North Tour Stop 1: Visitor’s Kiosk


This Island’s Many Names

List of Stops List_of_Stops.html






Getting AroundGetting_Around.html
Roosevelt Island Historical Tourindex.html

    Welcome to Roosevelt Island!  Or should we say, Welcome to Minnahannock! Or maybe, Welcome to Hog Island! No? How about Manning?  Blackwell?  Welfare?

As you can see, Roosevelt Island has a colorful history, which is represented most clearly in its many names.

    The island’s first name was given by members of the Canarsie tribe, a group of indigenous people related to the Pequots of New England, and who lived primarily on the western half of Long Island.  The natives used the island as a hunting ground and when Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller purchased the island in 1637, he used it for much the same purpose: raising pigs.  Hence the name Varkens Eiland: Dutch for Hog Island.

       Less than 20 years later, in 1665, British Captain John Manning seized the island from the Dutch in a battle for control of New Netherlands.  He (selflessly) named the island after himself, and built himself a large comfortable plantation house, which would be his only comfort after he surrendered Fort James (Fort Amsterdam) during a Dutch attack on August 9th, 1673.  For his cowardice, Manning was sentenced to death, only to receive a pardon in exchange for a humiliating public dismissal at City Hall, which included having his sword broken in two.  He retired to his island in drunken exile in 1675, where the local reverend recalled, “I have been several times with the said Captain whose entertainment was commonly a Bowl of Rum-Punch."

    In 1686, Manning’s daughter and son-in-law, Robert Blackwell, become the owners of the island and changed its name to reflect the change of ownership.  In 1796, Jacob Blackwell, Robert’s great-grandson, built what became known as the Blackwell House, which can be seen on the North Tour.

    The island remained in the Blackwell family until 1828, when the City of New York purchased the island from a Blackwell descendant for $32,500 ($678,847.09 in today's money - a steal for such prime real estate in New York City!). 

    Over the next century, many institutions were built on the island, such as a penitentiary and a large number of hospitals, some of which still exist on the island. 

    In 1921, the city changed the name of Blackwell Island to Welfare Island, in an attempt to give it a better reputation.  Two hospitals were also built as part of this endeavor. The island’s name remained the same until 1973, when its name was changed yet again, this time to Roosevelt Island, in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Given its history, who knows what we will be calling it next week!

Your next stop depends on how much time you have.  The path to the north is longer, and takes you past the Blackwell House mentioned earlier, as well as a variety of interesting stops, including a monstrous car garage and a lighthouse rumored to have been built by a patient of the insane asylum. 

    To the south is a slightly shorter tour that focuses on the island's southern half and it's rapidly changing history.  You can also see the newest addition to the island: a memorial dedicated to its namesake.  If you have plenty of time, or just can't get enough of this amazing island, why not take the south tour, and then continue through to the North Tour.  The choice is up to you, but most of all, have fun and enjoy Roosevelt Island!

    If you have any questions, feel free to go into the Visitor’s Kiosk.  They would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Next Stop: Tram StationTour_North_2__Tram_Station.html
Walk toward the tram stationTour_North_2__Tram_Station.html

Library of Congress

Judith Berdy

NYPL, Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection, NYC- Welfare Island

Olivier Perrin

MCNY and the General Gov’t Archives, The Hague


Reverend Samuel Manning, via Bridgeman Art Library

Wouter Van Twillier