The Blackwell House on Roosevelt Island finally opened for tours after a major renovation of the house. When I had visited Roosevelt Island the last time in 2017, the house was corded off and was not open for touring. It had looked like it was falling apart from the inside out.
The home has now gone through a major renovation. The grounds outside were beautifully landscaped and gave the house a very warm and welcoming entrance to the property. In the middle of the summer, the flowers and trees were all in bloom and it was a nice view from the street. The house is conveniently located in the middle of the island, so it is not far from the tram and the subway.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the tour of the house what there was of it. The house had gone through a renovation but not a historic restoration, so the house is not a period piece with historic displays of furniture and art objects. It was like touring a modern home. I felt like I was walking through a 1980’s McMansion.
When you enter the front hall, there is a reproduction of a portrait of Captain Blackwell, who was a Captain in the Revolutionary War. The house was built in 1796 for James Blackwell and added to in 1804, when the family fortunes had improved after the war.
The island had been ‘patented’ to Captain John Manning by British Governor Nicolls in 1668. Before the Dutch had arrived, the island had been used by the Native Americans for hunting and fishing. The island had been inherited by the captain’s stepdaughter, Mary Manningham Blackwell and her husband, Jacob Blackwell, thus named Blackwell’s Island, upon his death. The island passed to her children, James and Jacob. The island was sold to the City of New York in 1823 (Roosevelt Island history).
All around the first floor, which is the only floor you can visit, there are all sorts of reproductions of historical maps and pictures of the island. The tour guide who had lived on the island his whole life, told me that the house had always been in disrepair and the local kids had thought it was haunted.
Now you can walk the grounds around the house and admire the beauty of the home from the outside. The only thing historical that I saw inside is when the tour guide opened the door to the cellar and showed me the stones that made up the foundation of the home. They had been quarried locally and still had the look of that time period.
The home is nice for a quick tour but do not expect much from the history side of the house.
The City Island Nautical Museum at 190 Fordham Street
The City Island Nautical Museum
I recently took a trip to City Island, a small community just off the coast off the mainland of The Bronx (which is part of The Bronx) to visit the City Island Nautical Museum. This tiny museum located in the heart of the island is noted for its collection of ship building artifacts and items that are native to a community that once built the vessels for the America’s Cup.
City Island has a rich history in ship building, sail making and fishing it is reflected in the collection of materials in the museum and its archives. The museum really details the growth and history of the boating industry on the island and its importance in the local economy. What I found interesting was the rich history of the creation of the sailing ships for the America’s Cup tournament and how all the winning boats up until the 1980’s were built on the island and the one that lost the cup for us against Australia was the first one not built on the island.
Even Ted Turner’s boat “Courageous” was built on the island. There was a picture of the reunion of the boat winning twice at the museum with the crew’s signatures (The tour guide even said how he ‘freaked out’ members of the New York Yacht Club who did not consider him one of their own). All the sailing vessels lined the walls of the hallway of the museum.
Each room of the museum was dedicated to a different theme. When I toured the Community Room in the back of the museum, it held the records of a lot of old businesses of City Island with pictures and items that were once part of the businesses. There was a small FDNY display, a small WWII display about local residents who fought in the war, wedding garments, maps of the island and a small display of arrowheads.
In the School Room, the concentration was on PS 17, which the museum is now housed in and its history with all the classroom group shot pictures, graduation pictures and a small classroom set up. There were more records and event items of the current PS 175, which is the K-8 school that the residents attend. There were also records and pictures of St. Mary, Star of the Sea School, the former Catholic school that used to be on the island as well.
The Nautical Room needed an overall as there was too much going on in the room with pictures all over the walls, equipment for navigation and for fishing and records of the ship building companies that used to dot the island. There were boats in various shapes and sizes on display and the companies that built them like Wood Yacht, Nevins Yacht and Minneford Yacht. There was also the history of shipbuilding and sail making on the island. The tour guide told me there were no more ship builders on the island, but one sail maker left.
The Library where all the research is done on the island and on the families and businesses that were once here was dominated by yachting pictures and nautical photography. It held all the City Island records and even the ship building plans.
The museum has a lot to see but it needs to be a bit more organized to really showcase the collections properly. Still, it is one of the best museums I have seen with a nautical history theme. The best part is that you can see the whole museum in about an hour and this leaves you time to tour the island and see how the museum better explains why the island is the way it is right now.
The History and set up of the City Island Nautical Museum:
(From the Museum pamphlet)
History of the Museum:
(From the Museum Pamphlet)
The City Island Nautical Museum is located in one of the island’s most picturesque and historic buildings, the former Public School 17, built in 1897 on one of the highest points on the island. When the residents of City Island voted in 1895 to separate from the town of Pelham in Westchester County and to become part of New York City, the City administration built the school, which continued in use until 1975. When the building was sold in 1986, the City reserved space for use by the City Island Historical Society and the Community Center and several old classrooms now serve as galleries for the museum.
The Main Hall and Gallery:
The Main Hall is lined with photographic essays featuring maps, the America’s Cup, City Island’s most beautiful boats, the City Island Bridges and historic buildings as well as a history timeline, models of a minesweeper and several rum runners, built during Prohibition and a handsome wooden kayak built in the 1930’s. The foyer contains the museum’s gift shop, featuring articles for sale such as books, t-shirts, photographs, postcards and nautical gifts and the desk where the docents greet visitors.
The Gallery features display cases with antique shipbuilding and sailmaking tools and the walls are covered with photographs of yachts built or serviced here and portraits of legendary City Islanders who contributed so much to the life and work on the island.
The Walsh Library:
The recently refurbished library features a collection of books devoted to maritime history and many binders and scrapbooks featuring newspaper clippings, postcards and articles about City Island, Pelham Bay Park and Hart Island. There is an extensive selection of nautical magazines, including Yachting, Rudder, Wooden Boat and Classic Yacht, a data base of all boats built on City Island since 1848 and an impressive display of ship models. Special exhibitions regularly mounted in the library feature the work of local artists and photographs documenting aspects of City Island history.
The Nautical Room:
Shipyards, sail lofts, yachts and the people behind them are all honored here. Historical photographs, memorabilia and artifacts fill the room and tell the story of City Island’s rich nautical past. Also on display are tools used by sailmakers and shipbuilders, several ship models and some vintage outboard motors. Of particular interest in the room are several skiffs, a partially completed boat and a Buchman sailing canoe from the early 1930’s (all built on City Island).
Ship building on City Island
The Community Room:
Celebrating City Island from its earliest days, the Community Room displays photographs, maps and memorabilia, including Native American arrowheads found in the area. The walls are covered with images of street scenes, stores, restaurants, private houses, and the waterfront then and now. Displays include a large relief map of City Island in about 1867, a diorama of the Battle of Pell’s Point that took place in October 1776, a niche devoted to City Island’s religious institutions and many antique home furnishings, including sewing machines, an ice box, and a 100-year-old typewriter. A large counter from Gilbert’s Pharmacy serves as a display case in the center of the room.
The School Room:
Student registers, graduation pictures, autograph books, report cards, the old school bell, and the other artifacts tell the story of City Island’s schools from the first schoolhouse built in 1838 to the present school, P.S. 175, built in 1975 and St. Mary, Star of the Sea RC School, which served the island for over 75 years. A section of the room is set up like a traditional school room, and a unique map of the naval training station that was located in Pelham Bay Park from 1917 to 1918 hangs on the wall.
I have been to the South Street Seaport dozens of times over the years and can’t believe that I never noticed this memorial dedicated to those lost in the Titanic disaster. I was visiting the Seaport recently after finishing another walk down the length of Broadway for my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com” and was walking past the Seaport on my way to Chinatown. Something about it this time caught my attention and I stopped to look at the dedication of this small lighthouse.
It was really touching to see that the people from the 1912 disaster were not forgotten in New York City, its ultimate destination. This was the work of Molly Brown, the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’ from the movie. She wanted to be sure that the people who survived were never forgotten. The small lighthouse structure sits at the entrance to the main part of the seaport on an island just off the cobblestone walkway into the complex.
The Memorial plaque on the lighthouse
The tower that it was originally placed a top of the Seamen’s Church Institute Building and it was put up for sale and demolished in 1965 and the small lighthouse memorial was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum. It was placed in its current location in 1976 (Friends of the Lighthouse).
The little lighthouse is a touching reminder of Manhattan’s connection to the event over 100 years ago. Try not to miss it when you are visiting the Seaport.
The history of the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse:
(This is from the Friends of the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse website)
On April 15th, 1913, one year after the sinking of the Titanic, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and Time Ball, mounted atop the Seamen’s Church Institute, were dedicated to honor the passengers, officers and crew who perished in the tragedy. The dedicatory service opened with a hymn and prayer and then Rt. Rev. David h Greer, Bishop of New York, read the following lines of dedication:
“To the glory of Almighty God and in loving memory of those passengers, officers and crew who lost their lives in the foundering of the steamship, Titanic, on April 15, 1912, I, David Hummell Greer, Bishop of New York and president of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York, do solemnly dedicate the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse Tower. As its light by night shall guide pilgrims and seafaring men from every clime into this port, so may they follow Him who is the Light of Life across the waves of this troublesome world to everlasting life and looking at noon toward this place to note the time of day, may they remember that our days pass as the swift ships and in view of the shortness and uncertainty of human life, strive to fulfill their duty well as the beat preparation for Eternity. Amen.”
The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse exhibited a fixed green light that could be seen throughout New York harbor and down as far as Sandy Hook. Five minutes before noon each day, a time ball would be hoisted to the top of a steel rod mounted atop the lighthouse and dropped at the stroke of twelve as indicated over the wires from Washington DC. According to The Lookout, the magazine of the Seamen’s Church Institute, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse would be a much needed daily reminder for ‘in a busy, carless city the average person so soon forgets’.
The Seamen’s Church Institute was established in 1834 and had announced plans for its new twelve story headquarters at South Street and Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan several years before the loss of the Titanic. The Flemish style building was meant to reflect new York’s Dutch origins and was to be crowned by a tower whose beacon would welcome incoming seamen. The cornerstone for the building was laid one day after the sinking of the Titanic and a week later the institute announced the lighthouse atop their building would be a memorial to the victims of the tragedy.