The History of Rikers Island in New York City

Aerial photo of the jail complex

Rikers Island is a 167.20-hectare (413.17-acre) island in the East River between the Bronx and Queens, home to New York City’s central jail complex. Named after European Abraham Rycken, who took possession of the island in 1664 CE, the island was initially under 40 ha (100 acres) in size but has since grown to more than 160 ha (400 acres). The first stages of expansion were primarily accomplished by convict labor hauling in ashes for landfill. The island is administratively part of the Bronx, although the bridge entrance is from Queens. It is a portion of Queens Community Board 1 and practices an East Elmhurst, Queens, 11370 ZIP Code for mails.

Historic use

The Rikers island is named after Abraham Rycken, a European Dutch settler who shifted to Long Island in 1638 CE and took the island’s possession in 1664 CE. Rycken’s descendants, the Ricker family, kept Rikers Island until 1884 CE when they sold it to the city for $180,000.

The Rikers island was first used as an army training ground during the American Civil War. The first regiment to utilize the island was the 9th New York Infantry, also recognized as Hawkins’ Zouaves, which landed there on May 15, 1861 CE. The 36th New York State Volunteers followed Hawkins’ Zouaves on June 23. the Anderson Zouaves followed them on July 15, 1861 CE. The Anderson Zouaves were led by John Lafayette Riker, who was related to the island’s owners. The camp of the Anderson Zouaves was called Camp Astor in compliment to financier John Jacob Astor Jr., who provided funding for the troops, and who seems to have made a vital contribution to the raising of the Anderson Zouaves in particular, with the Astor ladies being attributed with the manufacture of the Zouave uniforms worn by the recruits of this army. Numerous other Civil War regiments subsequently used Rikers Island. Still, the name “Camp Astor” was particular to the Anderson Zouaves and did not become a general name for the island’s army encampment.

In 1883 CE New York City’s Commission of Charities and Corrections showed an interest in buying the island for use as an extensive work-house. Any such acquisition would have to be licensed by the state. In January 1884 CE, state senator Frederick S. Gibbs introduced a bill in the state senate empowering the commission to buy the island.

In May 1884 CE, Governor Grover Cleveland signed a bill approving the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections to buy the island for a sum no greater than $180,000. At the time, the island was within Long Island City’s boundaries, which was situated in Queens County, which was not yet part of NYC (New York City), and this possible transfer set off squabbling between politicians of Queens County, Long Island City, and New York City.

On July 31, 1884 CE, a settlement was agreed to by all three entities; New York City decided to pay a total of $3,000 to be distributed as $500 to Queens County and $2,500 to Long Island City. On August 4, 1884 CE, the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, Jacob Hess, approved a contract purchasing the island from John T. Wilson, a direct descendant of the Ryker family, for $180,000: nearly $179,000 to Wilson and around $1,000 for a legal title search.

Conversion to jail

The town showed a desire to open a prison for men on Rikers Island as early as 1925 CE, to replace their dilapidated and overburdened jail on Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island; the jail was opened in 1932 CE. Landfill continued to be extensively added to the island until 1943 CE, ultimately enlarging the original 36 ha (90-acre ) island to 168 ha (415 acres). This required the consent of the federal government since the extension extended the island’s pier line. Also, 81 ha (200 acres) were stripped from Rikers to help load in the new North Beach Airport, which opened in 1939 CE and was later exclusively renamed LaGuardia Airport.

The net development of the island enabled the prison facilities also to expand. The original prison building, built-in 1935 CE, was called HDM or the House of Detention for Men; it became a maximum security jail facility called the James A. Thomas Center and closed due to structural issues in 2000 CE.

After the courts banned New York City in 1922 CE from ocean dumping of garbage, much of the wasted ended up on Rikers Island, even though the island already had 12 mountains of waste 35 to 130 feet tall; still, it took in 1.5 million cubic yards of extra refuse, more than the quantity of dirt displaced by the building of the WTO (World Trade Center). Since much of the waste was composed of ash from incinerators and coal heating, there were frequent casual luminous fires, even in the winters, in the snow.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.