David Stone
Ironically, the Insane Asylum, its foundation adapted by the Octagon, is a popular souvenir theme.
Ironically, the Insane Asylum, its foundation adapted by the Octagon, is a popular souvenir theme.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Ten years in place, welcoming arrivals on Roosevelt Island, the Visitor Center Kiosk has tenure longer than many who live here. It's taken for granted by many who forgot what it was like at the Tram or never knew. Historical Society staffers began doing for free what the Island's managers failed to do, that is, welcome visitors and residents alike and answer the steady flow of requests for information.

Why Your Visiting the Visitor Center Matters

A decade later, there's still not a single directional sign and nothing to let anyone know about assets and landmarks that fill Roosevelt Island from top to bottom. What the Historical Society does with the Visitor Center is all the more vital.

Spend an hour with the Society's President Judy Berdy in the kiosk and witness her cheerfully give visitor after visitor directions to the nearest public restrooms, hand out detailed maps for a small donation and tell newcomers where to find, among other things, the cherry blossoms.

Great gifts in small packages, Roosevelt Island Tram buttons and keychains, lightweight and durable.
Great gifts in small packages, Roosevelt Island Tram buttons and keychains, lightweight and durable.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

"Where is Cornell?"

"Where's a good place to eat?"

Berdy and her staff answer these questions and more, hour after hour, helping an estimated 55,000 visitors every year.

For kids and adults, well-crafted items that celebrate Roosevelt Island's East River crossings and more.
For kids and adults, well-crafted items that celebrate Roosevelt Island's East River crossings and more.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

You can't be blamed if you take for granted that  the Visitor Center Kiosk is supported by local officials. It is, but only a little, even as it does the work you'd expect RIOC to do, given its obvious abundance of funds. Yet after 40 years here, RIOC has yet to come up with a usable map or even signs to direct visitors to local attractions.

The Historical Society fills the gap.

That's why the Visitor Center's so valuable. Before it opened in 2007, all anyone coming here by Tram saw was an empty field. No wonder most got right back on the next Tram headed for 2nd Avenue.

The kiosk housing the Visitor Center belongs to RIOC, but that's a technicality. It's here at all because Berdy persisted over a period of years to get the MTA to donate one of its retired street car entry kiosks, like the one that serviced the very last line, one that used the Queensboro Bridge to serve Roosevelt Island, saving it from dust and rust. To get over legal hurdles, the MTA officially gave the structure to RIOC, a fellow State agency, but the Historical Society inspired and oversaw the entire transaction.

At long last, we do have ferry service to inspire mugs.
At long last, we do have ferry service to inspire mugs.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

What limited funds come from public treasuries is not sufficient to keep the Visitor Center open and operating. That's why we encourage residents and visitors alike to invest by buying souvenirs and gift merchandise. Such sales are necessary for keeping the doors open.

Buy a keychain. Buy a book. And the welcome mat will stay open because of your help.

It's vital. History will thank you.