Desolation and isolation on the East River in 1909

Social realist painter George Bellows completed “Bridge, Blackwell’s Island,” in 1909, which is also the year of the opening of the Queensboro Bridge, as this span over the East River was called at the time.

Like the East River waterfront, Blackwell’s Island (today’s Roosevelt Island) was to Bellows a place on the margin—where refuse, industry, and those who were edged out by 20th century urban life were relegated.

This look at the bridge almost devoid of people seems to say something about the desolation and isolation of the contemporary city.

Smokestacks belch, a tugboat speeds through the choppy river, a lone man not much bigger than a speck is tending to something on the dock—and four children shrouded in darkness peer across the water—perhaps contemplating the modern metropolis they’re part of.

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7 Responses to “Desolation and isolation on the East River in 1909”

  1. Desolation and isolation on the East River in 1909 | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] Source: FS – NYC Real Estate Desolation and isolation on the East River in 1909 […]

  2. Timothy Grier Says:

    In between the name Blackwell and Roosevelt was Welfare. That was the name I knew for the island when I lived in Manhattan in the 50s and 60s. I knew Welfare Island well as my father worked at Goldwater Hospital. This was before the gondola so getting to Welfare Island from Manhattan meant crossing the 59th Street Bridge to Queens and then driving across a small bridge onto the island. The island was mostly ruins except for Goldwater and, I think, a Fire Department training facility. My brothers and I enjoyed roaming the island and exploring the ruins. The sight of the NYC skyline across the narrow East River was awe-inspiring.

    • Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

      Was there once when I was a kid in the 50s, a few of us were crawling about the city. I recall looking at the 14th St Con Ed plant, used it as a marker to know which direction was back home from the water the surrounded us. I don’t think I even knew that Manhattan was an island. I had forgotten this, thanks a lot Timothy Grier.

      • Timothy Grier Says:

        Mi Mick, I lived right by the Con Ed plant on 14th Street in Stuyvesant Town. I agree that its hard to think of Manhattan as an island. NYC never did a good job of allowing public access to the surrounding rivers. I’ve lived in Chicago where they make much better use of their waterfront.

      • Tom B Says:

        Keep posting those great memories Mick.

    • petey Says:

      yes the FDNY training facility was on welfare island. i spent a day there getting a merit badge.

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    Another great painting!

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