Chaplain Chapin's Cards

Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

with RIHS
Page 1 of 6
The Rev. Oliver Chapin served on Roosevelt Island as the Episcopal minister at Coler Memorial Hospital and as Vicar of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd from 1965 until his passing in 1999.

During his nearly three and a half decades of dedicated service on the Island, he took time in rare off-hours to collect photos, news clippings, prints, postcards, other documents and artifacts related to the island's history. Thanks to the Chapin family's generosity, the archives of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society (RIHS) includes many items from his collection.
1800s Views of Blackwell's Island

From 34th St.

From 80th St.

From Astoria

From 49th St.

Here, in this six-page presentation designed by the New York Correction History Society (NYCHS), are displayed 17 images of the Chaplain Chapin-collected cards in the RIHS archives. The 17 are arranged in six groupings.

Each grouping of small slide images on this starter page is linked to a page containing much larger images of those cards.
1800s Views of Wards Island

New Hospital

Inebriates Asylum

Warden's House
A mouse click on a small slide image will take you to the corresponding large version. You can scroll that page for the other large version images in the particular group and then move to the next group of large images in the card collection. Or you can return to this starter page that contains historical information not appearing on large card image pages.

1800s Views of New York Forts

Fort Lafayette

Governor's Island
Each page displaying the large images shows only the cards and their printed titles whereas this starter page provides some background information and historical perspectives. Eight of the 17 cards shown in the presentation appear to be note cards, 4 by 2.5 inches, with blank undersides. Those eight cards are arranged in the three groupings. Their corresponding small slide image groups appear above. Below appear some background notes on the "1800s Views" groupings:

  • 1800s Views of Blackwell's Island.
    The "View from 49th St." is included in this group although strictly speaking it is from the cover flap of folded note paper. It and the "View from Astoria" depict steam boats on the East River along with sail boats whereas the "View from 34th St." and the "View from 80th St." do not. Before bridges and tunnels were built, people commuted by ferries between the islands in the NYC area. Rowboats, sloops and periaugers ruled the ferry routes exclusively until steamboats began appearing about 1814.

  • 1800s Views of Wards Island.
    The Almshouse Department and its later successor agency, the Department of Public Charity and Correction, operated most of the major institutions servicing the poor. These facilities included hospitals and asylums of various kinds, often placed on islands. Like Blackwell's, Wards Island was used in this way as the images on these cards illustrate.

  • 1800s Views of New York Forts.
    The islands in and around New York City also served as sites for military facilities as illustrated in the two cards that make up this group. NYCHS pages elsewhere on detail the history of Fort Lafayette and Governor's Island as Union prisons for captured Confederates during the Civil War.

Six of the remaining eight cards in the presentation are standard postcard size, 5.5 by 3.5 inches.

  • Blackwell's Island Lighthouse
    Two images were scanned from a card that comes close to postcard size but clearly was not sent through the mails in that fashion. It was an invitation to the opening of Lighthouse Park at the northern tip of Roosevelt Island.
    Blackwell's Island Lighthouse
    Lighthouse Park Opening Invitation
    1906 postcard
    One side of the 6.25 by 4 inch card features an illustration of the lighthouse. The other side gives the event schedule, directions and other information.

    The message on the postcard from which was scanned the third image in the lighthouse group may have been written by an inmate or patient on Blackwell's. In it, the sender declares, perhaps with sardonic irony: "Dear Frank, Just a few lines to say I am feeling fine after my vacation. I was very provoked that I could have stayed a few days longer if I had wished . . . ." RHIS pages elsewhere on detail the history of the Lighthouse [See Ch. 18 of Roosevelt Island Historical Walk].

The two unused postcards whose images constitute the "Views of Nurses' Island Complex" grouping are from different periods, at least as concerns the Island's name.

Views of Nurses' Island Complex

Still Blackwell's

Then Welfare Isle

  • Views of Nurses' Island Complex
    One postcard refers to "Blackwell's Island, New York;" the other, to "Welfare Island, N.Y." The change on April 12, 1921 took place because the old name had become identified with such negatives as crime, corruption and cruel conditions and the new name sounded more benevolent. The island's first nursing school was at Charity Hospital, in the former Smallpox Hospital. Well before the "Met" moved to the island, that first school was formed in 1875 with 20 students -- males only. It went female only at the turn of the century. The official name was City Hospital Training School. For more elsewhere on about Metropolitan Hospital, visit Chapter 17 of Roosevelt Island Historical Walk.

The three unused postcards whose images constitute the "Views of the Queensboro Bridge" grouping would appear to be from different periods.

  • Views of the Queensboro Bridge
    One postcard sketch depicts the bridge as seen from Sutton Place. In it, can be see the huge Elevator Storehouse building next the bridge and a small steamboat, perhaps a ferry, passing near the Sutton Place.
    Views of the Queensboro Bridge

    From Sutton Place

    The skyline.

    East River Drive
    Since the elevator building went up in 1919 and steamboats still traversed the East River between WWI and War II, the time period for that postcard is probably the 1920s or '30s.

    Another postcard shows the bridge framing the Manhattan Island skyline including the Empire State Building that, when it opened in 1930, was the world's tallest building. The third card depicts a view from East River Drive that includes buildings with a much more modern architecture style seemingly closer to the Island's post WWII period. An NYCHS page elsewhere on focuses on the history of the Queensboro Bridge as it related to Blackwell's Island.

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Images scanned from Rev. Chapin cards in the archives of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

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