Theodore Roosevelt Island is located at the fall line in the Potomac River, where the rocky Piedmont Plateau meets the sandy soils of the Coastal Plain. The river flows to either side of the island in two channels. The narrower channel on the west or Virginia side is known as the "Little River," while the channel on the east or Georgetown side is known as the "Georgetown Channel." The island is an outcropping of micaceous schist, which has served as a base for the steady accumulation of sedimentary soils. Over the last 200 years, soil deposits from the river have increased the island's size by about 20 acres, from 70 to its current size of approximately 90 acres.
Historically, Theodore Roosevelt Island has been referred to by many names: My Lord's Island, Barbadoes, Analostan (also rendered as Anacostien or Annalostan), and Mason's Island, reflecting its many changes in ownership over the more than 300 years since its settlement by Europeans. General John Mason (son of George Mason, original owner of the island) inherited the island upon his father’s death in 1792, and proceeded to clear the forest to create space for plantation-style fields and a large home. Between 1793 and 1798, John Mason paid for the construction of his home through the use of free Black laborers or “hired out” enslaved laborers. In 1793, John Mason placed an advertisement in the Alexandria Gazette in search of “12 to 15 Stout Young Negro Fellows,” presumably for assistance in clearing the forest and constructing the island home. It is unclear whether these laborers were “leased” enslaved persons or free Black laborers.
John Mason’s Analostan Island home was designed in a Georgian Revival fashion with classical elements such as arched windows, a small entrance portico, and a large brick patio. The main living quarters was one story with three bedrooms, and a full basement that held the kitchen and storage rooms. The foundation was laid at the tallest point of the island with a view of the president’s mansion, the Capitol building, and the growing city of Washington
Recorded outbuildings include an icehouse and what was most presumably living quarters for enslaved persons. John Mason grew corn and cotton on the property through the use of enslaved laborers. He was an active agriculturalist who farmed sheep, owned horses, and maintained a working plantation. The U.S. Census records 17 enslaved persons owned by John Mason in 1800, and 31 enslaved persons in 1830.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps deconstructed the remains of John Mason’s abandoned Georgian-Revival home. There are detailed photographs of the historic structure and any artifacts found through the deconstruction of the home. The foundation was buried and the site reforested in preparation for the designation of the island as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt.
In whatever form, presidential memorials attempt to summarize the essence of a leader's legacy. In the case of Theodore Roosevelt Island, the focus is on conservation, and the inspiration his life can provide as an inspiration for the young people of America to dedicate themselves to public service. The memorial island is a unique embodiment of this concept, as a living landscape memorial to an American president.
The island functions as a memorial on two levels: the landscape, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and the monument to Roosevelt, by Eric Gugler and Paul Manship.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
National Register: October 15, 1966
This site is included in the Capital City Slavery Tour for its owner’s enslavement of seventeen to thirty-one individuals on the property, and construction through enslaved labor. For further information on the role of enslaved laborers in the development of Washington, D.C. view the sources below or explore our Capital City Slavery Digital Exhibit.