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West Virginia, West Virginia
April 1, 2012
From journal Pastimes with Presidents
June 14, 2002
Just east of Key Bridge in the Potomac River lies a small island with a varied history. Once home to Anolostan Indians, it passed through several well-known colonial families’ hands, including George Mason’s son’s. Later it hosted a unit of black Union troops during the Civil War. In the late 1800’s, the Strathmore family built a mansion on the island, but a dramatic turn of events forced their departure. The story goes that the daughter of the family planned to elope with an Englishman who sent Indian messengers to the house to tell her that he was coming. Her enraged father killed the messengers, and in turn an Indian chief set the mansion ablaze in revenge.
Little of note happened after that, the island reverting to woodland, until the Theodore Roosevelt Association purchased it in 1931 and donated to the National Park Service with the understanding that a TR memorial would be built there. Initially there were plans to build a 200-car parking lot on the island, allowing vehicular access, but Alice Roosevelt Longworth, TR’s outspoken daughter, was incensed. She declared, "That lovely, wild island should be left just as it is."
As was usually the case, Alice got her way. Today the island stands a wild oasis just across from the gleaming buildings of downtown Rosslyn.
Countless times driving into Washington from Maryland along the G.W. Parkway, I’d passed by the island and wondered about it. However, there is only access coming from the opposite direction, away from Washington. Resolved to visit the island, one fine spring day we turned around at Memorial Bridge and came back up the parkway.
On weekends the smallish parking lot across from the island is usually full, but on a weekday morning there were only a handful of cars. We walked across the long footbridge spanning the Potomac to the island, then stopped at the bulletin board the Park Service has set up. The maps there show several trails, the longest going some 2-1/2 miles around the island’s shoreline. We chose to head straight toward the memorial set in the center of the island.
It’s a lovely place. A 17-foot statue of Roosevelt in a characteristic pose – hand raised in exhortation, the famous teeth bared – stands before an immense slab of granite. The memorial, flanked by woods, features moats on either side of a large circular plaza, with low granite bridges arching out across the waters. Large standing tablets bear T.R. quotations. Birdsong vies with the sound of distant traffic and airplanes heading into National Airport.
A large snapping turtle swam lazily in the moat on the day we came. Visitors have reported seeing foxes on the island, and the fishing is good from the island’s shores. In May, the majestic purple-flowered paulownia trees are in bloom.
I think T.R. would have liked it.
From journal Big Game Hunting in Washington, D.C.
May 4, 2004
You can get there in a car only from the northbound lane of George Washington Memorial Parkway. The GW Parkway is used for commuter traffic, so it’s a busy road. The parking lot is very small. (I can’t see a bus having the ability to do much in the parking lot.) We went on a beautiful day and had to wait for about 25 minutes for a spot to open up. You park on the Virginia side then cross a bridge to the island.
If you’re using the Metro, the Rossyln stop is about two blocks from a pedestrian crossing of the George Washington Parkway. Metro Map
You can also get there by kayak or canoe. There were about a half dozen that had pulled up along the side of the island. If you’re interested in renting something, Thompson’s Boat Center allows you to rent them for the day (they also rent bikes): Thompson’s Boat Center
You can get there by bike or rollerblades. DC and Arlington is full of bike paths. The path near the island goes all the way down to Mount Vernon. Bike racks are available next to the bridge to the island. The paths on the island are very rocky and not suited for wheels (we did fine with our stroller, though). More details about biking to the island:
Biking Around Theodore Roosevelt Island
Things to Do
There were people fishing on the Virginia side of the river. A handful of families had brought bread to feed ducks. Once you actually cross the bridge to the island, a sign posts information about the island and has maps and other information available. At the memorial area, there were lots of students reading in the shade. Another area had people who had brought food and were picnicking. We went walking on the trails… around the entire island. We were all exhausted by the end. Right as we ran out of water, we found restrooms and water fountains. Because it’s so swampy, I don’t know what the bugs would be like in late summer; a neighbor says it doesn’t have any problems.
We’ve got four kids and this is a nice place for us to visit. The trails were great for them. The trails are all clearly marked and well kept. There are benches occasionally for them to rest on. There were signs to make it ‘educational’ as well as fun. We had an umbrella stroller for the infant and it took the trails great.
Here are some of our photos from our trip in April 2004: Our photos of Theodore Roosevelt Island
From journal Visiting Washington DC
St. Louis, Missouri
February 10, 2009
From journal Insight from a 4-Year Visitor to Washington, D.C.