There’s so much to do when visiting the island of Manhattan, that visitors don’t often venture to “neighboring” islands.
Who knew that New York was such an “island paradise”?
I’ve already written about why you should go explore nearby Governor’s Island and peaceful, sports-packed Randall’s Island. I, myself, was guilty of never having been to Roosevelt Island, but I rectified that error with a visit this past summer…. and it’s well worth it.
Roosevelt Island, part of Manhattan, is a narrow island in the East River, It’s 2 miles long. and a maximum of 800 feet wide, for a total area of 147 acres. A population of a little 11,000 live on the island.
There are two ways to reach Governor’s Island by public transport. It’s an easy subway stop, but a much more dramatic and panoramic tram/gondola ride. We took the subway in and soared in a gondola over the East River and Manhattan’s midtown on the return trip. Your MTA ticket is valid for the sky transport – and you absolutely shouldn’t miss the chance to enjoy the city from this unique perspective.
Although I’ve “meant to” visit Roosevelt Island for years, the booming construction of my alma mater’s tech campus sped along my plans.
Cornell University won a competitive bid to build a Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. The campus is rapidly taking shape and hosts grad students and acts as an incubator for innovative New York start-up businesses.
I was curious to see the new tech campus, and it’s looking like a great place to study and to live – literally a stone’s throw away from Manhattan, but a peaceful world apart.
Near the campus are the ruins of the former smallpox hospital. In 1856, the city opened up the Renwick Smallpox Hospital, as a way to completely separate smallpox sufferers from the urban population.
During the 19 years it served as a smallpox hospital, it treated about 7,000 patients a year. About 450 patients died there each year, leading to urban legends that the site is haunted. The hospital would go on to serve as a regular hospital and nurses’ training, and would fall into disrepair in the 1950s.
In a city that is in constant renewal, the Renwick Smallpox Hospital is the only historic ruins in Manhattan. Reniwick (1818-1895) was a New York-born architect whose best-known works included New York’s Saint Patrick’s cathedral and Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian “castle” and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Near the ruins are also impressive views of midtown, the UN and the East River from the FDR memorial.
We walked the length of the island, to the lighthouse at the northernmost point and the views over Wards Island (attached to Randall’s Island).
It’s an interesting community bordering midtown, and the Cornell campus is bound to regenerate the environment – it seems there are already interesting opportunities for tech collaborations with the local schools.
Enjoy your visit to Roosevelt Island!