Tuesday, June 26, 2018

12 fun facts about Theodore Roosevelt Island

President Theodore Roosevelt, who served from 1901 to 1909, was a staunch advocate of conservatism. It seems fitting the memorial established to honor him in the nation’s capital is represented by the very land he worked so hard to preserve.

Want to learn more? Here are some fun facts you may not have known about this presidential memorial.

12 fun facts about Theodore Roosevelt Island

1. Theodore Roosevelt Island is located in the Potomac River between Washington D.C. and Virginia. It is comprised of 91 acres and is situated between Virginia’s city of Arlington and the District’s Georgetown locations.

2. The island was home to the Nacotchtank Native American tribe in 1668. They called the island Analostan and used the island for fishing.

3. It was once known as "Mason's Island" after the land was acquired by the Mason family in 1724. John Mason, the grandson of Founding Father George Mason, built a manor house on the highpoint of the island.

4. When the Mason's owned it, this tract of land was a prominent farm, but had been abandoned in the early 1830s. John Mason and family had to leave the island due to unhealthy conditions caused by local development. For the next century, the island changed hands many times.

5. In the early 1930s, the island was purchased by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association. Landscape Architects began to transform the neglected land into a beautiful memorial with the intention to honor our 26th president.

6. The Olmstead Brothers firm was hired by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1932. The plans were formed around the concept of building a living memorial to President Roosevelt with ideas of including an architectural monument as well.

7. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an organization started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (5th cousin to Theodore), performed the work involved with clearing the island of all non-native vegetation and populating it with 20,000 native trees and shrubs. 

When WWII broke out in the late 1930s, work was temporarily halted. It would later be halted again after a highway bridge was planned in the mid-20th century which would cover part of the southern portion island, obstructing plans for the statue portion of the memorial. Congress ultimately approved funding in 1960 and work continued shifting this portion of the memorial to the northern part of the island.

8. The statue depicting President Roosevelt stands 17 feet tall and is made of bronze. 

Four 21-feet-tall granite tablets surround the statue containing quotations pulled from Roosevelt’s writings.

Two pools with fountains are also placed in this vicinity. This portion of the memorial was designed by an architect named Eric Gugler and a sculptor by the name of Paul Manship and it was brought to fruition between 1963 and 1967.

9. The natural preserve portion of the island is made up of 88 acres and represents three major ecological zones: swamp, tidal marsh, and upland forest.

10. You can walk the trails placed on the island, it’s about 1.5 to 2 miles, and it will take you through the natural habitat of the island. It’s a great place for birding! (You may spot other critters too).

11. John Mason had a ferry boat where Georgetown residents would land and then use a causeway to get to Virginia. Dolley Madison used this route to escape the British burning of Washington D.C. during the War of 1812.  

12. The causeway was built in 1805 and stood in place until 1979 when it was replaced by the current footbridge visitors use to enter and exit the island.

The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial is run by the National Park Service and is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It is accessible from the Virginia side on the northbound side of the George Washington Parkway. There is parking and you’ll cross a footbridge to enter this living memorial.   

(Note: According to NPS website, there are currently no working restrooms or portable toilets on the island. I recommend checking before you go. When I was there, the men's section was definitely closed).

Additional sources: Signage posted at the island and first-hand experience.