Category Archives: New York Islands

Perks of Being A Patreon Member: A Flight Through Governors Island

Happy 2016! For the past several months we have been blessed to interact with listeners and readers through our involvement with the Patreon program, a crowdfunding patronage platform allowing us to provide exclusive content for a sliding scale of donations.

It’s because of our Patreon supporters (as well as our advertisers) that we have been able to produce twice as many shows over the past year. And we would like to do it again for 2016.

What do you get for being a Bowery Boys patron? There are several different levels of participation which you can review here.  Last December we met with some patrons in the higher donation brackets for a lovely drinks-and-dinner at Landmark Tavern. And we definitely expect to do more events like this in the future!

But all patrons get access to the extra material which we produce alongside our regular show.  What’s in the extra material? It can be anything really — from bonus scenes that were cut from the show to readings of historic writing that supports the subject of that week’s show.

For our Nellie Bly show, we took a tour of Roosevelt Island, the former Blackwell’s Island. For our podcast on the history of St. Mark’s Place, we did a walking tour of the street, highlighting the history and some of our personal recollections.

If you’re interested in becoming a Bowery Boys: New York City History patron, please visit our page and check our video presentation.

For a sampling of the goodies, we’re doing a little open house for some material we presented several months ago in support of our podcast on the history of Governors Island.

You can listen to that exclusive content HERE.  Enjoy! Also it will remind you a little bit of warmer weather.

And to our current Patreon members, thanks again for your support in 2015 and in the future!

What’s that picture at top? The intrepid pilot Ruth Bancroft Law, one of the world’s first female pilots, landing at Governors Island during the second leg of a record-breaking flight from Chicago on November 19, 1916.


Pictures courtesy Library of Congress






Whatever happened to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Island?

Midtown New York Skyline Showing Welfare Island, New York.

Welfare Island (once the more enticingly named Blackwell’s Island) was New York’s depository of human services, once a dour place of horrifying asylums and miserable workhouses.  In the 1960s Mayor John Lindsay was preparing to revitalize the East River island with new housing and increased support for the hospitals there.  Architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee were brought in to rethink the urban space as a largely automobile-free community.

For this grand experiment, all they needed was a name.  Luckily there seemed be a couple prominent figures being egregiously ignored in the city — Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor:

From a New York Times editorial, January 30, 1972:

“It is astonishing, and becomes more disgraceful with every passing year, that within the city there is still no memorial to this great New Yorker (except for FDR Drive, a dubious honor).  The opportunity is, however, immediately at hand.  Welfare Island, now slowly undergoing a total reconstruction and rebirth, would take on a new symbolic significance if its name were changed to Franklin D. Roosevelt Island — or, better yet, to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Island in honor of that extraordinary woman who was even more closely identified with New York City than was the president himself.”

By the following year Mayor Lindsay submitted a proposal to re-name Welfare Island for the president and the first lady.  From Jan. 21, 1973:

It was officially approved later that summer but with a revised name — Franklin Roosevelt Island.

To the Council, “a witness testified that the name of Welfare Island should be dropped because plans were under way to start marketing this September the thousands of apartments already built and still under construction as part of a $300-million ‘new town’ designed to replace outdated medical facilities.” [source]

Below: The island in April 1961, photo courtesy the New York Fire Department

A Louis Kahn memorial to Franklin Roosevelt was to be built at the south end;  it would take over four decades, but the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park would finally open in 2012.

Wither Eleanor?

She finally did get her own memorial in New York City — an understated statue tucked away in Riverside Park.

It was unveiled on October 5, 1996 by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Oddly enough, Hillary regaled the crowd with a story of imaginary conversations she liked to have with Eleanor. “When I last spoke to Mrs. Roosevelt, she wanted me to tell all of you how pleased she is by this great, great new statue.”

Top picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Roosevelt Island – from the New York Times to tomorrow’s podcast!

In this weekend’s New York Times Travel section, I chat with Emily Brennan about three places outside the borough of Manhattan that would make ideal destinations for tourists if the lines get too long at the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.  You can read the interview here, but the places I discuss include:

Wave Hill – It can be a bit challenging to get there, but this green oasis — once home to young Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain — is worth the journey

Snug Harbor – It’s just a short cab or bus ride from the St. George ferry station in Staten Island, and an amazing collection of architecture awaits you along Richmond Terrace.

— And finally, Roosevelt Island, with an amazing view of Manhattan, an oddball assortment of historical structures (from the lighthouse to the ruins) and of course that tram ride!

Roosevelt Island (once known as Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island) features prominently in tomorrow’s new podcast, a story of desperate circumstances, bizarre medical practices and a Revolutionary War era mansion.

Also to prepare for tomorrow’s new show, may I suggest a couple prior blog posts?

Execution Corner: 13th and 2nd Avenue
Asylum! The insane foundations of Columbia University

And thanks to Emily Brennan for a great interview.

Picture courtesy NYPL