Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller purchases Randall’s Island, then known as Minnahanonck, and Wards Island, then known as Tenkenas, from the Native Americans. During this time the islands are mainly used for farming – Randall’s Island becomes known as Little Barn Island and Wards Island is named Big Barn Island.
Captain John Montresor, a prominent engineer in the British military, purchases and settles upon Randall’s Island, or as it is known then Little Barn Island. Montresor changes the name of the island to Montresor’s Island. The British later use the island to launch amphibious attacks on Manhattan during the Revolutionary War.
The British evacuate New York City and Randall’s Island is confiscated.
Jonathan Randel purchases Randall’s Island, for whom it is named (although spelled differently).
Bartholemew Ward and Phillip Milledoler receive authorization from the legislature to build a free bridge connecting Wards Island to Manhattan. The bridge is the first bridge to cross the East River and is destroyed in a storm in 1821.
The City of New York purchases Randall’s Island for $60,000 from the heirs of Jonathan Randel.
The City begins banishing institutions and homes to the islands, opening an almshouse, a children’s hospital, and the State Emigrant House of Refuge for the sick and destitute aliens.
The City of New York purchases Wards Island.
Randall’s Island becomes home to the House of Refuge for juvenile delinquents, the Idiot Asylum, a homeopathic hospital, the Inebriate Asylum, and the City’s insane asylum.
September 30, 1916
The Hell Gate Bridge and railroad trestle, which traverses the island and allows trains to get from Queens to the South Bronx, is opened. At this time, it is the longest steel arch bridge in the world (see photo).
The City of New York begins construction of the Triborough Bridge, designed by Othmar Amman. The bridge becomes an engineering marvel spanning 17 miles.
The Metropolitan Conference on Parks recommends that the islands be cleared of institutions and used solely for recreation.
New York State acts on the Conference’s recommendation and transfers ownership of the islands to the Parks & Recreation Department. This begins the islands’ transformation into a municipal park.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appoints Robert Moses as sole commissioner of a unified New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
The original children’s hospital is evacuated and the House of Refuge is demolished, leaving Randall’s Island free for parkland.
Robert Moses proposes a comprehensive plan for the development of the parkland at Randall’s and Wards Islands into a sports complex featuring a stadium and ball fields. Although Moses’ plan is never fully realized, over the next three decades the land between Randall’s Island and Wards Island is filled in and dozens of ball fields and tennis courts are built, along with Triborough (later Downing) Stadium.
July 11, 1936
The Triborough Bridge and Triborough Stadium are opened with President Roosevelt, Robert Moses and Olympic Committee President Brundage in attendance. That same day, the final Olympic Track & Field Trials are held on Randall’s Island; Jesse Owens wins the 100-yard dash and goes on to a victorious and historic win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The Discus Thrower, a bronze statue by Greek sculptor Kostas Dimitriadis, donated to the City of New York by Ery Kehaya, is relocated from Central Park to the entrance of Triborough Stadium.
A New York sewage treatment plant opens on Wards Island, and Manhattan State Hospital refuses to leave Randall’s Island, ignoring the law mandating its shutdown.
May 29, 1938
Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington, among other performers, light up Randall’s Island during the Carnival of Swing, a memorial concert in honor of composer George Gershwin. Watch the video.
The Wards Island Pedestrian Bridge at 103rd Street opens at a cost of $8 million, providing access to the Park for residents of Manhattan. Here, a family enjoys a picnic near the Hell Gate Bridge.
Triborough Stadium is renamed John J. Downing Stadium in honor of the former Director of Parks & Recreation and president of the Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Association.
Downing Stadium hosts the Women’s Olympic Track & Field Trials.
July 17, 1970
Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Steppenwolf and others perform at the three-day New York Rock Festival.
Scenes from “The French Connection” are shot under the Hell Gate Bridge railroad trestle, site of many film and fashion shoots in following years. Watch the video.
June 16, 1975
Pélé plays his first home game for the New York Cosmos at Downing Stadium.
Dan O’Brian, Dave Johnson, Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell all compete at the U.S. National Track and Field Championships at Downing Stadium.
Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, Inc. (RISF) is created as a public-private partnership with the City of New York, and begins work toward realizing the Park’s unique potential.
RISF holds its first summer camp for children, called “Island Getaway.”
August 5-6, 1994
Perry Farrell announces “Lollapalooza” in NYC with local promoter Delsener/Slater Enterprises, bringing major musical events back to the Park; Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, George Clinton and Green Day headline the 2-day festival attracting over 50,000 fans.
June 7-8, 1997
The Milarepa Fund and Delsener/Slater host the 2-day “Tibetan Freedom Concert” benefit with major star power support from U2, Foo Fighters, Patti Smith, Bjork, Sonic Youth, Taj Mahal, Alanis Morisette and members of Pearl Jam, Oasis and R.E.M. Prayer flags adorn the stages and a Buddhist temple is constructed at Randall’s Island.
June 14-15, 1997
The “Guinness Fleadh,” Irish cultural event of the decade, transforms Randall’s to the Emerald Isle over 2 days, with 4 stages of music and spoken word from the Celtic diaspora including Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Natalie Merchant, Christy Moore, Wilco, Saw Doctors, Billy Bragg, Shane MacGowan, Suzanne Vega, Richard Thompson, John Prine, Altan and others.
RISF releases the Management, Restoration and Development Plan for Randall’s Island Park, generated in partnership with Parks, the City and local Community Boards, elected officials and Park users.
July 16, 1999
After being restored by RISF, the Discus Thrower statue is relocated from Downing stadium to the Park’s entrance, rededicated at a ceremony and adopted as the RISF logo.
Park environmental activities and studies begin; RISF works with local schools and community-based organizations to bring children to the Park.
Downing Stadium is demolished to make way for Icahn Stadium.
A new ferry dock is constructed on the Harlem River waterfront of Randall’s Island, allowing waterborne public access for the first time.
Cirque du Soleil introduces its first performance on Randall’s Island; fans welcome the return of the Grand Chapiteau’s brilliant yellow and blue stripes in future years.
April 23, 2005
Icahn Stadium opens. The $42 million track & field complex– built through public and private funding, with a final $10 million gift from RISF Trustee and New York City financier Carl Icahn -- meets International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) specifications for track & field events including Olympic training and trials.
The first section of the Island-wide waterfront bicycle and pedestrian pathway system is opened, and celebrated by RISF Board, Parks Commissioners, Community Board members, elected officials and friends and fans from surrounding neighborhoods.
A groundbreaking ceremony marks initiation of the Island-wide sports field construction project, based on the Park’s Management, Restoration and Development Plan.
RISF and PlaNYC begin an ongoing partnership and the Million Trees program begins reforestation of Randall’s Island Park.
May 31, 2008
Usain Bolt breaks the world record in the Men’s 100m at Icahn Stadium during the Reebok Grand Prix, in front of a capacity crowd of 7,500 spectators.
Restoration of Little Hell Gate salt marsh and fresh water wetlands, a $6 million project, is completed, improving water quality and providing wildlife habitat.
Construction is completed on the first phase of the Park’s fields development project, and the 6 new East River Fields are opened to Park visitors.
June 30, 2009
The Sportime Tennis Center on Randall’s Island is opened, offering 20 courts and providing a home for the World TeamTennis NY Sportimes team.
Randall’s Island has hosted the annual Electric Zoo Festival since its inception in 2009. Since then, the Labor Day weekend festival has attracted over 150,000 people to the Island. Featured talent has included Armin van Buuren, Deadmau5, David Guetta and Ferry Corsten.
May 19, 2010
On May 19, 2010, Randall’s Island Sports Foundation cut the ribbon on over 60 baseball and softball fields, making the Island home to more than half of all playing fields in the entire borough of Manhattan. On hand to cut the ribbon was Yankees pitcher and friend of Randall’s Island Mariano Rivera.
In 2011, a Strategic Plan was drafted to guide Randall’s Island Park Alliance over the course of the next five years. One of the results of the Strategic Plan was the transition from the current Randall’s Island Sports Foundation name to the new Randall’s Island Park Alliance title. The new name reflects the Park’s remarkable coalition of current supporters with a view toward an increasingly collaborative stewardship in the coming years.
April 20, 2012
On April 20, 2012, the Hell Gate Pathway was unveiled, a key section of an over 4-mile Island-wide pathway system that, once complete, will link points adjacent to all three surrounding boroughs of Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. The pathway marks one of the first steps in our growing focus on improving on-island access in the coming years.