Theodore Roosevelt Island offers visitors a variety of recreational opportunities in a natural setting all within the large metropolitan area of Washington, D.C. A network of hiking trails allows visitors to explore the natural environments including the Swamp Trail, the Woods Trail and the Upland Trail. These trails provide an escape from the city and give visitors a chance to experience the solitude of walking through the woods or along the boardwalk in the wetlands along the Potomac River. The Island is also a popular recreational area for dog walkers, joggers and birdwatchers. The surrounding Potomac River provides a unique off-site view and experience for boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders. There is no boating access to the Island and bicycles are not permitted.
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In 1931 the Theodore Roosevelt Association (known as the Roosevelt Memorial Association until 1953) selected Mason’s Island in the Potomac River as the site for a presidential memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. The Association purchased the 88.5-acre Island from the Washington Gas Light Company for $364,000.
The Island has a diverse history of human habitation. Remnants from Native American occupancy indicate that the Island was used as a seasonal fishing village. In the 1600’s the site was named “My Lord’s Island” when King Charles I granted it to Lord Baltimore.
One owner, a sea captain, called it “Barbadoes” after his childhood home. In the 1790s, John Mason, son of George Mason IV (author of Virginia’s Bill of Rights), built a brick mansion and cultivated gardens. The Island was known as “Mason’s Island” during this period. During the Civil War, the site served as a training area for the Union Army, including the “First U.S. Colored Troops.” For years afterwards, the Island was used in different capacities, including as a picnic resort, an athletic club and a boathouse until Washington Gas Light Company purchased the property in 1913.
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