The many names given to Roosevelt Island

Has any borough, neighborhood, or stretch of land in New York City been renamed as many times as Roosevelt Island has over its 400-year history?

Called Minnahanock by the Canarsie Indians, tribal leaders sold the he two-mile long island to Dutch governor Wouter van Twiller in 1637. Now part of New Amsterdam, it was renamed Varcken (Hog) Island for the pigs the Dutch raised there.


[The island formerly known as Welfare, in a 1940s postcard.]

In 1666, with the English now in control, the island fell into the hands of Captain John Manning and was renamed Manning’s Island. Twenty years later Manning’s son-in-law, Robert Blackwell, inherited the island. He decided it was now Blackwell’s Island.

The city of New York bought the island in 1828 for $32,500, building hospitals, poorhouses, and prisons on what was formerly farmland. The Blackwell name officially endured until 1921, when it got another moniker: Welfare Island.

Finally, in 1973, with plans to turn the island into a mostly residential neighborhood, the city renamed it Roosevelt Island. Lets hope this one lasts!

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13 Responses to “The many names given to Roosevelt Island”

  1. petey Says:

    greeat picture. a little bit of manhattan’s old industrial/working class east side there on the right.

  2. Bob Says:

    I remember around 1976 or so a few of my friends and I rode our bikes over to the island from Queens. Although you were not allowed to ride a bike across to there at the time, we just rode quickly past the guard, who yelled at us. Once over to the island, it was a desolate and scary place. It was night time, and there was little there. There were roads, and many abandoned hospitals and building, all of which looked straight out of a horror movie. We rode around for a while, but I think we were too scared to actually go into any of the buildings, or even get too close. I wish I had some pics of the way it looked that night!

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I wish you did too! Would be neat to see now.

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    How poignant a succession of conquerors tried to dedicate a piece of Native American land to themselves, only to have the name changed at an accelerating pace…The Canarsie Indians would have been wise to understand no piece of earth is ever owned. In the end, the earths owns us.

  5. Kaz Says:

    Just because I’m really contrary, I’d love to see the City re-name the island again. To Minnahanock.

  6. The graves of New York City’s founding families « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] New York in 1776. The family owned their namesake island in the East River that eventually became Roosevelt Island in […]

  7. The female con artist who preyed on New York men « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] After getting hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars from several men, she was convicted of obtaining $500 on false pretenses and sentenced to prison on Blackwell’s Island. […]

  8. What’s a trolley station doing off second avenue? « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] sheltered a staircase leading to an undergound trolley station that took commuters to Roosevelt Island or into […]

  9. The mess halls for inmates on Blackwell’s Island | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] thin strip of land in the East River, bought by the city in 1828, was were New York brought its undesirables: criminals biding their time in the […]

  10. Past and present collide on Blackwell’s Island | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] know it as Roosevelt island. But until the 1920s, it was Blackwell’s Island—the two-mile spit of land in the East […]

  11. Past and present collide on Blackwell's Island | News for New Yorkers Says:

    […] know it as Roosevelt island. But until the 1920s, it was Blackwell’s Island—the two-mile spit of land in the East […]

  12. Past and present collide on Blackwell’s Island | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] know it as Roosevelt island. But until the 1920s, it was Blackwell’s Island—the two-mile spit of land in the East […]

  13. One of New York’s last 18th century farmhouses sits on an East River island | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Whatever the reason, From 1796 and 1804, James Blackwell built a spacious farmhouse that still stands on their former island, now called Roosevelt Island. […]

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