Geography: The Islands: Randalls & Wards Island

Randall's and Ward's Island

Situated between the Harlem and East rivers, the island's more than 500 acres are composed of baseball diamonds and soccer fields, as well as a state psychiatric hospital and a homeless shelter.

In 1855, the City of New York acquired three separate land masses between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx: Randall's Island, named after its previous owner Jonathan Randal; Ward's Island, named after Jasper and Bartholomew Ward and a marsh called Sunken Meadows. Over the years, the debris from construction projects filled in the space between the three islands. The most notable project that generated deposits was the building, from October 1929 until July 1936, of the Triborough Bridge, between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. Although the land masses are now one island, the northern part is still known as Randall's Island, while the southern section is called Ward's.

The Immigrant Hospital

The island became a repository for people considered undesirable to mainstream society. The city first used the island as a potter's field - a public burial ground for dead people without family or friends to claim them. Later, the city built a shelter for impoverished immigrants and an insane asylum on the island. In the 1930s, Robert Moses wanted to turn both islands into a giant recreational area, but Moses was not persuasive enough, and instead, New York State built the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on the area previously occupied by the insane asylum. In addition to the hospital, other institutional buildings on the island include the New York City Fire Academy, a homeless men's shelter, a water treatment plant and a maintenance garage for the Parks Department's vehicles and equipment.

The island still has plenty of green space, though. It is a popular destination on weekend afternoons for picnics and concerts. A new entertainment and sports complex is set to open in the spring of 2004 to replace Downing Stadium, which was demolished in 2000. It is one of New York's most accessible islands. Pedestrians can access it from the East 103rd Street footbridge in Manhattan, the Triborough Bridge entrance on East 125th Street in Manhattan and Astoria Boulevard in Queens.

The approaches to both the Hell Gate Bridge, completed in 1917, and the Triborough Bridge, completed in 1936, traverse the island.

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