I’ve been curious about this little island for a few years. A friend of ours has family there, so each time they visited from California, they were always making the trek from Roosevelt Island to meet us for lunch. Having never been, I always wondered what the island had to offer.
I think I imagined some kind of secret suburbia, with houses and lawns looking out over the East River and Queens. A little, isolated sanctuary for NYU professors and a collection of old American homes, rocking chairs on porches, and the like. Of course, it wasn’t quite like that.
While I prefer my imagined oasis in the middle of the bustle, Roosevelt Island felt like a peaceful, mini city, with breathtaking views of New York. The narrow island stretches from East 46th St, up to 85th and is about 2 miles long. It’s surprisingly built up, with apartment buildings taking up the bulk of the island’s center. The southern and northern tips are parks, saving the glorious vistas for the public. There’s also a path that runs the circumference of the island. This was our plan of attack.
You can take a subway to the island, or for the same price, an aerial tramway. Why ride the subway, when you can fly in? The tramway turned out to be a very civilized, pleasant way to travel. New York should consider adding a few trams up and down the boulevards so we can float above the crowded sidewalks, and peek at the hidden greenhouses atop skyscrapers.
The tram dumps you in the center of the island, which is convenient for commuters, and buses wait nearby to take travelers back home.
While others caught a ride, we walked straight to the waterfront and were greeted with this magnificent view.
It was the most beautiful day!
There’s a lovely overhang of trees as you walk south. Lined with benches, this seemed like a great spot for a lunch break or a jog.
Cornell University is building a Technology campus on the southern half of the island, so there’s quite a bit of construction. However, the final buildings and lawns look like they’ll be a stunning addition to the island, and quite a place for student housing!
Walking south along the west side of the isle, we passed the abandoned ruin of a smallpox hospital. Now registered as a historic site, the crumbling landmark has seen better days. It makes me sad to think of the people there, quarantined on what was the original end of the island.
Once you see past the overgrown ivy, you can tell it’s not in the least bit ordinary. Designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Gothic Revival style hospital once had beautiful windows and details.
I hope someone’s considering bringing it back to life, though I’d be sad to lose that epic ivy.
The haunted building sits as a presence on Roosevelt island, and as we continued south, I couldn’t help but look back over my shoulder.
The filled land at the southern most tip is now a monument to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The modern and rigid design is a little counter to the adjacent ruin, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
At the southern tip of the monument, you’re greeted by an Oz-like, floating head of Roosevelt.
Walking back north took us past another park with breathtaking views. And guess what? It was totally empty!
We walked along the eastern side of the island, planning to do a full loop. There was certainly less on this side, other than apartments, but the views were just as nice, if not a little industrial.
Near some soccer fields, in the middle of the island, we came across a folksy community garden. I enjoyed wandering the paths, looking at each plot to see the unique style of each gardener.
The long walk to the northern tip of the island had us a little fatigued, but the little lighthouse at the end was worth it.
Such a nice place to sit and have a picnic.
As we made the hike back to the tramway, the sun was setting and I noticed so many happy children playing. In fact, that was what accompanied us on most of our walk: children’s laughter. Every few meters there seemed to be a playground, a jungle gym, or a field, full of joyful kids.
So maybe Roosevelt Island is just as I thought: a little suburban oasis in the middle of the urban jungle.