Holiday, politician William “Boss” Tweed, anarchist and socialist activist Emma Goldman and 17-year-old Arthur Flugenheimer (better known as mobster Dutch Schultz), who was incarcerated for burglary.


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