Historic, but not famous

Mary and Robert Blackwell farmed an island

Mary and Robert Blackwell – Before it was Roosevelt Island, it was called Blackwell Island and was named for the step daughter of the first Dutch man to live on and own the island. In 1668, the island was bought by a British captain, John Manning and he left the island to his step daughter, Mary Manning who married Robert Blackwell.

The Mannings farmed the island throughout the 1700s and built a home. The home, rebuilt by James Blackwell (a nephew of Mary and Robert) between 1796 and 1804, is the sole surviving building on the island from the family. The city acquired the island in 1828. The name remained Blackwell’s Island while the city operated a prison, a lunatic asylum, a charity hospital, a smallpox hospital, and a workhouse. The Blackwell farmhouse was used as a residence for some penitentiary administrators.

In the 1920s the name was changed to Welfare Island and eventually to Roosevelt Island where you can find a memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt. The Blackwell home remains on the island, just north of the bridge.

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