The above photo was taken from Roosevelt island under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge facing the city directly across from FDR Drive. Keeping up with the theme of New York History I thought I'd do a little research on Roosevelt Island and its history.
Roosevelt Island does not at all resemble what we would've seen there about 200 years ago. Before it was remade into the beautiful residential area it is now it was known as Blackwell’s Island, named for a family that farmed and quarried there for generations. The island was also known as Minnehanonck by the Indians (translated “It’s nice to be on the island”) and Varken Eylandt (“Hogs Island”) by the Dutch.
The city then acquired the island in 1828, but the name remained Blackwell’s Island while the city operated a prison, a lunatic asylum, a charity hospital, a smallpox hospital, a workhouse and other Dickensian horrors there.
For a little more insight here's what Charles Dickens had to say about his visit to the asylum in 1843:
“Everything had a lounging, listless, madhouse air, which was very painful. The moping idiot, cowering down with long disheveled hair; the gibbering maniac, with his hideous laugh and pointed finger; the vacant eye, the fierce wild face, the gloomy picking of the hands and lips, and munching of the nails,” Dickens would write. “There they were all, without disguise, in naked ugliness and horror.”
Pretty heavy, huh? Built in 1839, the asylum earned its reputation quickly. It epitomized the worst conventions of the 19th century when it came to mental health
In 1921, the city renamed this infamous place Welfare Island to protect the good name of the Blackwell's and began a series of reforms: creating new hospitals, moving the prison to Rikers Island in 1935 and developing a residential community with a new name, Roosevelt Island, starting in 1971.