Roosevelt Island's Landmarks
Above the waters of the East River at the northernmost stretch of Roosevelt Island, shines the fifty foot high Lighthouse. It was built in 1872 by inmates of the penitentiary with stone extracted from the island.
The Lighthouse was designed by James Renwick, Jr., architect of the Smallpox Hospital and the Smithsonian Institute.
The East River channel's huge granite boulders made it very treacherous to navigate so the lighthouse was commissioned as part of a solution for New York City's shipping ports along with an Army Corps of Engineers project to demolish and implode boulders and widen and deepen the channel.
Lighthouse Park is now a lovely fishing and barbecue destination.
The Octagon is distinctive in both its exterior and its interior: the outside being an octagonal central tower leading into a dome and the inside a staircase winding concentrically toward the top. In 1839, the New York Lunatic Asylum which featured the Octagon Tower was built with granite mined from the island.
It was one of the first institutions for the treatment of the mentally ill in America. The purchase of Blackwell's Island by New York City had institutional development as the goal and it was believed that the soothing, natural surroundings would be conducive to rehabilitation of all human ailments. Therefore, having bought the island in 1828, the City erected a penitentiary in 1829 and finished the Asylum a decade later.
Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, the structure has been altered, augmented, and renovated countless times but the simplicity and beauty of the Octagon Tower's shape remains the central focus. The island Asylum was part of the great changes in treatment of the mentally ill that occurred over the late 1800s and early 1900s. Patients were acknowledged as requiring medical assistance instead of just restraint and maintenance, and rehabilitation became the objective.
Octagon Tower is now completely restored after years in the early 1900s when it was vandalized and burned twice. Two high-rise apartment wings with 500 residences extend out from the domed landmark, encircling and looking out on a private pool, playground, park complete with grills, sports fields and tennis courts.
Chapel of the Good Shepherd
Landmarks Chapel of the Good Shepherd Chapel of the Good Shepherd In the center of a brick plaza in the middle of the Roosevelt Island sits the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. The Chapel is characterized by a multicolor effect produced by mixed use of brick and stone and stained-glass windows. It was built by Frederick Clarke Withers in 1889 to serve the residents of the many Welfare Island almshouses that were constructed for New York's destitute in the 1850s. Withers' mentor, who brought him from England to America, was the man credited with envisioning a "New York Park" which would become Central Park.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was restored in 1975 and is now primarily a community center.
At the corner of East Road and Main Street is a charming wooden home called Blackwell House. Built in 1796 for the Blackwell family who owned the island for many generations, this cottage is the sixth oldest farmhouse in New York City.
The original resident of the home was James Blackwell, whose father had inherited the island from his wife's stepfather, Captain John Manning the Sheriff of New York. Since New York City purchased the island from the Blackwell family in 1823 to build institutions for the most populous city in the country, Blackwell House has been a living quarters for wardens of the almshouse, the hospitals, and the penitentiary.
The exterior of the modest colonial home has been refurbished and plans are in the works to renovate the interior. Once complete, Blackwell House will be used as a community center, mainly for local committee meetings and periodic historical tours.
The Strecker Laboratory
Strecker Laboratory is situated to the east of Renwick Ruins amidst the greenery of Southpoint. Built in 1892, Strecker Memorial Laboratory was the second structure on Roosevelt Island designed by Frederick Clarke Withers.
It was created as the first laboratory in the country devoted exclusively to pathological and bacteriological research. Charity Hospital, later to be called City Hospital was the laboratory's administrative support. In 1907, the Russell Sage Institute of Pathology made Strecker Laboratory its home until 1912 when it moved to Weill Cornell Medical in Manhattan, also becoming associated with Rockefeller University.
Many of the great advances in laboratory sciences of the first half of the 20th century trace their origins to the doctors trained at this institute. Currently, the New York City Transit Authority has refurbished the building's exterior so that it can serve as the power conversion station for the E and V subway lines.
The Smallpox Hospital is the ivy-covered, medieval-type ruin that faces the FDR expressway, lit from below at night so as to look both regal and sinister. It was built in 1856 from designs by James Renwick, Jr. who also designed the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the former facade of the New York Stock Exchange.
Smallpox Hospital was the first hospital in the country to receive patients with smallpox. New York residents afflicted with the disease were quarantined by law at the "Blackwell's Island" (the island's name at the time) hospital. Once a successful vaccine was implemented in the late 1800s, the hospital was closed. Over the 1900s, vandals ravaged the metal detailing and the roof collapsed, leaving only the facade remaining.
It has now been stabilized and the gothic hospital will be surrounded by a new park called "Wild Gardens, Green Rooms" which is now under construction.