North Brother Island — An Abandoned Island in The Middle of NYC
This forgotten isle in the East River between Bronx and Rikers Island, NYC hosts abandoned buildings from the late 19th century including the remains of Riverside Hospital, which quarantined those suffering from infectious diseases. The site also held experimental drug treatments and was a detention home for wayward youth.
The island was uninhabited until 1885, when Riverside Hospital moved there from Blackwell’s Island (now known as Roosevelt Island). Riverside Hospital was founded in the 1850s as the Smallpox Hospital to treat and isolate victims of that disease. Its mission eventually expanded to other quarantinable diseases. Typhoid Mary, the first person in the US identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever, was confined to Riverside Hospital for over two decades until she died there in 1938. The hospital closed shortly thereafter.
The island was the site of the wreck of the General Slocum, a steamship which burned on June 15, 1904. Over 1,000 people died either from the fire on board the ship or from drowning before the ship was beached on the island’s shores.
In the 1950s a center opened to treat adolescent drug addicts. The facility claimed to be the first to offer treatment, rehabilitation, and education facilities to young drug offenders. Heroin addicts were confined to this island and locked in a room until they were clean. Many of them believed they were being held against their will (as one person wrote on the wall). By the early 1960s widespread staff corruption and patient recidivism forced the facility to close.
Now a bird sanctuary, the island is currently abandoned and off-limits to the public. Most of the original hospitals’ buildings still stand, but are heavily deteriorated and in danger of collapse. A dense forest conceals the ruined hospital buildings, and from the 1980s through the early 2000s it supported one of the area’s largest nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night Heron. However as of 2008 this species has abandoned the island for unknown reasons.
If you would like to see more photos of the abandoned buildings as well as learn more about the island’s history, click here to read this article about North Brother Island.