Posts Tagged ‘islands in the East River’

Bridges and barracks in an East River postcard

January 4, 2013

This 1940s technicolor postcard shows the sturdy Triborough (aka the Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge in the foreground and the stunning Hell Gate Bridge, which carries rail traffic, behind it.

It’s only one leg of the Triborough though; the bridge connects the Bronx to Manhattan to Queens—leapfrogging over the joined-via-landfill Randall’s and Ward’s Islands.


I’m curious about the barracks-like white and red buildings in the background on what looks like Randall’s and Ward’s Islands. In the 1930s, the island became home to a psychiatric hospital that still operates today; it replaced an older insane asylum.

Are these barracks part of the psych hospital—or used as housing for some other group of people the city didn’t want in Manhattan or the the other boroughs?

The curious history of the city’s Rat Island

November 29, 2010

Dwarfed by tiny City Island and lilliputian Hart Island (New York City’s Potter’s Field) off the Bronx, Rat Island is currently uninhabited.

But this 2.5 acre hump of bedrock has a long, strange history.

Purchased from Native Americans in 1654 by the Pell family, the island’s name supposedly stems from the inmates then jailed on Hart Island.

When inmates—who were nicknamed rats—escaped, they swam to Rat Island first before making a go at reaching City Island.

By the 1800s, it was the location of the “Pelham Pesthouse,” a yellow fever hospital that quarantined 40 people.

New York bought it in 1888, though it’s not clear why, since the city didn’t put it to any use. Until the 1930s a group of artists and writers lived there.

Eventually it went back into private ownership—and last year was actually up for sale. The price? Just $300,000.