Roosevelt Island NYC Walking Tour
Measuring approximately 2 miles long, Roosevelt Island is situated between Queens and Manhattan. This relatively narrow island diverts the flow of the East River. Historic architectural landmarks, waterfront parks, and an aerial tramway are some of the highlights of this scenic piece of land. Click to book your Long Island City & Roosevelt Island tour.
Attractions and Sightseeing
Built in the 1830s, the Octagon is arguably the most famous architectural landmark on Roosevelt Island. As the name suggests, this edifice has an octagonal design that’s attributed to Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the most prominent American architects of the 19th century. Once home to an insane asylum, the historic Octagon has been converted into private property.
Opened in the 1850s, the Smallpox Hospital has been a notable landmark on the island for generations. This Gothic Revival structure was designed by James Renwick, Jr., who also designed some of NYC’s finest churches.
Renwick, Jr. was also the chief architect of the Blackwell Island Lighthouse which marks the northernmost point of Roosevelt Island. Also having a Gothic Revival facade, the lighthouse has landmark status on local and national scales.
Today, the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital stand next to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Covering approximately 4 acres on the island’s southern tip, this urban green space includes a bust of its namesake. Additionally, the text of the famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941 is embedded into large blocks that surround the statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Four Freedoms Park offers great views of the skylines of Midtown Manhattan and Long Island City, Queens. Most of Roosevelt Island’s perimeter includes pedestrian-friendly promenades with benches.
In the middle of the 17th century, English colonists drove the Dutch out of modern-day Roosevelt Island. The small island was initially named after John Manning, who served as a captain for British forces. The area was then renamed Blackwell Island after Manning’s relative.
Due to its advantageous isolated geography and close proximity to Manhattan, Roosevelt Island was primarily used to hold ill individuals and criminals in the 19th century. The New York City Lunatic Asylum and Smallpox Hospital dominated the economy on the island for most of the century.
Industrialization changed the character of the area in the 1900s. For the first time, the island was accessible by a vehicle when the Welfare Island Bridge opened in 1955. This vertical lift bridge was later renamed the Roosevelt Island Bridge. Since the late 1990s, Roosevelt Island has been transformed by gentrification with the arrival of new residents seeking luxurious high-rise apartments and condominiums.
Visiting Roosevelt Island
Some of the supporting structures of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge stand on Roosevelt Island. Connecting Manhattan with Queens, this historic bridge doesn’t have any outlets on the island. One of the most unique transportation options in North America, the Roosevelt Island Tramway offers an affordable, convenient and exciting way to travel between Midtown Manhattan and Roosevelt Island.
During the brief trip over the East River in an enclosed aerial tramway, you’ll embrace the stunning views of the NYC skyline. You can also take the F line of the New York City Subway to the Roosevelt Island underground station.
Additionally, the island has a terminal that’s served by the NYC Ferry, which primarily serves commuters traveling between boroughs. To reach the island by car, you must use the Roosevelt Island Bridge that runs through the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. Accommodating traffic in north and south directions, Main Street offers convenient access to all neighborhoods on the island.
Location: situated between Queens and Manhattan, New York, NY
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