Theodore Roosevelt Island | PARK AT A GLANCE

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island

PARK OVERVIEW

Theodore Roosevelt Island is a pedestrians-only island—no bikes, horses, or vehicles—located in the Potomac River just east of Washington, D. C. To visit, you can take the metro to the Rosslyn station and walk approximately one mile via the Mount Vernon Trail to a footbridge that leads to the island. You can also drive, though you must park in a parking lot along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Access to the parking lot is from the northbound lane only. While only accessible from Virginia, the island is actually within the Washington, D. C., boundary.

View from the footbridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island

View from the footbridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island serves as a wilderness retreat for the residents of the Washington, D. C., area and is not a tourist destination. There are a few hiking trails and a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, who served from 1901 to 1909. Roosevelt was not elected to his first term, having been the vice president when President McKinley was assassinated. He was elected president in 1904 but chose not to run in 1908. Not satisfied with how the government was being handled under his successor, William Taft, Roosevelt ran for president again in 1912 but lost to Woodrow Wilson.

You are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to the island, but there are no tables. The best place to eat is at the benches surrounding the plaza at the Roosevelt Memorial. The rest of the island is wooded, so there is no good place to sit. There is a restroom on the south end. Those with pets can bring them as long as they remain on a leash.


OPERATING HOURS

Theodore Roosevelt Island is open year-round from 6 AM to 10 PM.

The modern restroom building is open April through September. When closed, there is a portable toilet next to the building.


FEES

There is no fee to enter Theodore Roosevelt Island.


ISLAND HISTORY

Theodore Roosevelt Island was owned by a number of individuals over the years, though nobody has actually lived on it since 1831, the year owner John Mason lost the island to foreclosure. John was the son of George Mason, one of the country’s founding fathers. There is a memorial to George just off the National Mall near the Jefferson Memorial.

After Mason left, the island passed hands many times and was mainly used for farming. A portion of it was turned into a weekend resort park for picnicking and dancing shortly before the Civil War broke out. During the war it was occupied by Union troops and was used as a supply depot; the training grounds for the 1st District of Columbia Colored Volunteers; and a camp for freed slaves.

After the war, the island was in such bad shape that the owner, William Bradley, could not use it for farming and resorted to leasing it for short term activities such as festivals and athletic competitions. Upon his death in 1867, the island passed to his children. It became a haven for gambling, illegal fights, and other fringe activities, all done without the consent of the absentee owners. By 1901, the Bradley family had borrowed so much money against the island that it was foreclosed on.

After the foreclosure, the property was purchased twice, both by developers who planned to build an amusement park, but nothing was ever done. In 1913, the Washington Gas Light Company bought the island to use as a site for a gas plant. However, like the amusement park ideas, nothing came of it and the island sat empty.

In 1931, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the island and hired Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of famed landscape architect Frederick Olmsted Sr., to change the island back to a planned wilderness. This took place from 1932 through 1947, with the work carried out by the Civilian Conservation Corps, an organization created by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration to put men back to work during the Great Depression (FDR was a fifth cousin to Theodore Roosevelt). The island was given to the Federal government in 1932 and then transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Today it is a sub unit of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on January 13, 2022
Share this article