Daily Archives: September 8, 2010

The Big Apple’s Little Apple – Part 4

In July, 1998, some descendants of the Blackwell family visited Roosevelt Island but Ed, Drake, and I didn’t get there until August of 1999.  The Blackwell House looked like it really needed some help and sprucing up.  It took until March 21, 2002, for the Roosevelt Island Historical Society to gain access to the house so that it could begin planning for renovations.  I contacted the RIHS to get information on the island’s history after our trip.  I kept in touch with Judi Berdy for many years and the last I heard, they were still raising funds to restore the house and other landmarks.  If you’re interested in visiting the island, taking a tour, or learning more of its history, you can contact the RIHS at P O Box 5, Island Station, NY, NY 10044 or visit the website, www.rihs.us.     I think it’s wonderful that the RIHS adopted a trolley kiosk, moved it by the tram station, and it is now the island’s  visitor center.  Definitely worth a stop if you get there.   

Judi is a long-time resident of Roosevelt Island and, in 2003, wrote a book for the Images in America series for Arcadia Publishing Co.  I’ve heard that she also gives historical tours and lectures and I would love to go back and meet her in person.  Some day I will do just that.  You listening, Judi???  I’ll get back there yet!  

The Octagon, 1999


When my son Drake saw the Lunatic Asylum ruins a few years ago, he immediately decided that one day he wanted to live there.  The 5-story lobby, an octagon, was the only remaining structure and had been through numerous fires.  We heard later that someone wanted to renovate the octagon and to add 2 wings for apartments.  The Octagon is complete and the apartments are being completed now and I, like Drake, would like to have an apartment in that building.  Starting at $1,800 per month for a studio, I don’t see that happening but I would love it.  I found out that Judith Berdy has an office in the Octagon and it is completed and beautiful!  Maybe I can sublet her office for a night so that I can spend the night there.  Ok, Drake can stay with me, as long as he calms down long enough to actually GET some sleep!  

The Octagon is a short walk to the southern end of the island, which is the perfect spot to watch the Macy’s July 4th fireworks.  (I hope they are still doing that every year.)  The tram has been out of service since March for an update but it should be back online toward the end of the year.  There is also a RI subway stop, making the island very convenient to other parts of the NYC area.  See, if you are in NYC, there’s no reason not to visit the island.  

For more images of the Octagon, go to www.octagonnyc.com.  

Octagon Lobby, 2010, from http://www.octagonnyc.com website


The Blackwell descendants have spread all over the country and I was told back in 1999 that none of them lived on the island.  I don’t know how many showed up for the Blackwell reunion in 1998.  I wonder how many descendants of Mary Manningham and Robert Blackwell there are nationwide and how many of them know about this island under the Queensboro Bridge, with the nickname of “the Big Apple’s Little Apple.”   After all these years, I wonder if the island would even hold us all.  Wouldn’t it be fun to find out some day?  

I hope you have enjoyed reading about “my” island, or at least what I claim as my island.  Stop by and see it for yourself some day.  If you take pictures, please email them to me.  I would love to keep up with what it looks like.  You see, “my” island was Blackwell’s Island and that story is done.  But Roosevelt Island keeps evolving and growing and I  will continue to watch it as it changes.  Yes, I still have an affinity for that old house and the lighthouse that was built of stone quarried on the island.