The most unusual memorial to a president in Washington, DC is the one to our 26th chief executive. Theodore Roosevelt gets an entire island to his memory. Located in the Potomac River between Georgetown and Rosslyn, Va., Theodore Roosevelt Island is a fitting tribute to this president who ensured so much of America’s natural beauty is preserved for all time.
The memorial is large, maybe too large for a pastoral setting. Teddy is depicted in one of his familiar poses – exhorting his audience on to greater things. But its place in front of this monolith in this large plaza does give it an unfortunate feel of a socialist realism piece. But its size and the way it dominates the space is keeping with Teddy’s personality.
The island was the last refuge for the Nacotchtank Indians. They lived at various places in what is now Washington, DC. They were traders, farmers, and hunters. And probably lived around here for 500 years. Capt. John Smith records being well received by them as he explored this area in 1608. But after contact with Europeans, they were decimated by deicseas, fighting, and having their territory taken by settlers. After they left the island, they were absorbed into other tribes.
From there the island was claimed outright by English settlers. One of which was George Mason III, father of the George Mason of constitutional convention fame, who acquires it in 1724. The Masons build a large mansion on the Island, and it stayed in that family until 1842.
During the civil war the army takes over the island and uses it to train the First US Colored Infantry Regiment. Toward the end of the war the island houses more than 1,200 former enslaved people under the authority of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
In 1931 the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the island but it’s not until 1967 that this memorial is dedicated.