Randalls and Wards Islands

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Randalls and Wards Islands
Usgs topo hell gate.png
USGS topographic map showing the conjoined Randalls and Wards Islands
Randalls and Wards Islands is located in New York City
Randalls and Wards Islands
Randalls and Wards Islands in New York City
Location East River, New York County, New York, USA
Coordinates 40°47′48″N 73°55′19″W / 40.79667°N 73.92194°W / 40.79667; -73.92194
Area 2.09 km2 (0.81 sq mi)
State  New York
City New York City
Borough Manhattan
Population 1,648 (as of 2010)
Density 788.5 /km2 (2,042.2 /sq mi)

Randalls Island and Wards Island are two parts of an island in the New York City borough of Manhattan,[1][2][3] separated from Manhattan by the Harlem River, from Queens by the East River and Hell Gate, and from the Bronx by the Bronx Kill. Formerly, the two islands were separate, but the channel between them, Little Hell Gate, was filled in in the early 1960s.[4][5] The islands had a population of 1,648 living on 2.09 square kilometres (520 acres) according to the 2010 Census.[6]

Most of the island is part of either Wards Island and Randalls Island Parks, which cover 432.69 acres (175.10 ha). The parks offer athletic fields, a driving range, greenways, playgrounds and picnic grounds.

The islands have a history of being used for asylums, hospitals and cemeteries. The island is currently home to several public facilities, including two psychiatric hospitals, a state police station, a fire academy, a water treatment plant, and several homeless shelters.

The island is crossed by the Triborough and Hell Gate bridges. The island can be reached by the Triborough Bridge or the Wards Island Bridge, which serves pedestrians and bicyclists and links the island to East Harlem in Manhattan. A second footbridge, connecting the island to the Bronx, is scheduled to open in 2014.[7]


Colonial era[edit]

Native Americans called Wards Island Tenkenas which translated to "Wild Lands" or "uninhabited place",[8] whereas Randalls Island was called Minnehanonck.[9]

The islands were acquired by Wouter Van Twiller, Director General of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, in July, 1637.

The island's first European names were Great Barent Island (Wards) and Little Barent Island (Randalls) after a Danish cowherd named Barent Jansen Blom.[10] Both islands name's changed several times. At times Randalls was known as "Buchanan's Island" and "Great Barn Island", both of which were likely corruptions of Great Barent Island.

Detail of 1896 map of Long Island City, showing Randalls Island (top), from the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
A 1781 British map depicting Manhattan. Montresor's and Buchanan's (Wards) Islands can be seen on the right, flanking Hell Gate, although their names have been reversed, Montresor's being the northern of the two.

John Montresor, an engineer with the British army, purchased Randalls island in 1772. He renamed it Montresor's Island and lived on it with his wife until the Revolutionary War forced him to deploy.

During the Revolutionary War, both islands hosted military posts for the British military. The British used his island to launch amphibious attacks on Manhattan, and Montresor's house there was burned in 1777. He resigned his commission and returned to England in 1778, but retained ownership of the island until the British evacuated the city in 1783 and it was confiscated.

Both islands gained their current names from new owners after the war. In 1784, Jonathan Randle (or Randall) bought Randalls Island. Jaspar Ward and Bartholomew Ward bought Wards Island.[11]

Nineteenth century[edit]

House of Refuge in 1855

Although a small population had lived on Wards since as early as the 17th century, the Ward brothers developed the island more heavily by building a cotton mill and in 1807 building the first bridge to cross the East River. The wooden drawbridge connected the island with Manhattan at 114th Street, and was paid for by Bartholomew Ward and Philip Milledolar. The bridge lasted until 1821, when it was destroyed in a storm.

After the destruction of the bridge, Wards island was largely abandoned until 1840. Montresor's heirs sold Randalls to the city in 1835 for $60,000.

In the mid-19th century, both Randalls and Wards Islands, like nearby Blackwell's Island became home to a variety of social facilities. Randalls housed an orphanage, poor house, burial ground for the poor, "idiot" asylum, homeopathic hospital and rest home for Civil War veterans, and was also site of the New York House of Refuge, a reform school completed in 1854 for juvenile delinquents or juveniles adjudicated as vagrants. Between 1840 and 1930, Wards island was used for:

  • Burial of hundreds of thousands of bodies relocated from the Madison Square and Bryant Park graveyards
  • The State Emigrant Refuge, a hospital for sick and destitute immigrants, opened in 1847, the biggest hospital complex in the world during the 1850s[12]
  • The New York City Asylum for the Insane, opened around 1863
  • Manhattan State Hospital, operated by the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene when it took over the immigration and asylum buildings in 1899.[citation needed] With 4,400 patients, it was the largest psychiatric institution in the world. The 1920 census notes that the hospital had a total of 6045 patients. It later became the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

Scylla Point[edit]

In 1984, the point at the southeastern tip of the island was officially designated "Negro Point", based on the unofficial usage of riverboat workers.[13] The United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used that name. In 2001, Henry Stern, the Parks Commissioner, upon learning of the name, thought it was offensive.[14] He replaced it with "Scylla Point" and paired it with Charybdis Playground in Astoria Park; the two features are on opposite sides of Hell Gate, just as the mythological monsters of Scylla and Charybdis were on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina.[15]


Proposals to add parks to the islands were made as early as 1916, but park development was truly kicked off by the 1930 Metropolitan Conference of Parks, which recommended transforming them into recreational parks. Randalls Island Park is operated by the Randalls Island Park Alliance (RIPA), a public-private partnership founded in 1992 as the Island Sports Foundation. The Alliance works with the City and local communities to provide sports venues, cultural events and environmental exploration. RIPA runs free youth programs at the Park, which brings thousands of children to the Park for a range sports and environmental education activities. In addition, RIPA hosts RIK CAMP, a free six-week long summer camp for children from East Harlem and the South Bronx.

Icahn Stadium opened on April 23, 2005.[16] The stadium is capable of hosting local, regional and national events. On May 31, 2008, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt broke the world record for the men's 100-meter dash at the Fourth Annual Reebok Grand Prix with a "lightning" speed time of 9.72 seconds.[17]

In May 2010, RIPA and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation completed the construction of over 60 athletic fields to support a greater variety of sports, including football, lacrosse, field hockey, and rugby amongst the sports already played at the Park, soccer, baseball and softball. Randalls Island Park has the most athletic fields of any New York City park.

A renovated golf center opened in 2008. The new 25-acre (100,000 m2) $500,000 renovation will have a two-tier indoor/outdoor, 82-stall driving range, 320 yards (290 m) of landing area, a 36-hole mini-golf course, grass tees, a short game area with sand bunker, PGA instructors, and 9 batting cages.

A tennis center opened in Randalls Island Park in July, 2009. It features 20 courts, 10 har-tru and 10 rubberized hard (5 indoor), along with a cafe, pro shop, fitness facilities and locker rooms. From May–October, 10 courts are reserved for NYC Parks Tennis Permit holders during the daylight hours. In the winter, all 15 outdoor courts are bubbled for use by club members. The center is also the home to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy and was home to the New York Sportimes of World TeamTennis until the team relocated to San Diego, California in 2014.

Two natural environments, a salt marsh and a freshwater wetland, have been established on the island. Through the process of excavating over 20,000 cubic yards (15,000 m3) of debris, installing clean sand, and planting native marsh grasses, 4 acres (16,000 m2) of salt marsh has been created surrounding the Little Hell Gate Inlet on the western edge of the Island. Just across from the salt marsh, 4 acres (16,000 m2) of freshwater wetlands were also restored. After the removal of almost 15,000 cubic yards (11,000 m3) of debris and fill, the freshwater wetland site was planted with native herbaceous, shrub, and tree species, such as switchgrass, aster, dogwood, and oak. In addition, the restoration projects play a crucial role in an park-wide filtration system that collects storm water from the adjacent sports fields, pathways and paved areas and channels it through the Wetlands, where the new plants naturally filter pollutants before reaching the East River.[18]

The Department of Parks and Recreation approved a $1 million contract with Natural Currents Energy Services to generate renewable energy in the park. The project expected to produce 200 kW of solar, wind, and tidal energy to power the island's facilities. The project will include a solar-powered marine research and information kiosk open to visitors of the island, expected to be completed in September 2012.[19]

Infrastructure and facilities[edit]


Aerial view of the RFK-Triborough Bridge (left) and the Hell Gate Bridge (right) to Wards Island (top)

In 1916, the Hell Gate Bridge was built across both islands, running from Queens to the Bronx.

In 1936, the islands were connected to the rest of the city by the Triborough Bridge, the hub of which crossed the islands. The art deco Triborough Bridge Authority Building, the former base of Robert Moses, stands on the island. In 1937, the islands were connected by a bridge over Little Hell Gate, obviating the need for a ferry to Wards Island.[20] The channel also began to be narrowed with infill, and the islands were connected by the early 1960s.[4]

The current Wards Island Bridge, a pedestrian bridge connecting the island to Manhattan, was built in 1951. It gives access to Wards Island Park from East Harlem, which has few public green spaces.


The island is home to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, both operated by the state Office of Mental Health. The Kirby Center houses the criminally insane,[21] and is patrolled by the New York State Office of Mental Health Police.


The island is home to the Charles Gay Assessment Shelter (1 Keener Building), Schwartz Men's Shelter and the Clarke Thomas Next Step Employment Center, all run by the New York City Department of Homeless Services and are patrolled by the New York City Department of Homeless Services Police.[22]

Police station[edit]

The New York State Police also have a station on the island, Troop NYC. It provides investigative services such as Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Narcotics Enforcement Unit, Organized Crime Track Force, and Special Investigations Unit, and also provides support to state police operations in New York City, such as state police troopers patrolling the state-run Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the governors office and parade details.

Fire academy[edit]

The New York City Fire Department operates a training academy on Randalls Island. The academy's facilities include classrooms, a 200,000 US gallons (760,000 L) water supply tank, a subway tunnel with tracks and two subway cars, a training course for engine drivers, a helicopter pad, a replica ship, and multiple buildings designed to simulate the different types of building construction encountered within the city limits.[23]

Water treatment plant[edit]

A wastewater treatment plant is located on the island, the Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant, operated by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. The plant started operations in 1937, serves a population of over one million in the western Bronx and east side of Manhattan and has a capacity of 275 million US gallons (1.04 gigalitres) per day.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Feature Detail Report for Randalls Island "Purchased in 1772 by British Captain James Montresor; sold in 1784 to Johnathan Randel; acquired by City of New York in 1835."
  2. ^ Feature Detail Report for Wards Island
  3. ^ "Randall's Island Park". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  4. ^ a b "Parks and Transportation Departments Debate Future of Former Link Between Randalls and Wards Islands; At City Agencies, Troubled Water Over Bridge". the New York Times. April 16, 1995. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Fill Project to Add To Randalls Island For New Play Fields". the New York Times. August 18, 1962. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  6. ^ United States Census Bureau
  7. ^ "Getting to Randalls Island". http://randallsisland.org. Randall's Island Park Alliance. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Tooker, Wm. Wallace. "Indian Names of Places in Brooklyn", page 58. Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, ed. William Herries. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893
  9. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (1995). The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300055366. , p. 1084
  10. ^ PHASE 1B ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION FOR THE PROPOSED RANDALL’S ISLAND FIELD DEVELOPMENT PROJECT http://nytelecom.vo.llnwd.net/o15/agencies/lpc/arch_reports/1472.pdf
  11. ^ Seitz, Sharon & Miller, Stuart (2003). The Other Islands of New York: A History and Guide (second edition). Woodstock, Vt.: Countryman Press. ISBN 0-88150-502-1. OCLC 45757764.
  12. ^ Barkan, Elliott Robert (2013). Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration. ABC-CLIO. p. 1468. ISBN 9781598842197. 
  13. ^ Nordheimer, Jon (November 3, 1994). "One Man's Campaign To Rename a Creek". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ Baard, Erik (July 8, 2001). "Uneasily Evoking an Outdated Past". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Pollack, Michael (June 29, 2008). "Turning Away Wrath". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ Brick, Michael (April 24, 2005). "Children Celebrate Opening of Stadium". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  17. ^ Longman, Jeré (June 1, 2008). "Jamaican Sets World Record in 100 Meters at 9.72". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  18. ^ "Randall’s Island Salt Marsh Restoration". Great Ecology. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  19. ^ Colvin, Jill (March 26, 2012). "Solar, Wind and Tidal Energy to Power Randall's Island". DNAinfo. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  20. ^ "Wards Island Span Open". the New York Times. May 16, 1937. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  21. ^ "Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center". New York State Office of Mental Health. 
  22. ^ Mindlin, Alex (July 6, 2008). "On a Bus for the Homeless, a Push to Forgive the Fare". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "FDNY Fire Academy". FDNY website. New York City. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  24. ^ "New York City's Wastewater Treatment System". New York City DEP. New York City. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°47′15″N 73°55′31″W / 40.78750°N 73.92528°W / 40.78750; -73.92528