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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

Riverside Hospital pictures courtesy of The Kingston Lounge

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