Is Roosevelt Island in Georgetown? An Investigation

Yesterday afternoon, GM posted the photo above for his daily afternoon Georgetown Metropolis post. It’s a photo of the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island. But GM almost always limits himself to posting photos only of Georgetown for these posts. Had he broken his own rule? Is Roosevelt Island part of Georgetown or not?

To answer this, GM has to travel all the way back to the 17th century. That’s because it was in 1682 that the island was first claimed by a European: Captain Randolph Brandt. It had been previously occupied by a group of Nacotchtank Indians who had relocated from Anacostia. As a result the island was known as Anacostine Island (however, Brandt called it Barbadoes Island). His descendants sold the island to the Mason family in 1717, at which point it gained the name Mason’s Island, which it bore until the creation of the Roosevelt Memorial in 1967.

But was it Georgetown?

Georgetown was created from land taken from two Georges: George Beall and George Gordon. (Hence one theory that George Town was named after them not King George.) Neither of these men owned the island, so obviously it was not included in the first creation of the land. And none of the subsequent additions to Georgetown in the colonial era included the island.

But what about in the DC era? According to this article, the island was part of Washington County, which was the part of DC that was on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, but wasn’t part of either Washington City or the City of Georgetown.

And in the 20th century, the boundary of Georgetown as set forth in the Old Georgetown Act explicitly stops at the river. At first blush this would seem a meaningless distinction, since there are no homes on the island needing design approval by the Old Georgetown Board. But of course there are structures on the island, namely the memorial seen above. And were it in the boundaries of Georgetown, you can be sure that the OGB would’ve insisted on reviewing the plans! (That said, since it is federal property, the Commission of Fine Arts–the parent body of the OGB, which is the ultimate deciding body–did have jurisdiction.)

The Georgetown Historic District also doesn’t include the island.

So that’s that, right?

Well hold on, consider this. If you were to erect a home on the island across from the waterfront it turns out you would be in the Georgetown ANC:

That’s probably not enough for most people. But GM is going to consider it “Georgetown”. Despite not being part of the Corporation of Georgetown or the modern day historic district, it clearly has had a close connection to the neighborhood throughout its history. The Mason family lived most of the time in Georgetown and only built an estate on the island once they established a ferry between the two. And the family abandoned its estate once the City of Georgetown built a causeway on the western side of the island in 1805.

And also: it’s right there! And no other neighborhood has a claim to it! So GM will consider it Georgetown.



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