Discover Roosevelt Island And Its Cable Car
Roosevelt Island is a small, narrow island in New York City, located on the East River between Manhattan and the Queens.
Previously known as Minnahanock, Manning’s Island, Blackwell Island or Welfare Island, it was finally renamed in 1973, in tribute to the former President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
During your stay in New York, taking the time to visit this island attached to Manhattan will be a great way to discover another of the faces of New York.
The History Of Roosevelt Island
Originally, Roosevelt Island was in the territory of the Canarsie Indians, before it was bought out in 1637 by Wouter van Twiller, the Dutch governor at the time. In 1666, after the Dutch defeat, the island returned to the English captain John Manning, then to his son-in-law Robert Blackwell. They both renamed the island after themselves.
In 1828, the city of New York bought the island which was then used as a penitentiary, hospital and asylum.
During the 1970s, the island was renamed once again, this time in honor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt : he is the 32nd President of the United States, who was head of government during the Second World War.
At the same time, the city signed a 99-year lease and launched a major development project. The island gradually became more residential, and this transformation greatly accelerated from the early 2000s. Today, more than 15,000 New Yorkers live on Roosevelt Island.
How To Get To Roosevelt Island?
To get to the island, you will have access to several means of transport depending on your place of departure. As far as the one-way trip is concerned, I really recommend that you take the Roosevelt Island cable car, which alone is a good reason to visit this island!
The Roosevelt Island Tram
One of the main attractions of Roosevelt Island is actually the means of transportation that allows you to get there. From Manhattan, you can take the cable car: the Roosevelt Island Tram.
This means of transport was set up in 1976. It was originally intended to remain in service only until the arrival of the subway line connecting the island to Manhattan. More than 4 decades later, the cable car is still in operation, and it has become so popular that it can even be used with a MetroCard, like any other New York City transit vehicle.
The Roosevelt Island Tram consists of 2 cabins that can each carry just over 100 people. The trip to reach the island is about 1 kilometer and takes just 3 minutes. During this short crossing, you can enjoy a unique view of New York, more than 70 meters above the ground.
To take the Roosevelt Island Tram, you will need to go to the intersection of 2nd Avenue and 60th Street if you are in Manhattan, or at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge if you are on Roosevelt Island. The cable car operates from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 6 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. However, I do not recommend using it on weekdays during peak hours, i.e. from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. More information on peak hours by following this link. The ticket costs $2.50, but you can also use your unlimited MetroCard if you have one.
If you primarily want to travel as quickly as possible, then you can use the New York City Subway.
By taking the subway on the F line, you can get off at the Roosevelt Island station.
The New York subway operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Subway trains run very regularly: at least once every 5 minutes during the day, and once every 20 minutes between midnight and 6:30 a.m.
NYC Ferry operates boat trips to Roosevelt Island on the Astoria Line. This line departs from Manhattan, at Wall Street, and goes to Roosevelt Island via Astoria, before joining Long Island City.
The trip between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island takes approximately twenty minutes, and there is a boat departure approximately twice an hour. The ferry runs from 6:20 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and from 7:20 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekends.
The ticket for the ferry costs $2.75, and it is not possible to board using the MetroCard. For example, the ferry will be an excellent way to return to Manhattan after visiting Roosevelt Island, if you are not in too much of a hurry. During the ride, you can admire a very nice view of the Skyline from the East River.
What To See In Roosevelt Island?
Roosevelt Island is certainly not the most touristy area of New York ! In fact, until a few decades ago, the island was mainly used to isolate certain establishments from the rest of the city, such as a prison and an asylum. Today, Roosevelt Island has become a much more pleasant and very residential area, in which you can discover some particularly interesting sites.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
At the southern end of the island, a large green space pays homage to the president who gave his name to this island.
This large tree-lined park, which was designed by architect Louis Kahn in 1974, but which was not completed until much later in 2012, is today one of the emblematic places of Roosevelt Island.
For photography enthusiasts, Four Freedoms Park is even one of the best places in the city. It indeed offers unique views of the Manhattan Skyline and some of New York’s most famous buildings, such as the UN Headquarters, the Chrysler Building, but also the Queensboro Bridge.
In this triangular-shaped park, you can also discover a large bust in the image of the former president of the United States, made by the sculptor Jo Davidson. On the back of this bust is engraved the speech that Roosevelt gave in 1941 before Congress, the title of which gave its name to the park.
Entrance to the park is free, and its doors are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from April to September, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to March. Four Freedoms Park is open daily except Tuesdays.
The Smallpox Hospital And The Strecker Memorial Laboratory
The Smallpox Hospital is a former hospital, now abandoned, which opened its doors in 1856 before closing them a century later. Since 1973, it has been classified as a historic building, just like the laboratory which is located right next to it.
The neo-Gothic style hospital building is now in ruins and might look like something straight out of a horror movie. A rehabilitation project was launched so that the remains of this building could be visited by tourists.
Right next to the hospital, you can discover the Strecker Memorial Laboratory, a neo-Romanesque building built in 1892, which was the very first laboratory in the United States used to carry out bacteriological research. Today, the premises are occupied by the MTA ( Metropolitan Transportation Authority ), the company in charge of public transport in New York.
Blackwell Island Lighthouse
This neo-Gothic stone lighthouse, located just north of Roosevelt Island, was listed as a place of historic interest in 1976. Blackwell Island was the old name of the island, before it was renamed in honor of the illustrious President of the United States. The lighthouse was built in 1872, with stones transported by the prisoners of the penitentiary of the island.
In this very quiet place, you can admire a very nice panoramic view of the Upper East Side and Queens.
The Octagon Tower
This octagonal building once housed the New York City Municipal Lunatic Asylum, a mental asylum. During the first half of the 20th century, the asylum had a very bad reputation and was known throughout New York for the mistreatment of the sick there.
After its closure in 1955, the building was abandoned, before being restored in 2006. Today, it houses highly prized luxury residences. It is possible to visit its entrance hall, to discover its very beautiful rotunda and its huge spiral staircase.
The Chapel Of The Good Shepherd
During the 19th century, the first missionaries sent by the Anglican Church arrived on Roosevelt Island.
At the time, the inhabitants of the island were mostly people with mental or physical illnesses, as well as people from the lower social classes.
The chaplain therefore appealed to the architect Frederick Clarke Withers and asked him to build the most beautiful church in the city, in the most underprivileged district.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was completed in 1889, and remained open until 1952. During the 1970s, when the island slowly began to become residential, this chapel became a community center, and it still remains today. one of the most beautiful buildings in the neighborhood.