Roosevelt Island, a long sliver of land situated between the East Side of Manhattan and Long Island City within the East River, is often forgotten in many New Yorkers’ minds or is mysterious to many.
But the island is actually part of the city’s identity going all the way back to before the Dutch bought it from the Lenape people. Skip forward 200 years and you learn that the island, then named Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt Island was named after the 32nd president in the early 1970s), operated as a home for the city’s unwanted — the poor, the sick and the criminal. The only remnants of that time are the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital, a lighthouse and part of the Octagon apartment complex, which originally served as the entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum.
More recently, the island has been a go-to for filmmakers who want a unique setting within the city. The Tobey McGuire “Spider-Man,” “The Exorcist,” “New Amsterdam,” “Shaft,” “1990: The Bronx Warriors,” “Gossip Girl,” “Blacklist” and so many other films and TV shows have been filmed here.
Of course, Roosevelt Island is much more than film appearances and its dark history. There’s a rich community of people here who help govern and preserve the island.
For others, it’s a nice escape from the bustle of the city when they need a quiet place, just for a few hours, to think and explore.
With that said, here are our top picks for touring Roosevelt Island, which is just a tram ride away.