abandoned places

Will Ellis

Will Ellis has written 50 posts for AbandonedNYC

Time Traveling in the Children’s Ward: Rockland Psychiatric Center

Telltale pink distinguishes the former girl's ward on the opposite wing of the structure.

Pink walls distinguish the girl’s ward of the former Rockland State Hospital children’s building.

Old buildings have many lives. Often the objects left behind in a modern ruin only reflect a place’s most recent iteration. But in Rockland County, one structure exists as a veritable nesting doll of time periods. Today, some areas of the abandoned Children’s Hospital at Rockland Psychiatric Center are unsettlingly modern, looking like a tornado swept through a present-day kindergarten classroom. But stepping from one room to the next can take you back another 10, 20, 30 years…

A tongue-in-cheek coffee mug seemed out of place in this especially decayed and relatively untouched section of the hospital.

A coffee mug seems out of place in this heavily decayed section of the hospital.

The squat, maze-like ward was constructed in 1929 to house the youngest subset of Rockland State Hospital’s population.  (The history of the institution and its notable bowling alley were outlined in a previous post.) Though it hasn’t been used to house mentally ill children since the 1960s and 70s, it continued to serve the needs of kids and families in recent decades. Beginning in the 1980s it was used as a day care center for children of RPC employees called “Kid’s Corner.”  In 1998, sections of the building were used for a program called “Under the Weather,” which provided free care to moderately sick kids, enabling their parents to get back to work while their children recuperated.  These valuable programs were abruptly closed by the Department of Mental Health in 2008 for budgetary reasons.

This section of the building was last used in the early 2000s as a day care program for sick children.

This section of the building was last used in the early 2000s as a day care center.

This mural might have been in poor taste earlier in the building's history, but it adorned the halls of a modern day care facility.

A Peanuts mural from the 90s or early 00s would have been in poor taste several decades earlier.

All of these developments can be traced through the hospital’s extensive collection of murals.  They vary greatly in quality and subject matter, but all represent a concerted effort by founders and staff to brighten up the institutional halls over the years. The finest of them is a series of thoughtfully designed and obviously professional works depicting scenes from the tales of Washington Irving.  These and a similar set depicting the four seasons were painted in the 1940s by the Works Progress Administration muralist Victor Pedrotti Trent.  Much of the work is well-preserved, but some areas have suffered irreparable water damage. Years ago a study estimated that moving and restoring the paintings would cost $100,000, a prohibitive figure.  Since then, there’s been little interest in preserving them.

In one section of the mural depicting classic tales by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle awakes from his long slumber.

In one section of the mural depicting classic stories by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle awakes from a long slumber.

Ichabod Crane flees from the headless horseman in this scene from

Ichabod Crane flees from the Headless Horseman in this scene from “Sleepy Hollow.” Note the creepy face in the hollowed out tree.

Some sections of the mural are irreparably damaged by water and temperature fluctuations.

Some sections of the mural are heavily damaged by water and temperature fluctuations.

Beer bottle middens pile up in the auditorium.

Through the painted vestibule, beer bottle middens pile up in a relatively plain auditorium.

The building is the oldest of several structures on the campus that catered to children with psychiatric disorders.  A modern children’s center is still in operation at Rockland Psych, and another built in the 1960s is currently being leased as a filming location for the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black,” standing in for the women’s prison depicted in the series.  The 1929 hospital was slated for demolition years ago, but that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.

Though much of the building is crowded with modern-day kid stuff, some wings of the structure–namely the former boy’s ward–appear to have been walled off during the 80s and 90s.  Those halls are largely empty, and the few artifacts left behind are far older and institutional in nature.  I wonder if the youngsters at Kid’s Corner realized there was a children’s asylum ward preserved like a mosquito in amber just on the other side of their playroom…


A mural with patriotic themes characterizes the boy’s wing of the structure.

Though not as impressive as the Pedretti murals, it offers a charming timeline of the development of New York City.

Though not as impressive as the Trent murals, it offers a charming timeline of the development of New York City…

The Half Moon, a dutch vessel, founds New Netherland.

…beginning with the voyage of The Half Moon, a Dutch East India Company vessel.

This section of the hospital appears to have not been used for several decades.

A few relics from the state hospital era lie scattered around the halls, likely moved here for an urbex photo op.

Paper stars suspended over a doorway in the former boy's ward, painted blue.

Paper stars wither like autumn leaves over a doorway in the former boy’s ward.

IN OTHER NEWS…  I’ve had a few spots open up on a tour of Dead Horse Bay I’ll be leading this weekend.  It will take place Sunday, November 8th and we’ll be meeting at 10AM.  It’s short notice, but I’d be happy to have a few more folks join in!  Tickets available at this link.


ALSO… I’m excited to announce Abandoned NYC just went into its second printing!  Thanks to all who helped me reach this milestone by ordering a book, showing up to events, and supporting the blog.  To those who haven’t gotten their hands on a copy, get your signed first edition while supplies last!

Inside Rockland Psychiatric Center


An abandoned section of the former Rockland State Hospital, now known as Rockland Psychiatric Center.

In 1923, the New York state legislature passed a $50 million bond issue for the construction of new mental hospitals. After a disastrous fire at Ward’s Island in 1924, “where scores of mentally afflicted…were burned to death,” $11 million was set aside for a new campus designed specifically to relieve overcrowding at institutions in New York City.  The town of Orangeburg, NY was chosen for its proximity to the five boroughs, picturesque surroundings, and “salubrious climate.”


The hospital once housed 9,000 people, including patients and staff.

With funding in place, the construction of the Rockland State Hospital for the Insane moved forward at a staggering pace. Townspeople looked on as the monstrous institution swallowed up tract after tract of farms, houses, and undeveloped land. As patients flooded into the new buildings by the thousands, escapes became a regular occurrence.  The “potential menace” of this “new and formidable population of undesirable outsiders” was a cause of great concern for locals.  Infrequent but grisly murders in the vicinity of the hospital were attributed to “mentally disturbed” escapees. But the real horrors were occurring on the inside, as many of Orangeburg’s citizens could personally attest to–the institution was one of the largest job providers in the county.


Chipped plaster, masonry, paint, and wallpaper fill a water basin.

The real trouble started during World War II, when lucrative war industry jobs lured much of the staff away and a large number of Rockland’s male attendants left to join the armed forces. As the population soared to nearly 9,000, patient-to-staff ratios plummeted.  “The work is hard, disagreeable and frequently dangerous, and the hospital has found it next to impossible to recruit employees.” New hires during this period were often untrained and unqualified. From a 1940s Times article: “An employment bureau in New York City sent a number of applicants here, but most of them were found to be suffering from arthritis, cardiac ailments or “unnatural” temperament and had to be sent home. ‘Some of them should be patients,’ Dr. Blaisdell said.”


A stash of nudie magazines hidden long ago in the basement of a kitchen area.

Like most all institutions operating during this period, the overcrowding and lack of effective treatment led to systemic abuse and negligence.  Until the development of antipsychotic drugs in the 1960s, shock therapy and lobotomy were the only treatment methods available for severe cases of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. As the century progressed and the new drugs became readily available, most patients were able to live independently outside of the asylum system. Since the 1970s, Rockland Psychiatric Center (as it is now known) has predominantly been used as an outpatient facility. By 1999 it housed less than 600 patients.  Several new facilities were constructed in more recent years for outpatient care, but vast expanses of the 600 acre campus are entirely empty.  


Mattresses piled up in a dayroom.

Today, a grid of overgrown streets divides a vast configuration of maze-like buildings known only by number.  These were separate wards for men, women, children, and other subsets of the population like the infirm, the violent, and the criminally insane. Others were workshops, auditoriums, power plants, administration buildings, staff housing… the list goes on and on.

Exploring the buildings can be confusing and perilous.  One ward’s heavy wooden doors had the nasty habit of slamming shut and refusing to open again, which can be a serious situation when there’s only one or two ways out. My solution was a series of improvised doorstops–beer cans, scraps of debris, whatever I could get my hands on–which doubled as a trail of breadcrumbs to give me a reasonable hope of finding my way out again.

One of Rockland’s most interesting features is the old four lane bowling alley.  It’s a heavily trafficked area full of tempting props.  Pins, balls, shoes, and trophies have been endlessly moved around, manipulated, and arranged into perfect triangles in the middle of the lanes. While I don’t blame fellow photographers for this sort of thing, it can be disappointing to walk into something that looks more like a stage set than a wild, unpredictable ruin.  I’ll take that over the mindless graffiti–some if which I removed with a little Photoshop magic in the images below.

Despite all the modern mischief making, the bowling alley represents the best intentions of the institution to provide quality of life to patients who spent their lives at Rockland.  These lanes must have been a welcome distraction from the monotony of asylum living.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the Rockland Children’s Hospital, which features an impressive collection of WPA murals.


A well-preserved bowling alley was located on the ground floor of a recreation building.


Blank score sheets could be found behind the ball return.


The AMF bowling equipment may date back to the 60s or 70s.


Bowling balls pile up at the end of the lanes from previous visitors.


Compared to the bowling balls, the pins were scarce.  Many had been stolen over the years.


Wood shelving used for bowling shoes, once arranged by size.


Trophies for male and female bowlers.

A Wintry Return to the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker

The St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, mid-demolition

The St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, mid-demolition

The Pennsylvania coal region was once dominated by 300 breakers–mammoth factories that crushed and cleaned raw coal into the consumable commodity that fueled the Industrial Revolution. Today, a few modern plants meet the drastically reduced demand for the stuff. Of the old glory days when coal was king, only St. Nicholas remains.

The structure once held the distinction of being the largest coal breaker in the world, and its sheer size must have played a part in staving off the wrecking ball for the last 50 years. But according to the president of Reading Anthracite, the building’s owner, the place has become an “eyesore and a liability,” and its total demolition is imminent. A state-funded study to determine the cost of transforming the ruins into a historical attraction came up with a figure in the tens of millions.

With exterior walls removed, skeletal views of the plant's interior come to light.

With exterior walls removed, skeletal views of the plant’s interior come to light.

The demolition won’t happen in one cataclysmic, cathartic crash. Rather, the breaker is being dismantled piece by piece, and mined for valuable scrap metal along the way. The process is expected to last into next year, having been underway since Fall 2014. With a bit more of it gone every day, visitation has picked up as folks have poured into the region for one last look. Security positioned outside aim to ensure they respect the No Trespassing signs.

I took my “one last look” in February on a day that was way too cold to spend in an abandoned factory. Much of the metal siding had already been removed, opening up dollhouse views of the interior. Inside, light poured into corners that had been pitch black before. Elsewhere, panoramas of the surrounding landscape spread wall to wall and floor to ceiling.   

After 50 years of abandonment, the old St. Nicholas Coal Breaker still inspires awe and commands respect.  The interior of the breaker is noticeably free of graffiti. Visitors have stuck to more temporary means of commemorating their presence, tracing initials in the grime of a dusty control panel or chalking them up on a blackboard, avoiding outright acts of vandalism out of reverence for the building. It’s impressive not only for its physical size and beauty of design, but for the time and place in American history that it represents, a coal industry that employed 180,000 workers and enabled a young country to rise to the forefront of the industrialized nations.  As St. Nick falls, little remains to tether that heritage to the here and now.

Otherworldly views of the frozen coal fields outside the breaker.

Otherworldly views of the frozen coal fields outside the breaker.

Coal dust mingles with snow drifts where the structure is open to the elements.

Coal dust mingles with snow drifts where the structure is open to the elements.

Names scrawled in a dusty control panel.

Names scrawled in a dusty control panel.

Abandoned cemetery in the woods.88 control room in the upper reaches of the breaker.

A control room in the upper reaches of the breaker.

Empty shelves in a maintenance room.

Empty shelves in a maintenance room.

Enormous wooden molds for replacement parts litter this floor.

Enormous wooden molds for replacement parts littered this floor.

St Nicholas Coal Breaker Demolition Will Ellis Abandoned NYC-7

Construction vehicles stalled in the snow, seen through an upper floor of the breaker.

The conveyor, where raw coal began its journey through the breaker's machinery.

The conveyor, where raw coal began its journey through the breaker’s machinery.

Salvaged machinery strewn about the rear of the breaker.

Machinery salvaged from the breaker prior to demolition.

For more history on the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, see the original post:

St. Nicholas Coal Breaker

The St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, pictured in April 2014.

Join Me on a Tour of Dead Horse Bay!

Dead Horse Bay

“Bottle Beach” at Dead Horse Bay, Brooklyn.

What’s Dead Horse Bay?

Beginning in the 1850s, this area of the Brooklyn waterfront served as the final destination for the city’s carriage horses. Horse carcasses were delivered by barge to gigantic bone boiling plants and processed into glue and fertilizer. Following the rise of the automobile and a series of natural disasters, the factories closed down and fell to ruin. What was then a marshy landmass called “Barren Island” was filled in with garbage and connected to mainland Brooklyn. The southern tip of the new peninsula was used as an active landfill from the 1930s to the early 50s.

Over the last 60 years, the man-made beach at Dead Horse Bay has slowly eroded away, and decades’ worth of trash have been gradually excavated from the soil.  At low tide, garbage covers the beach, and the vast majority of it dates back to the 1930s and 40s.  There’s a preponderance of glass, not plastic, bottles.  Some bear the faded trademark of long-lost brand names. Tellingly, most of the toys and trinkets were “Made in the U.S.A.”  Others originated in “Occupied Japan.”

The beach is open to the public as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, and I know that many of you are adventurous enough to visit on your own.  But if you’d prefer a slightly more structured group activity, this tour won’t disappoint.


Familiar brand names among the old bottles.

Some familiar brand names among the old bottles.

What are the transport/parking options getting to the event?

Dead Horse Bay is remote and easy to miss, so we’ll be meeting at a predetermined location in Flatbush that’s easily accessible by subway and taking the bus over together.  You’ll recieve an email with detailed meeting instructions beforehand.  The tour itself will take around two hours, but you can expect to be back at the meeting point 3 hours from the start time.  If you prefer to drive, free parking is available in Floyd Bennett Field, just across the street from the beach.

What can I expect from the tour?

After a short bus ride to the waterfront, we’ll be making a loop through Dead Horse Bay’s natural areas, covering the entire shoreline affected by the breached landfill.  Along the way, I’ll give you an account of the rise and fall of Barren Island’s industrial age, including the plight of the factory workers, the efforts of the “Anti-Barren Island League,” and the story of how the island became infested with 1,000 wild hogs. Then you’re free to explore on your own before we reconvene for an informal “show and tell” where we’ll show off our favorite finds from the day. More info and ticketing available here.

Is it OK to take things from the beach?

While a few might bristle at the thought of removing “artifacts” from Dead Horse Bay, there is no official word on the issue.  A steady stream of artists, crafters, and collectors have been gathering supplies and curios here for years, without much of a reduction in the overall amount of garbage.  Generally, I don’t have a problem with removing things from the beach (I’m certainly guilty of it.)  But since we’ll be visiting as a group, I do want to minimize our impact as much as possible.  I won’t stand in your way if you’d like to take home a bottle or two, but the best policy might be to leave things behind for others to enjoy.

Here’s a few of the best finds I’ve made over the past few years: (Click to enlarge)


Doing Time in the Old Essex County Jail

The Old Essex County Jail (Prints Available)

Many of the most remarkable abandoned buildings loom over their surroundings and dominate the landscape, but Newark’s Old Essex County Jail is barely there. Much of the structure is walled off behind a twelve foot barrier, and all that rises above it is difficult to discern through the overgrowth. On the grounds, the building remains obfuscated, half in ruins and only visible in parts, with an absence of any unifying architectural feature.  Inside, its footprint is no less disorienting, resulting from a series of haphazard additions made at the turn of the 20th century as the jail’s population increased. Unlike the comforting symmetry of asylum wards, the whole disordered mass seems to be governed by a bizarre dream logic, made all the more sinister by the fact that you can’t look the building in the face.

Doorway to the office wing

Doorway to the office wing

The jail is known as a haven for “crackheads,” and it’s absolutely filled with garbage and drug paraphernalia, some old, some new. When I first visited a couple of years ago, we had only been inside for a few minutes when the place started coming to life around us, first clanks and creaks, then voices and shadowy figures walking by in the hallways. It wasn’t my decision to leave that day before we came face to face with anyone, but I didn’t put up much of a fight. As sympathetic as I felt toward these unfortunates, I figured that anyone voluntarily residing in an abandoned prison cell was in a desperate situation with very little to lose.

In some areas, bars had been removed by scrappers.

In some areas, bars had been removed by scrappers.

A shaft between prison blocks held a matrix of toilets, one for each cell.

A shaft between prison blocks held a matrix of toilets, one for each cell.

The original building was constructed in 1837 and planned according to the “Pennsylvania system” of incarceration, which was characterized by solitary confinement and an emphasis on rehabilitation over manual labor and corporal punishment. It’s one of the lesser works of the distinguished British architect John Haviland, who is better known for the revolutionary design of Eastern State Penitentiary. Through the early 1900s the Essex County Jail expanded to a capacity of 300. It was replaced by a new facility in 1970 and subsequently occupied by the county’s Bureau of Narcotics until 1989, when the building was deemed unsafe. In 2001, a catastrophic fire destroyed much of the structure. Reports of the place being inhabited by the homeless go back to the 1990s.

Two years after my first trip to the Essex County Jail, I came back with the resolve to see things through and a new exploring buddy. It had rained overnight and the constant dripping sounded just like footsteps, but otherwise the place seemed deserted. Objects left behind by recent inhabitants overshadowed any artifacts from the building’s early history, with garbage middens clustered in almost every cell. An hour or so in, I had my first anticlimactic encounter with a squatter, who greeted me politely and went about his business. Over the course of the morning, two others walked past me without saying a word. As scary as the place was, there were no monsters or maniacs living here, just a few people looking for a place to be left alone, finding a bleak kind of freedom in the most unlikely of places.

Rickety staircases led up through four stories of cells.

Rickety staircases led up through four stories of cells.

The stench of human waste emanated from a few of the rooms.

The stench of human waste emanated from a few of the rooms.

It was unnerving to wander these rows, not knowing when you might find someone inside.

It was unnerving to wander these rows, not knowing when you might find someone inside.

Designed for a single occupant, each cell held a narrow bed and a toilet.

Designed for a single occupant, each cell held a narrow bed and a toilet.

Approaching an empty cell.

Approaching an empty cell.

An ornate stairway near the staff entrance differed from the stark verticals of the prison interior.

An ornate stairway near the staff entrance differed from the stark verticals of the prison interior.

The Sea View Children’s Hospital

Forested views from a lower floor day room at Seaview Children's Hospital.

Forested views from a lower floor day room at Sea View Children’s Hospital.

At the turn of the twentieth century, tuberculosis was the second leading cause of death in the city and a major world health concern known to disproportionately affect the urban poor. In New York City, two-thirds of the 30,000 afflicted were dependent on city agencies for treatment. Growing concern from charitable organizations spurred the establishment of New York’s first public hospital designed exclusively to treat tuberculosis, care for the “sick, poor, and friendless,” and keep the epidemic under some measure of control by isolating sufferers from general hospitals. If you were diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early 1900s, your prognosis was grim. Lacking a cure, the only treatments thought to ease symptoms were fresh air, rest, sunshine, and good nutrition. A pleasant view was also considered essential for staving off depression. For this reason, hospital planners settled on a privately owned 25-acre hilltop parcel in rural Staten Island called “Ocean View,” just across from the already established New York City Farm Colony.

The plot was surrounded by a vast expanse of forested land (known as the Greenbelt today) which enabled the hospital grounds to expand as necessary. When Sea View Hospital was dedicated on November 12, 1913, the New York Times called it “the largest and finest hospital ever built for the care and treatment of those who suffer from tuberculosis.” The Commissioner of Public Charities claimed it was “a magnificent institution that is vast, ingenious, practical, convenient, sanitary, and beautiful, the greatest hospital ever planned in the world wide fight against the “white plague.”  Though the new facilities effectively eased the suffering of tuberculosis patients and provided housing for the poor, little could be done to actually save lives in the long term. Most eventually succumbed to the disease.

A sapling takes root in the light-filled solarium on the top floor.

Saplings take root in a light-filled solarium on the top floor. (Prints Available)

Two window fixtures had vanished.

Two window fixtures had vanished, offering an unobstructed view of the surrounding woodlands.

Doorway into the open-air pavilions.

Doorway into an open-air pavilion.

Hospital beds, cribs, and equipment left behind in a day room on a lower floor.

Hospital beds, cribs, and equipment left behind in a day room on a lower floor. (Prints Available)

In 1943, the development of the antibiotic streptomycin at Rutgers University led to a series of breakthroughs in the treatment of tuberculosis over the next decade, and much of that research took place at Sea View Hospital.  The enthusiasm over these dramatic developments is captured in a 1952 report by the Department of Hospitals: “Euphoria swept Seaview Hospital.  Patients consigned to death at the hands of the White Plague celebrated a new lease on life by dancing in the halls.”  The transition was swift. By 1961, Sea View’s pavilions were practically emptied as patients miraculously recovered as a result of the new therapies. Today, a long-term care facility operates in several of the buildings and some structures have been repurposed by community agencies and civic groups, but much of the Sea View Hospital campus lies abandoned.

Past a fenced enclosure delineating the active section of the hospital, the grounds give way to the bramble-choked wilds of the Staten Island Greenbelt. The creepy ruins of the old women’s pavilions situated on the northern border are a popular detour on hikes from the neighboring boy scout camp. To the east lies the imposing Children’s Hospital, completed in 1938 and abandoned in 1974.  Its spacious, window-lined solariums are typical of earlier Sea View wards, flanked on either side by open-air porches which were occupied by recovering patients 24 hours a day during the height of the epidemic. In an otherwise clinical Landmarks Preservation Commission report published in 1985, the researcher notes that “the building rises from a deep slope… Wooded surroundings, particularly dense to the east and south of the building, enhance the sense of isolation.”  The view he’s describing is indeed one of New York City’s most surreal (pictured below in 2012).

My first view of the hospital three years ago,

The ominous Children’s Hospital, seen from a hilltop on the grounds of Sea View Hospital.

Reuse of the structure seems extremely unlikely given the large number of abandoned buildings within the active hospital complex that would make better candidates for restoration.  Area conservationists are fighting to keep the surrounding woodlands protected from developers by making it a permanent part of the Greenbelt network of natural areas, and the building itself is nominally protected from demolition as part of Sea View Hospital’s historic district designation. That doesn’t mean that the building won’t serve a purpose as it continues to crumble.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Staten Island teenagers have a long history of voraciously exploring (and vandalizing) their local ruins. With the renovation of the Willowbrook State School in the 1990s, the later demolition of the Staten Island Monastery, and the impending restoration of the New York City Farm Colony, the isolated, under-the-radar Children’s Hospital may be next in line as the site of that requisite rite of passage. Only time will tell.

Passageway to the hospital wing.

There’s little to suggest the building was used exclusively as a children’s hospital in its last years of operation.

Restrooms had windows for observation.

Even the restrooms had windows for observation.

Drifts of plaster piled up near the dark room.

Drifts of plaster pile up on a table outside the darkroom.

An abandoned hospital staple--the upright piano.

The upright piano, an abandoned hospital staple.

“Dixie Cup for Dentures.” The name says it all.

A utility room in the attic held lockers and supplies, mostly empty.

A storage room in the attic had been pillaged.

A steep staircase lead to the upper reaches of the utility floors.

A steep staircase led to the upper reaches of the utility floors.

Lowers floors were boarded up, which always allows for the eeriest light.

Lowers floors were boarded up, which always allows for the eeriest light. (Prints Available)

The last room I came to was the most surprising--a dayroom piled with several feet of hospital records, files, and audio tapes.

The last room I came to was the most surprising–a boarded-up dayroom piled several feet high with hospital records.

9781580934282IN OTHER NEWS… my friend Oriana Leckert‘s book “Brooklyn Spaces” is out this week.  We’re a bit like kindred spirits, Oriana and I, but she goes more for the crowded, lively, and creative than the empty, eerie, and decrepit. The (50!) places profiled in the book show the authentic, human side of the global phenomenon that is “Brooklyn cool,” highlighting the heartfelt endeavors of a wave of culture makers that migrated to the borough for cheap rent and fashioned a network of bustling performance venues, art enclaves, and meeting places out of Brooklyn’s post-industrial landscape.  Her obvious passion for offbeat museums, community gardens, communal living spaces, and out-there artist residencies is beyond infectious. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! And head to what I’m sure will be a raucous, sweaty launch party on May 30th.

Dredging the Archives + May 7th Library Lecture

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-1-3

The spooky Walloomsac Inn in Benington, VT is actually occupied as a private residence.

On Thursday, May 7th at 6:30 PM I’ll be presenting at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library as part of their Author @ the Library series.  This will be the last book talk I’m giving for a while, so if you’ve missed out on past events and would like to attend, now is the time.  The best part is it’s totally free, open to the public, and there’s no need to register or buy a ticket.  Head here for more info.

Since its release at the end of January, the book has gotten a great response, particularly on the world wide web.  For the highlights, check out these bits in The New York Times, Wired, Complex, and Slate, who toured the Jumping Jack Pump House with me and captured it on video back in March.

I have some exciting posts in the works for you, but for now I wanted to share some images from the archive that haven’t been shown here before–places that didn’t warrant a full post for one reason or another, often because I couldn’t get inside, didn’t have time to poke around, or there just wasn’t a lot to see. Some of them are quite interesting nonetheless. Enjoy!

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-3

A striking abandoned house in Searsport, Maine.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-1-4

Sea View Hospital, Staten Island.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-4

La Guardia Men’s Shelter in Chester, New York…

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-9

…plenty of peeling paint inside, but not much else.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-5

Ruined house in the Hudson Valley.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-8

Raccoon peering into an abandoned asylum ward at Kings Park, LI.

Abandoned natural gas silos in Rossville, Staten Island.

These mammoth LNG storage tanks in Rossville, SI were abandoned immediately after construction.

Abandoned motel near Yosemite National Park.

Ghost motel near Yosemite National Park.

San Francisco's Fort Point. (not abandoned)

San Francisco’s Fort Point. (not abandoned)

Abandoned house in Queens.

An abandoned house in Queens, now demolished.

Brooklyn Navy Yard

A well-preserved surgeon’s residence at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-6

An abandoned carriage house in Newport, RI locals call “the Bells.”

Murder in Mariner’s Marsh

Abandoned car in a pit

Mariner’s Marsh, on Staten Island’s North Shore.

At a bend in Staten Island’s North Shore where the Arthur Kill gives way to the Kill van Kull, there’s a strange, desolate landscape that’s equal parts industrial wasteland and pristine wilderness.  Here, an array of factories and freight lines are enveloped by a network of streams, swamps, ponds, and salt marshes, with place names like “Howland Hook” and “Old Place Creek” that wouldn’t feel out of place in a pirate story.

Mariner’s Marsh makes up 107 acres of the area, buffering a dense residential neighborhood from the sprawling New York Container Terminal with a wide expanse of green. Having endured a brief period of industrial use followed by 75 years of abandonment, the resulting wilderness is characterized by the vine-covered relics of factories that thrived on the spot 100 years ago. Even the Parks Department’s official signage describes the landscape as “eerie.” But the text rightfully avoids its darkest chapter, when in 1976 the tragic final act of a forbidden teenage love affair played out among the ruins of Mariner’s Marsh.

Ruin Bridge

A trail leads walkers under an old concrete structure.

The ruins date back to the early 20th century, when the land was occupied by the Milliken Brother’s Structural Iron Works.  Later, the foundry was converted to Downey’s Shipyard, which manufactured war ships, among other vessels.  The factories closed down in the 1940s and have sat abandoned to this day. Wood components of the buildings have completely rotted away, but concrete pylons, pits, and passages remain.  As the buildings deteriorated, the landscape transformed. Today, the former shipyard’s ten man-made basins function as reedy freshwater ponds. Elsewhere, the topography varies from pine and poplar forests to vine-gnarled swamps where wildlife and rare plants thrive.

Bird Blind

A weathered birdwatching blind.

Doll Head

The requisite creepy doll head.

Mariner’s Marsh was acquired by the Parks Department in 1997, but it’s been “closed to the public during environmental investigation” for nearly a decade.  The investigation in question took place in 2006 under the direction of the EPA, which found that a small area of the park contained a high concentration of hazardous materials stemming from its industrial age. Though it appears that some work has been done on the spot, it’s not clear when the park will reopen.  In the meantime, warning signs haven’t stopped neighbors and dedicated bird watchers from enjoying it.  Trails are well-defined and the area is relatively free of garbage, despite the presence of some larger debris.  The east side of Downey Pond is dotted with abandoned hot rods from another era.

Vine Car

One of the park’s many abandoned cars.

Marooned in the marsh

An overturned vehicle marooned in a swamp east of Downey Pond.

Long before Staten Island’s industrial boom, the Lenape Indians camped here to take advantage of the nearby wetlands, where shellfish were plentiful.  Remnants of the wetlands are still visible across Forest Avenue in Arlington Marsh, which is home to some of the last stretches of healthy salt marsh in New York City.  Acquiring it was a major coup for the Parks Department, which plans to keep the 55 acres wild. Here, ghostly remnants of long-forgotten piers and burned out vessels seem oddly in sync with the tidal rhythms of the natural world. At low tide, a boat graveyard comes to the surface in an adjacent cove, where native cordgrass and mussel beds take root in the old hulls of 19th century sailing ships.

Arlington Marsh

An expanse of pilings that once supported massive factory docks.

Oyster Beds

Oyster beds in the hull of a long-abandoned ship.

Old Ship

Fragment of a sailboat at Arlington Marsh.

This post would’ve ended there if I hadn’t come upon a mention of the 1976 murder of Susan Jacobson in connection with the area. Though the scene of the crime is never referred to as Mariner’s Marsh, the description is unmistakable in a New York Times article published in 2011, which begins:

“The 16-year-old boy had settled on a plan on how to kill his girlfriend. There was a blighted section on the north shore of Staten Island called Port Ivory, overgrown coastline facing the industrial banks of New Jersey. The land was pocked with holes leading to small underground rooms, like bunkers.

This abandoned lot was the last thing a 14-year-old girl named Susan Jacobson ever saw as she climbed down into one of those holes with her boyfriend, Dempsey Hawkins, on May 15, 1976. “

In the ruins

Ruins of a system of rails that closely match a description of the murder site.

Included in the article is a scan of a handwritten letter from Hawkins to the reporter in which he details an idyllic romance with Jacobson that ends abruptly following an abortion. In the final paragraph, he goes on, “In came 1976 and the insanity and the whole painful mess I am about to relate succinctly simply because it’s disturbing.  I strangled Susan and concealed her body in a metal barrel in a wooded area across from a Proctor and Gamble factory on Staten Island.

Two years passed before her remains were discovered by a boy playing in the tunnels. He had assumed they were dog bones until a friend spotted Susan’s tennis shoes. Hawkins, now 55, was denied parole for the eighth time in 2012 despite a history of good behavior behind bars. Parole commissioners have repeatedly taken issue with what occurred immediately after the crime. On multiple occasions, Hawkins himself participated in search parties for the missing girl, knowing all the while precisely where the body was hidden.


Icicles stretch into the darkness of the tunnel as vines spiral toward the light.

The tunnel

An arched passageway near the scene of the crime.

Book-Related Events Coming Up:

  • Brooklyn Brainery, April 15th 8:30-10:00, $7 (Sold Out)
  • Dead Horse Bay, May 2nd, @ 12:45 I’ll be leading a walking tour of one of my favorite places in NYC with Untapped Cities
  • Mid-Manhattan Library, May 7th, 6:30-8:00 PM, Free!

Inside the Brooklyn Army Terminal

The Brooklyn Army Terminal's Building B stretches toward the horizon.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal’s Building B stretches toward the horizon.

Let me be the first to point out that the Brooklyn Army Terminal is far from abandoned. It’s actually one of the most vibrant hubs of industry remaining on a Brooklyn waterfront that was once dominated by factories, warehouses, and refineries, many of which have fallen into decay or been renovated into luxury condos.  Along with the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the neighboring Bush Terminal, and nearby Industry City, the Army Terminal is proving every day that industry can not only survive, but thrive, on the Brooklyn waterfront.

I’m often asked why abandoned buildings in New York aren’t just turned into housing for the homeless, offered up to local artists, or repurposed as museums, and the truth is it’s never, ever that simple.  But here’s an example of a historic building that has been painstakingly brought back from the brink of decay–over a period of 35 years with $150 million in public and private investment–to become a viable source of job creation.  Luckily, the Brooklyn Army Terminal has managed to retain a palpable connection to its history, and in some areas, a pleasing patina of decay in keeping with its old age.

At almost 100 acres, the property covers the length of several city blocks.

At almost 100 acres, the property covers the length of several city blocks.

The Terminal was the largest concrete building in the world at the time it was built.

The Terminal was the largest concrete building in the world at the time it was built.

Overall, the structure reflects the austerity and efficiency one might expect given its military origins, and sure enough, nearly every architectural embellishment turns out to serve a practical purpose.  Seemingly decorative studs lining the top of the facade actually function as a simple but effective drainage system for the roof.  It’s a testament to the genius of its architect that such a utilitarian building can attain such elegance.  The designer, Cass Gilbert, is best known for masterminding some of New York’s most beautiful and ornate structures, like the iconic Woolworth Building or the majestic Customs House, not to mention the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

The construction of the Brooklyn Army Terminal began in 1918 under the direction of the federal government, with the goal of establishing a more efficient means of dispatching supplies and personnel to military fronts around the world.  The four million sq ft complex of warehouses, offices, piers, and railroads was built over a period of only 17 months.  Though the First World War had ended by the time the structure was completed, the Terminal proved indispensable during WWII, employing over 20,000 military personnel and civilians.  It acted as the headquarters of the New York Port of Embarkation, which collectively moved 3.2 million troops and 37 million tons of supplies to army outposts around the globe during the war. Hundreds of thousands of men passed through the terminal on their way to serve overseas, arriving by trains that dropped them off a few paces from the ramps of outgoing ships. The most famous visitor was Elvis Presley, who stayed longer than most, holding a press conference in front of a crowd of photographers, reporters, and fans before embarking on an 18 month tour of Germany in 1958. He had been drafted the previous year.

Restoration is progressing on a previously abandoned admin building.

Restoration is progressing on a previously abandoned admin building.

A bathroom mirror and friendly reminder were left behind in the gutted interior.

A bathroom mirror and friendly reminder left behind in the gutted interior.

Utility room on the roof of the annex.

Utility room on the roof of the annex.

The Terminal’s design was easily adapted to a variety of uses in peace time.  During prohibition, it warehoused confiscated liquor from NYC speakeasies, and after the facility was decommissioned in 1966, the USPS moved operations into the ground floor following a fire in a prominent Manhattan branch.  But through much of the 60s and 70s, the facility fell into a period of decay and decline.  Ownership transferred to the city of New York in 1981, and the monumental task of restoring the structure for modern industrial use began in earnest when the NYC Economic Development Corporation stepped in to manage the building.

The job was split into discrete stages, tackling one section of the massive complex at a time.  An upcoming renovation project dubbed “Phase 5” will complete the restoration of the two largest structures by revitalizing the last 500,000 sq ft of Building A, thanks to a $100 million dollar grant from the De Blasio administration announced last May.  Today the leasable space boasts a 99% occupancy rate, with a diverse list of tenants including furniture builders, jewelry makers, and chocolatiers.

If you’re lucky enough to pay a visit, the highlight of the trip is Building B’s jaw-dropping atrium. (It’s generally closed to the public, but Turnstile Tours and Untapped Cities offer regular guided tours.) Freight cars would pull directly into the building and unload supplies with a five ton moveable crane that traveled the atrium from end to end, spanning the length of three football fields. Now the area serves as a walkway for tenants, and loading docks have been repurposed as balconies and container gardens. Recently, the location has been wildly popular for film and photo shoots, which is no surprise. It’s one of the most remarkable interiors in all of New York City.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal Atrium.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal Atrium.

Loading platforms were staggered to allow the cranes to access each level.

Loading platforms were staggered to allow the crane to access each level.

Vintage LIRR trains marooned on the tracks are just for show.

Vintage LIRR trains marooned on the tracks are just for show.

Platforms and railroad tracks run the length of the atrium.

Platforms and railroad tracks run the length of the atrium.

The glass ceiling was removed in the 1980s due to the high cost of maintenance.

A glass ceiling was removed in the 1980s due to the high cost of maintenance.

Afternoon light penetrates the west wall of the atrium.

Afternoon light penetrates the west wall of the atrium.

Book stuff is starting to wind down, but I do have a couple events on the horizon for anyone interested in attending.  As always, you can pick up a signed copy directly through me at this website, it’s the best way to support what I do.

Coming Up:

  • Brooklyn Brainery, April 15th 8:30-10:00, $7 (Sold Out)
  • Mid-Manhattan Library, May 7th, 6:30-8:00, Free!

Inside the Jumping Jack Power Plant

The second floor

The main floor of the “Jumping Jack Pump House”

Lately the lack of abandoned buildings in the five boroughs has had me ruin-hunting on the distant shores of New Jersey and the Hudson River Valley. But all the while there was something incredible hiding in plain sight just a ten minute walk from my apartment.  Just when it seems there is nothing left to find, this city will surprise you.  

I had admired the building for some time, having first spotted it on a walk around my neighborhood a year or two ago.  It was obviously some long-forgotten industrial relic, with a rather plain, but towering, facade. I had never heard of the place and could only find a single picture of it on the world wide web, with nothing of the interior. It seemed, at the time, that this could be one of the exceedingly rare “undiscovered” abandoned buildings in New York City. Who knew what it might look like inside?  Most likely an empty shell, I thought, or else I would have heard of it.

Not quite an

Not quite an “empty shell.”

It lingered long in my daydreams through the coming months, but I never attempted to stop in until December, when out of the blue I found myself walking in the direction of that mysterious building, camera and flashlight in hand. Inside, I couldn’t make out much at all but a collapsing ceiling and a floor padded with decades of rust and grime. I went looking for a way to the next level, finding several impassible staircases before settling on one that was relatively intact.  Upstairs, I treaded over some rickety catwalks and continued into the main room.

With coal crunching underfoot, I gazed up at the grand four-story gallery of rusted machinery before me. It was likely about a century old, gleaming orange in its old age, scattered here and there with flecks of sunlight cast through the broken windowpanes on the south side of the hall.  A hulking configuration of steel beams suspended over all, looking unmistakably like a man doing a jumping jack. Its actual function remains a mystery to me.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-1

The “jumping jack man.”

Judging by the amount of graffiti, I wasn’t even close to being the first person to find this place, and others have informed me that it’s fairly well-known among diehard explorers.  After some careful inspection, it appears that some (though not all) of the graffiti is quite old, I’d guess from the late 70s and 80s judging by the style, and the way in which it has aged, rusting or peeling away with underlying layers of paint and metal.

Paper records from inside the building point to the year 1963 as the last time the plant was in operation.  My theory is that the building had been abandoned and left pretty vulnerable to trespassers for a couple of decades before being sealed up tightly some time in the 80s or 90s.  Until recently, it’s been relatively untouched since those days, making it something of a time capsule of a grittier New York.  Prior to being secured, part of the ground floor was apparently used as a chop shop. An abandoned and gutted automobile  had been walled in at some point, entombed like a mosquito in amber on the ground floor.

I can only speculate about what the building was actually used for. My guess would be a coal-burning power plant of some kind, though some artifacts refer to a “pump house.”  (UPDATE: These records seem to refer to a separate building, which is still standing a few blocks away. In light of this, I’ve changed the name of this post to “Jumping Jack Power Plant” from “Jumping Jack Pump House”) I could tell you a bit more about its history but I don’t want to give away too much. “Undiscovered” or not, this place is still pretty under the radar, and I’d like to keep it that way for now.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-9

A gutted car in the ground floor chop shop.

Flooded pit

A flooded section of the lower level.

A submerged boiler

A boiler submerged in a 10-ft pile of coal.

Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_Jumping Jack Pump House-14

A corroded staircase.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-6

Hallway leading to the locker room.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-7

The locker room was heavily tagged.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-5

Detail of the control panel.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-8

Desolate waterfront views through a broken window.

This guy

A heartfelt thank you goes out to everyone who’s picked up a copy of my book, and for all of your thoughtful comments.

If you haven’t gotten yours yet, you can head over to abandonednycbook.com to order a signed copy and a free print directly from me, which is the best way to support what I do.  (You can also get them on Amazon if you want to save a few bucks.)

It was so great meeting some of you at my Red Room talk last week. If you couldn’t make it to that one, you can still stop by one of these events this month and get your book that way.  Hope to see you there!

  • February 18th at Morbid Anatomy Museum (tickets here)
  • February 23rd at Manhasset Public Library
  • February 25th at WeWork Soho (tickets here)

Enter your email address to follow AbandonedNYC and receive new posts by email.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,413 other followers

%d bloggers like this: