New York’s Forgotten North Brother Island

Located between Riker’s Island and the Bronx on the East River, North Brother Island currently sits in a state of disrepair, abandoned for the last fifty years.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the nineteenth century, the city of New York decided an isolated location was necessary to quarantine and treat those suffering from infectious disease. North Brother Island provided the perfect solution.

The existing Riverside Hospital was moved to North Brother Island in 1885 and re-established as a quarantine facility.


Typhoid MaryThe most famous resident of North Brother Island was Typhoid Mary. Typhoid Mary was the first documented person in the United States to be a carrier of Typhoid fever. Mary was accused to have infected over 50 people over the course of her life.

In 1915 Mary was sent to quarantine on North Brother Island for the remainder of her life.  She would eventually die of pneumonia on North Brother in 1938.

After the Second World War, the housing shortage would see North Brother house war veterans.

Once the housing shortage subsided in the ‘50s, North Brother Island became a drug addict rehabilitation center. The facility wasn’t exactly known for its assessment of heroin addiction; heroin users were merely locked in a room until they were clean. Others claim they were held against their will.

By the 1960s staff corruption and a high number of relapse in patients forced the facility to close. With aging facilities and no other uses for the island, the government abandoned it in 1963.

It has not seen use since.


Most of the buildings are still standing, but all are heavily deteriorated and in danger of collapse.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

NBI24Currently, North Brother Island is a bird sanctuary.


PS General Slocum Disaster

NBI3-5North Brother Island was also the site of the largest New York City-area disaster until the September 11th attacks in 2001.

In June of 1904, the steamboat PS General Slocum  (pictured at right) caught fire and sank in the East River.

Over 1,000 people on board died, most washing up along the shores of North Brother Island.

PS General Slocum Disaster
PS General Slocum Disaster makes headlines




North Brother Island aerial view circa 1957
North Brother Island aerial view circa 1957

Riverside Hospital pictures courtesy of The Kingston Lounge



  1. Sweet! Thanks for posting…I’m surprised there hasn’t been an effort to repurpose this area…maybe your post will spark interest… 😉

  2. New reader of the blog, and rapidly addicted to your archive. Sublime and compelling and so nicely judged. I recently listened to the WYNC Radiolab episode featuring Typhoid Mary. Satisfying to get a little closer to the action with this post. Thanks.

  3. So want the iron staircase for my barn…Good job as always finding and bringing to us interesting and long forgotten places and items of interest. I would like to explore some of the places I’ve seen on the website, best wishes to you in the new year.

    • I hope you leave it there. Funny how people always suggest scavenging when they encounter the beauty of desertion, or is it an American thing? Leave it! It’s heritage!

  4. I love your blog. Please keep posting.
    I am wondering if access to the buildings is difficult.

  5. I want to to thank you for this excellent read!! I certainly enjoyed every little bit of it. I’ve got you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff you post…

  6. Since the government abandoned the island in 1963, does that mean nobody actually owns the island? Could somebody with millions come in and wipe the island clean and build some 5 star resort?

  7. Hopefully nobody can do this. As mentioned (as always very interesting and detailed), the island is a bird sanctuary now and I hope no one ever will be able to build something on it. I sure would like to visit it.

  8. Was watching “Life After People” on Netflix and googled about this Island which I’d never heard of before. Your photo’s and information are amazing thanks!


  9. Really interesting and i would wish to learn more about this abandoned island. I heard that the government is trying turn the island into a school special needs’ children.

    • I don’t know if this is related, but I’ve noticed sometimes Google doesn’t have higher resolution shots of bodies of water and areas that are uninhabited. I’ve seen this issue in the middle of the oceans and deserts on Google Earth – wonder if it’s the same thing there?

    • Hi Noelle, thanks for the heads up! I re-read this older post today and can’t help but envision how much different it would look if I wrote it again today. Not my most comprehensive piece, that’s for sure. 😉

  10. I had a chance to visit North Brother when I was working at Greenwooedd Cemetery in Brooklyn. My boss and I went along with public radio reporters/a cameraman, and members of the Park Service. We had to take a huge boat to get there. (The Parks workers told me that a couple of times a few would be adventurers tried to take a canoe or row boat out to North Brother. The water is vicious and powerful in that area, and they inevitably tipped and had to be rescued by the Coastguard.) It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I spent hours exploring all of the buildings. In the area where the detoxing heroin addicts were locked up (a VERY painful experience; I’ve gone through it myself), there was definitely an evil, ‘trapped’ type feeling in the air, caused, I believe by the spirits of those who were forced to suffer there. In the rooms they were then locked it, things like “HELP ME”, “KILL ME NOW” “KILL ME”, etc were still etched on the walls by those who detoxed there. It gave me the chills. Nevertheless, it will probably be one of the most amazing experiences of my lifetime. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. By the way, even if you do have a motor boat or ferry or yacht, it IS illegal for random people to set foot on North Brother. It is guarded 24/7/365 by some sort of NYC water police.

  11. Hi, I’m doing a project on this island and I was just wondering how you obtained permission to go to this island. Are there papers to fill out and are the police clearly visible from everywhere on the island or do they just patrol the waters?

    • Stephanie,
      Unfortunately I did not visit the island, all reporting was done via research. If you’re referring to the photographs, they are from Kingston Lounge. I believe the photographer had permission. The island is still the property of the State of New York, perhaps the parks department or Department of Correction could point you in the right direction.

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