Map of Analostan Island from Map of the City of Washington by Robert King Plate No. 1
Mason House sketch

As the detail at right from the 1818 Map of the City of Washington by Robert King shows, Roosevelt Island wasn’t always uninhabited, or even known as by its present name.

When the island was purchased in the early eighteenth-century by the father of George Mason of Gunston Hall, it was know as Analostan Island. The name Analostan refers to the seventeenth-century Necostin Indian tribe that once inhabited the area.

The land was not developed until the island and some 2,000 additional acres in Virginia were inherited by General John Mason. General Mason became one of the most prominent businessmen of Georgetown. He was a founder of the Bank of Columbia on M Street in 1793.

He developed Analostan, also known as Mason’s Island, into a self-contained estate, producing its own food. Much like today, one way onto the island was via a causeway from Virginia. Unlike today, there was also a ferry from the Georgetown shore that stopped at the island.

The house was built ca. 1796, though never completed. The likely answer is that the house’s fortunes were tied to those of General Mason, who was forced to move from the island when the Bank of Columbia collapsed in 1833.

The house was primarily Federal in overall design, but possessed several important neoclassical elements that made it advanced for its time in Washington. These elements included the porch, the stuccoed facade, and the arched windows set into blind recesses.

The property suffered several indignities after Mason’s departure. During the 1850s and 1860s the mansion was open to public use and was an army camp during the Civil War—after which it was unsuitable as a residence. It also served as home of the Columbian Athletic Club and the Analostan Boat Club after 1867.

In 1869 a serious fire destroyed the interior. Another fire in 1906 caused the roof to collapse. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association acquired the island in 1931 and donated it to the federal government as the future site of a city park. The Civilian Conservation Corps had cleared much of the island and pulled down the remaining walls of the home by 1935. More photos below.

Mason House ca. 1880s
Mason House ruins ca. 1905

Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He’s worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He’s been an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner serving the northern Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods since 2011 (ANC 1A), and is the force behind the blog Park View, D.C..