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220-Year-Old Home on Roosevelt Island Awaits Bidder for Renovation

By Shaye Weaver | April 4, 2017 9:51pm
 The Blackwell House on Main Street will get a total upgrade that will allow the public to use the space once more.
The Blackwell House
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ROOSEVELT ISLAND — Roosevelt Island's oldest landmark — a house dating back to the post-Revolutionary War era — is slated to undergo a major restoration, but the job is still up for grabs.

The state agency that manages the island, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in late March for the project with an April 24 due date for companies to pitch.

The two-story house at 500 Main St. has needed refurbishment for decades, as its wheelchair-accessible ramp has deteriorated alongside its porches, staircase and wooden columns, according to the RFP and Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

Once the work is completed, the plan is to use the first floor as community space for groups and periodic historical tours, and use the second floor as a small library and office with space to store the Roosevelt Historical Society's archives, Berdy explained.

"This plan will make it easier for public access and will bring the building back to life," she said. "It's been forlorn for many years now."

The RIOC would be responsible for maintaining the building.

The 2,000-square foot home featuring three bedrooms and two bathrooms was originally built in late 18th century for the Blackwell family — the original owners of the island until the 1820s, Berdy explained.

There had been a house on the property built in 1696 for the Blackwells, but only its foundation remains, she noted.

The family farmed orchards there but sold the island to the city in the 1820s, when it was used for a penitentiary and a number of hospitals, including the New York City Lunatic Asylum and Smallpox Hospital.

The Blackwell House was then used as living quarters for wardens of these hospitals, jail and almshouse. 

Over the years, it fell into disrepair as it was passed from owner to owner before undergoing repairs in the 1970s, when it opened to the public. In 2006 its exterior, including the roof, was rehabilitated, Berdy said.

Now the porch droops and its ramp is falling apart, among other problems, she added.

"I'm optimistic that the house will be brought back so it can be used by the community again very soon," Berdy said.