Randalls and Wards Islands are conjoined islands located across the Harlem River from Manhattan, the East River and Hell Gate from Queens, and the Bronx Kill from the Bronx. The area which joins the two islands, a channel known as Little Hell Gate, was filled in the early ‘60s. In order to get to the island, one must cross the Triborough or Wards Island bridges, or the Randalls Island Connector; a bridge for cyclers and pedestrians.
Across the island resides a population of roughly 1,650 citizens. Out of the 520 square acres of land, 432.69 acres are parkland which provides a driving range, playgrounds, picnics athletic areas and more.
Then & Now
Currently, the island is home to a handful of public facilities, a couple of psychiatric hospitals, an NYS police station, fire academy, several shelters for the homeless, and a wastewater treatment plant. Historically, the island has a history of being inhabited by hospitals, cemeteries, and asylums. Native Americans once called Wards Island “Tenkenas,” which means “Wild Lands.” Randalls Island was called “Minnehanonck.”
In July 1637, the islands were inhabited by the Director General of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, Wouter Van Twille r. The islands would later be referred to by their European names- Great Barent Island and Little Barent Island. However, their names changed several times over the course of history. Finally, in November 1784, a man by the name of Jonathan Randell purchased Randalls Island, while the two sons of judge Stephen Ward, Bartholomew and Jaspar Ward, purchased Wards Island.
The Ward brothers built a cotton mill on their island, as well as a wooden drawbridge that connected the island with Manhattan (which would later be destroyed by a storm). Once the bridge was destroyed, Wards Island remained uninhabited until Randel’s heirs sold Randalls Island to the City for $60,000.
Parks were added to the islands due to the 1930 Metropolitan Conference of Parks. Downing Stadium was opened on July 11, 1936, where Jesse Owens competed in the Men’s Olympic Trials. This stadium would later be torn down and reopened as Icahn Stadium in April 2005. Three years later, sprinter Usain Bolt broke the world record during his men’s 100-meter dash- completing the dash in 9.72 seconds.
Music Festival Central
Randalls Island has loads of activities to do for those of all ages.