Blog | September 8, 2007

Ryan Thinks You Should Know Randall’s Island History

While the concerts sometimes make history and us being in New York for the first time is making history, it is important to know about where you stand.

So I dug around the Web and found the history of Randall’s Island amazing, varied and quite fitting for our tribute to good food and the family farmers that provide it.

Randall’s Island – like all the United States – was originally inhabited by American Indians and known as “nice island” until its purchase in 1637 by Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller (say that three times really fast). He used the land for farming – how fitting right? The island went on to also become a station for British soldiers. Another function was a a quarantine area for smallpox victims. It was used in these functions for more than 150 years till it’s purchase by Jonathan Randel (yes this is the correct spelling – somewhere down the road someone like Randall better). Then some 50 years later in 1835 the City of New York bought it from his family heirs for just $60,000 (isn’t that one months rent in New York?)

After New York’s purchase, the city billed and developed the island as a place for the cities poor by building a poorhouse, a home for juvenile delinquents, a mental health facility, a hospital and a home for Civil War veterans. Then in the 1930’s the city felt the island needed a new purpose and cleared it as a place of recreation.

According to the Randall’s Island website for many years, the stadium was the centerpiece of activity on the island. It held a number of unforgettable sporting events beginning with Jesse Owens’ victory in the 100-yard dash at the 1936 Olympic Trials with President Franklin Roosevelt in attendance. The stadium was named in memory of former Director of Recreation John J. Downing in 1955. Track & field returned to Downing Stadium in 1991 with the United States National Track & Field Championships. A number of former and future Olympians and world record holders competed, including Dan O’Brien, Dave Johnson, Leroy Burrell, and Carl Lewis. Pele made his American soccer debut for the New York Cosmos at Downing in 1975, and Tiger Woods hosted a golf clinic for city kids in 1996.

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