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Lost Washington: Analostan

Map of Analostan Island from Map of the City of Washington by Robert King Plate No. 1
Mason House sketch
As the detail at right from the 1818 Map of the City of Washington by Robert King shows, Roosevelt Island wasn't always uninhabited, or even known as by its present name.

When the island was purchased in the early eighteenth-century by the father of George Mason of Gunston Hall, it was know as Analostan Island. The name Analostan refers to the seventeenth-century Necostin Indian tribe that once inhabited the area.

The land was not developed until the island and some 2,000 additional acres in Virginia were inherited by General John Mason. General Mason became one of the most prominent businessmen of Georgetown. He was a founder of the Bank of Columbia on M Street in 1793.

He developed Analostan, also known as Mason's Island, into a self-contained estate, producing its own food. Much like today, one way onto the island was via a causeway from Virginia. Unlike today, there was also a ferry from the Georgetown shore that stopped at the island.

The house was built ca. 1796, though never completed. The likely answer is that the house's fortunes were tied to those of General Mason, who was forced to move from the island when the Bank of Columbia collapsed in 1833.

The house was primarily Federal in overall design, but possessed several important neoclassical elements that made it advanced for its time in Washington. These elements included the porch, the stuccoed facade, and the arched windows set into blind recesses.

The property suffered several indignities after Mason's departure. During the 1850s and 1860s the mansion was open to public use and was an army camp during the Civil War -- after which it was unsuitable as a residence. It also served as home of the Columbian Athletic Club and the Analostan Boat Club after 1867.

In 1869 a serious fire destroyed the interior. Another fire in 1906 caused the roof to collapse. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association acquired the island in 1931 and donated it to the federal government as the future site of a city park. The Civilian Conservation Corps had cleared much of the island and pulled down the remaining walls of the home by 1935. More photos below.

Mason House ca. 1880s

Mason House ruins ca. 1905
Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He's been an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner serving the northern Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods since 2011 (ANC 1A), and is the force behind the blog Park View, D.C.


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Interesting history.

In the case of your island's cousin island up in NYC named after FDR our own history showed that after the Blackwell family built their farmhouse and after the family sold the island to NY City the structure housed various medical and prison personnel as the island transitioned from Blackwell Island to Welfare Island and later Roosevelt Island in the early 1970's

by Roos_Isle_360 (NYC) on Jul 29, 2009 4:20 pm • linkreport

I wish the Park Service did a better job managing the forest parks in DC, including Roosevelt Island. Both Rock Creek and RI are being overrun by invasive vines and weeds. They look lush, but in reality the native flora are being slowly strangled to death.

by Reid on Jul 29, 2009 4:37 pm • linkreport

The memorial center of Roosevelt Island is one of the oddest -- creepiest, I would say -- in the area. The statue at the center always reminds me of Jebediah Springfield, but Dr Zaus wouldn't be out of place either. Neither would it surprise me to find a bunch of Star Trek extras worshipping it, and a super computer in the complex underneath. I hope it's the last thing left of Washington DC thousands of years in the future.

by mark on Jul 29, 2009 5:50 pm • linkreport

I lived in a small apartment building a few years ago named the Analostan. A turn of the century structure on Corcoran St. between 17th and New Hampshire. Beautiful facade. I've always wondered where the name came from.

by Nick on Jul 29, 2009 6:29 pm • linkreport

Analostan was where the 1st US Colored Troops were stationed after having been raised on Capitol Hill.

by mecki on Jul 29, 2009 6:46 pm • linkreport

My understanding is that the entire Potomac River as far as the bank on the VA side is part of DC - interesting that one of the photos references Analostan Island as part of Alexandria County, VA. Was this given back to VA as part of the 1847 retrocession?

by andy on Jul 30, 2009 8:26 am • linkreport

The DC borders with Virginia are, I believe, the high tide mark on the Virginia shore, except for a stretch near the old Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.

The Eastern Avenue borders are also a few feet into the "Maryland" side of the sidewalk.

by Fritz on Jul 30, 2009 9:15 am • linkreport

I believe that also while National Airport was built on territory that belonged to DC (i.e., the landfill went in on the DC side of the high tide mark), an Act of Congress changed the boundary to make the airport lie within Va. It doesn't make much sense that they did that since this is supposed to be a national airport ... but they did.

by Lance on Jul 30, 2009 11:26 am • linkreport

Do we know what the designers had in mind with this statute in this setting? We all know TR was constantly declaiming, strutting, bigger-than-life 24/7 --

But why not at least dress him in his field jacket and boots with a walking stick, or a rifle, or on a leaping horse? What was the sculptor thinking, Did he not know the setting? A bit like something you'd see in North Korea...

by ps on May 19, 2010 11:54 pm • linkreport

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