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abandoned places

staten island

This tag is associated with 5 posts

A Last Look Inside a Demolished Staten Island Castle

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In its final years, the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Smith Infirmary looked like the quintessential haunted house.

For 124 years, a castle with many names loomed over the quiet neighborhood of Thompkinsville, Staten Island. Perched on a six-acre hilltop covered in creeping vines, the striking red brick chateau could have been the backdrop of a fairy tale until thirty years of neglect made it the perfect setting for a Gothic horror. On an early March morning in 2012 while most of the island slept, wrecking balls converged at the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Samuel R. Smith Infirmary. In a matter of hours, the hospital was brought to the ground. Dozens gathered to watch her fall.

Smith Infirmary

The stately Infirmary in its youth.

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In 2011, the weight of winter snow caused the roof of the building to cave in. The same year, Hurricane Irene caused further damage, dashing any hope of saving the structure.

Today, the rubble-strewn lot is a symbol of lost history and lost hope for members of the Preservation League of Staten Island and their supporters, whose passionate and repeated efforts to save the building did little to sway the resolve of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. City engineers who inspected the structure confirmed that the building was in a state of progressive collapse, and would have proven a hazard to firefighters entering the building in the event of a blaze.

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Some elements were salvaged prior to demolition.

Named for a doctor who dedicated his life to the treatment of the poor, the Samuel R. Smith Infirmary was founded in 1863 as the borough’s first private hospital. Principally funded by lavish charity balls, the organization was the pet project of the borough’s high society, known as the “Pride of Staten Island.” By the turn of the twentieth century, the Infirmary had outgrown its former home, and the cornerstone was laid for a new building, named the Frost Memorial Tower in honor of the wealthy benefactor who had gifted the hilly plot of land. It was destined to become one of Staten Island’s stateliest buildings.

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A band of sunlight illuminates a doorway to ghostly effect.

Though the Smith Infirmary was established for the poor, it soon opened its doors to the general public and was renamed Staten Island Hospital in 1916. Many notable actors, lawyers, and political figures were treated there, among more mysterious cases. In 1907, an Infirmary doctor was murdered by the husband of a former patient who had passed away during an operation. The damning evidence that led to the man’s execution is still visible in Cypress Hills Cemetery. On his wife’s grave is the following epitaph: “Revenge renews our happy love in heaven forever.”

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This grand staircase was the interior’s most striking feature.

By 1974, the once-rural land surrounding the complex had become densely populated, leaving little room for expansion. At the time, one hundred patients were waiting daily for admission, and parking had become a serious problem. The campus was abandoned in 1979 when the hospital relocated to a new building on Seaview Avenue.

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By the turn of the 21st century, the property had accrued millions of dollars in tax liens, falling into an irreversible state of disrepair.

In 1983, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate the Smith Infirmary’s signature building despite its architectural and historical significance. In what had become a rough neighborhood, the derelict hospital quickly gained a reputation for illicit activities, and landmark status was likely to hamper redevelopment. The land was targeted early on for a series of residential development schemes that never came to fruition. As the building deteriorated, the property became a hotbed of real estate fraud and a haven for the neighborhood homeless, but many held fond feelings for the structure—locals called it “the Castle.”

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At the time the infirmary was built, corners were thought to harbor germs, so many hospital rooms were designed with circular walls.

Through 33 years of abandonment, the degraded walls, slumping ceilings, and precarious floors of the Infirmary were utterly devastated by the elements. The smell of mold and rot permeated the interior. Wind blustered through its second floor landing, causing boards and debris to smack and rattle at odd intervals. These were the dying breaths of a squandered architectural treasure. Rest in pieces, Staten Island Castle.

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Where a ceiling had collapsed on the top floor, walls gave way to open sky amid a mass of broken beams.

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Wandering Fort Wadsworth

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Battery Weed looms over a desolate shoreline in Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island.

At the easternmost tip of Staten Island, a natural promontory thrusts over the seething Narrows of the New York Harbor, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. The site’s geography most recently made it a prime location for the Verrazano Bridge, but its history as a popular scenic overlook and strategic defense post dates back to the birth of the nation. The British had occupied the area during the Revolutionary War, and its first permanent structures were built by the state of New York in the early 1800s. These fortifications safeguarded the New York Harbor during the War of 1812, but were abandoned shortly thereafter. So began the familiar cycle of ruin and rebirth that characterizes the history of Fort Wadsworth.

By the mid-19th century, these early structures had fallen into an attractive state of decay. In a time when all of Staten Island held a romantic appeal as an escape from the burgeoning industrialism of New York City, Fort Wadsworth in particular was known for its dramatic terrain, sweeping views of the harbor, and evocative old buildings. Herman Melville described the scene in 1839:

“…on the right hand side of the Narrows as you go out, the land is quite high; and on top of a fine cliff is a great castle or fort, all in ruins, and with trees growing round it… It was a beautiful place, as I remembered it, and very wonderful and romantic, too…On the side away from the water was a green grove of trees, very thick and shady and through this grove, in a sort of twilight you came to an arch in the wall of the fort…and all at once you came out into an open space in the middle of the castle. And there you would see cows grazing…and sheep clambering among the mossy ruins…Yes, the fort was a beautiful, quiet, and charming spot. I should like to build a little cottage in the middle of it, and live there all my life.”

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Under the Verazzano Bridge.

The “castle” was demolished to make way for new fortifications constructed as part of the Third System of American coastal defense, known as Battery Weed and Fort Thompkins today. The batteries remain the fort’s most impressive and unifying structures, but they too were deemed obsolete as early as the 1870s due to advances in weaponry, and were used for little more than storage by the 1890s. At the turn of the 20th century, Fort Wadsworth entered yet another phase of military construction under the Endicott Board, when the United States made a nationwide effort to rethink and rebuild its antiquated coastal defenses. Like its predecessors, the Endicott batteries never saw combat, and were essentially abandoned after World War I.

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Inside a powder room of Battery Catlin.

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A squatter’s unmade bed in the back of the structure.

Though Fort Wadsworth was occupied by the military in various capacities until 1995, its defense structures went unused for most of the 20th century. By the 1980s, woods and invasive vines had covered areas that were once open fields, and Battery Weed was living up to its name, overtaken by mature trees and overgrowth. Since Fort Wadsworth was incorporated into the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1995, its major Third System forts (Battery Weed and Fort Thompkins) have been well maintained and properly secured, and upland housing and support buildings have been occupied by the Coast Guard, Army Reserve, and Park Police. But the headlands still retain an air of abandonment, due in large part to the condition of the Endicott Batteries, which remain off-limits to the public.

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Over five of these batteries are scattered across the grounds, all in various states of disrepair.

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The Endicott Batteries are filled with narrow, windowless rooms, tomblike hollows, and underground shafts.

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Their military blandness stands out in contrast to the grace and grandeur of the fort’s earlier structures deemed worthy of preservation.

Layers of history peel back like an onion at Fort Wadsworth, as evidenced by a new discovery just unearthed by Hurricane Sandy. The storm caused a section of a cliff to collapse, downing several large trees and exposing the entrance to a previously unknown battery. Its vaulted granite construction places it firmly in the Third System, which means it was built around the time of the Civil War. Very little is known about the structure, except that it’s the only one of its kind at Fort Wadsworth. My best guess traces its partial construction to the 1870s, when Congress left many casemated fortifications unfinished by refusing to grant additional funding.

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A previously unknown granite battery, possibly dating back to the Civil War, was unearthed by Hurricane Sandy.

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Large mounds of soil block the interior of the battery from view.

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They’d been sifted through ventilation shafts in the ceiling over decades of burial.

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Over the mound, the vaulted structure leads deeper into the ground.

To my disappointment, the next room came to a dead end, and to my horror, it was crawling with hundreds of cave crickets. These blind half spider/half cricket monstrosities pass their time in the darkest, dampest, most inhospitable environments, and are known for devouring their own legs when they’re hungry. They give perspective to the level of isolation of this chamber, which likely stood underground for over a century.

What other mysteries still lie buried in the lunging cliffs of Fort Wadsworth, or the depths of this forgotten battery? The dirt may well conceal deeper rooms and darker discoveries…

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Cave crickets in the deepest room of the forgotten battery.

Special thanks to Johnnie for the tip! Get in touch if you know of a historic, abandoned, or mysterious location in the five boroughs that’s worth exploring.

For more of New York’s neglected military sites, check out Fort Totten:

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

Bayley Seton Hospital: Part II

Flooded Hall

Flooded Hall.

I wasn’t able to track down any information on the function of this obscure outbuilding of the Bayley Seton Hospital complex in Stapleton, SI.  The austere, three-story edifice is the only abandoned structure within the active section of Bayley Seton, situated on the northeast corner of the grounds behind the main building.  The rest are fenced off and awaiting demolition after being sold to make way for a new development—it’s likely that this building may hang on for a bit longer.

For a detailed history of Bayley Seton Hospital, refer to my last post on the Nurses’ Residence.

If you have any information on this building, please enlighten me in the comments below.

Flooded Basement Bayley Seton

My favorite room in Bayley Seton Hospital.

Another view of the Utility Room. This door fell out of the wall when I tried to open it.

Dark Hallway Bayley Seton

Evening light penetrates a dark hallway.

Room with Block Windows

A crumbling passageway.

Bayley Seton Hospital Outbuilding

The floor of this room was covered with a rank, pulpy, mush—apparently the remains of ceiling panels that had gone to rot.

Glass Block Hallway Bayley Seton

Glass block windows installed on the first floor.

Fallen Furniture in Bayley Seton

One of several pieces of furniture remaining in the building.

Bayley Seton Toilet

A toilet with a strange weighted contraption.

Examination Chair

An examination chair tucked away in the stairwell.

$10 Sexy Time

Graffiti in the building was minimal, but this bit stood out.

Bayley Seton Hospital Building Exterior

The building at sunset, just before a security guard asked me to leave…

The Bayley Seton Hospital Nurses’ Residence

Inside Bayley Seton Hospital

Inside the Bayley Seton Hospital Nurses’ Residence

A floundering medical complex sits on a 20-acre campus in Stapleton on the North Shore of Staten Island.  Today, eight of Bayley Seton Hospital’s twelve buildings lie abandoned, the largest being the old Nurses’ Residence at its southeast corner.

The grounds of BSH house Staten Island’s first hospital, an historic colonnaded structure built in the 1830s to serve ailing retired naval and merchant sailors, appropriately named “the Seamen’s Retreat.”  Change came to the site in 1858 when a mob of 30-40 prominent locals attacked and burned down the Port of New York Quarantine Hospital, located a mile north of the Retreat.  Though this horrific incident was incensed by an outbreak of yellow fever the locals blamed on the nearby hospital, flagrant racism was most likely a factor—recent immigrants made up the majority of the hospital’s population.

Some of the quarantine station’s services were transferred to areas of what is now Bayley Seton Hospital, and placed under the jurisdiction of the Marine Hospital Service, which by 1885 controlled the entire complex, and by 1902 had been renamed the US Public Health Service.  In the 1930s, President Roosevelt started a campaign to revitalize The Public Health Service Hospitals, resulting in the construction of the main seven-story art-deco building and its offshoot Nurses’ Residence, a winged four-story structure on the southeast corner of the property.

Bayley Seton Postcard

The Nurses’ Residence (right,) pictured with the larger main building (left.)

The hospital was sold to the Sisters of Charity of New York, a Catholic healthcare organization, in 1980.   At this point the U.S. Health Service Hospital was renamed after Sisters’ founder Elizabeth Seton and her father Richard Bayley (who coincidentally once headed the ill-fated Thompkinsville Quarantine Hospital.)  Under the Sisters of Charity, the hospital was predominantly used to treat mental disorders and substance abuse, and continues to fulfill this role today, albeit at a greatly diminished capacity.

In 2000, The Sisters of Charity turned over Bayley Seton to the related Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center, which faced financial troubles at the Stapleton campus from the beginning.  Over half of its services were suspended and the hospital fell into an inexorable decline.  Plans to close Bayley Seton emerged in 2004 as Saint Vincent’s, once the largest Catholic Health organization in New York, filed for bankruptcy with a debt of over a billion dollars.  At some point during this tumultuous period (artifacts point to the building last being inhabited in 2002,) the former Nurses’ Residence, which had most recently been used as a New York addiction treatment facility, was abandoned as part of an ongoing series of downsizings and closures.

Gutted Bayley Seton Hospital Room

One of many gutted rooms, beginning to show signs of age.

In 2009, The Salvation Army settled on a 7.6 million dollar deal to purchase 7 acres of BSH.  Originally, plans called for the construction of a 120,000 square-foot community center in the footstep of the Nurses’ Residence, set to begin in 2011, followed by a two-year period to terminate Bayley Seton’s remaining services, after which the main building would also be converted into senior housing.  If it’s ever built, the center will be one of 30 similar complexes across the country funded by a 1.5 billion dollar endowment by the late Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.  The Salvation Army failed to raise the 25 million needed to cover the difference between its cut of the Kroc endowment and the projected cost of construction, and ground has yet to be broken.

The Kroc Center

The Kroc Center in a 2007 rendering.

Twelve foot chain link fences have been placed along the perimeter of the Salvation Army property, but the site is otherwise untouched.  Fenced-off and boarded-up, the Nurses’ Home ages in secret.  Walls molt through layers of colored paint under tumbledown ceilings.  The unrecognizable contents of a half-dozen milk cartons fester in a neglected refrigerator.  An upright piano keeps mum in an empty common room while activity slows to a trickle on the rest of the Bayley Seton Hospital campus.  Here and there, artifacts remain—painted crafts, motivational posters, hand-drawn cartoons—evoking the human element of the hospital’s better days.  With its subtle architectural charms, the Nurses’ Residence has little hope of being saved from the wrecking ball, (though a few conservationists are out to change that.)  Those in power seem to agree—despite centuries of convoluted history, it’s time to pull the plug on Bayley Seton Hospital.

For more photos of Bayley Seton Hospital’s abandonments, go on to PART II.

Bayley Seton Hospital Main Entrance

The main entrance.

Bayley Seton Hospital Professional Services

Lettering here once pointed out the “Professional Services” office.

Bayley Seton Hospital Kitchen

A kitchen on the top floor in the early stages of decay.

Spoiled Milk

The contents of a staff-only refrigerator left long after their expiration dates.

Abandoned Piano in Bayley Seton

This piano wasn’t worth the difficulty in transporting it.

Fallen Ceiling

Cheap ceilings crumble in the reception area.

Reception Window Bayley Seton

Fluorescent fixtures dangle by the reception window.

Moldy Walls Bayley Seton Hospital

Mold spreads on the walls of a first floor residence.

Dark Corridor Bayley Seton

Another creepy hallway of the former Nurses’ Home.

Bayley Seton Artifact

“Invest in yourself, Share your pain”

Arts and Crafts

Arts and Crafts

Nurses Home Exterior

An exterior view of the abandoned Nurses’ Home as it stands today.

A Watery Grave for Historic Ships on Staten Island

Staten Island Boat Graveyard

Wooden Shipwreck at Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard.

Do you know how to get to Staten Island’s most remarkable graveyard?  First pass through a centuries-old roadside cemetery, (consisting of a handful of horribly eroded grave markers).  Follow a barely there garbage-strewn path down to the marshy Arthur Kill (kill is the Dutch word for creek, which explains why creepy names like “Fresh Kills” abound in the Dutch-settled Hudson River Valley.)  Once your feet are sinking a few inches into the mud with every step, you’ll start seeing the boats.  Some over a century old, steam vessels, warships, ferries, fireboats, the final vestiges of New York’s shipping era, doomed to die here in a catastrophically polluted Staten Island waterway.  Welcome to the Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard.

Arthur Kill Marsh by Night

Secluded path from the cemetery down to the Arthur Kill.

Operational since the 1930s, Witte’s Marine Equipment company in Rossville served to dredge, salvage, and resell materials from the wrecked and disused vessels of the New York and New Jersey waterways.  Eccentric owner John J. Witte refused to dismantle the majority of the ships that came to rest in the yard, amassing a prodigious collection of over 400 historic watercraft.  As the ships slowly decomposed and the area gained a reputation as a mecca for artists and photographers, Witte gained his own reputation as a ferocious defender of his property, known for scaring off unsolicited visitors personally until he passed away in 1980.  The yard is now controlled by the Donjon Marine Company, which seems to be taking a more proactive approach to actually salvaging materials from the wrecks and keeping the curious out, erecting 12-foot metal walls around the perimeter of the yard with signs prohibiting any and all photography.

The walls presented an obstacle, but after several muddy minutes I made it to the Arthur Kill Shore.  Though the shipyard had lost most of its former glory, the remaining 20-40 wrecks were still an eldritch sight to behold—half submerged in years of muck, leaning at odd angles, corroded in streaks of rust, putrefying elbow to elbow with massive skeleton hulls.  These wade out their final days in the boneyard before being stripped and recycled into automobiles and refrigerators.  So see them while you can, if you dare, what was once the city’s premiere collection of nautical artifacts is sinking fast.

Rotting Hulls in Arthur Kill

Rotting hulls jut from their shallow graves at the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard.

Rusty Boats at Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard

Rusty Boats pile up on the shore.

Rusty Machinery in the Staten Island Boat Graveyard

Oxidized machinery adorns this decaying watercraft.

Staten Island Ship Graveyard

A salvaged wheelhouse moulders in the marsh.

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