//
explore
Abandoned, Historic, Hospitals, Overgrown

Getting Lost on North Brother Island

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_06

A tuberculosis pavilion crowns the treetops of North Brother Island like an Aztec ruin.

Most New Yorkers have never heard of North Brother Island, but they should take comfort in the fact that new trees are growing and manmade things are going by the wayside just a stone’s throw from Rikers and a few miles from LaGuardia Airport. New York City’s abandoned island proves that as much as we think we have a handle on things, nature is never far behind. Just give it time.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_23

Many of the older structures are splitting at the seams, but there’s little hope or interest in preserving them.

In the case of North Brother Island, it took fifty years to transform a sparsely planted hospital campus to a bona fide wildlife sanctuary surging with fresh green life. Established as a city hospital for quarantinable diseases in 1885, it became a disreputable rehab center for adolescent drug addicts prior to its abandonment in the 1960s. To add to the intrigue, the island was the site of a catastrophic shipwreck and the residence of the notorious Typhoid Mary. (For a detailed history of Riverside Hospital, see Ian Ference’s thorough account over at the Kingston Lounge.) Today, opportunistic ivy floods the old lawns and races up the corners of the dormitories. Elsewhere, invasive kudzu—a Japanese import—holds at least an acre of land in its leafy grip. Few animals roam this untrodden landscape, with the exception of a handful of raccoons that took a dip in the East River and discovered the greenest place around.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_22

An airplane takes off from nearby LaGuardia airport with a gantry crane in view.

Even though it’s one of the least inhabited places in New York City, you can still find pathways on North Brother Island.  Parks employees and occasional visitors leave a network of rabbit trails on the forest floor, but they taper off on the south side, where a few ruins beckon you further into the weeds. I trudged through the brush for over an hour only to end up right back where I started, and it wouldn’t be the last time I was forced to admit defeat to the thorny wilds of Riverside Hospital. The island plays tricks on you, but it’s liberating to lose your way.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_12

Surrealism made doubly surreal in a patient mural.

In order to protect the habitat and visitors from harm, North Brother Island is permanently closed to the public, and strictly off-limits during nesting season. Frequently patrolled due to its vicinity to Rikers, it’s known as one of the most difficult places in New York City to get to, which makes it an object of equal frustration and fascination for urban explorers near and far. (I was lucky enough to accompany a photographer with a long relationship with the Parks Department and a buddy with a boat—one or both are pretty essential if you’re trying to get here.)

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_03

The largest and most intriguing book I’ve ever seen was filled with the most mundane details.

If you never make it to North Brother Island, take heart in the fact that it’s best appreciated from afar, where distance allows the imagination to fill in the obscured reaches beneath its canopy and populate the crumbling towers visible on its shore. An abandoned island is the most natural thing in the world to romanticize, but in the light of day, the enigma dissolves. As menacing as the old buildings may appear, they’re ultimately indifferent.

But at day’s end, the sun slips low on the horizon and the ruins of Riverside Hospital begin to gleam. Our boat departs just as the light approaches a kind of golden splendor before winking into darkness. Receding from view as you near Barretto Point at sunset, North Brother Island regains a bit of its mystery. Come to think of it, no one’s ever been permitted to go there after dark…

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_01

Green leaves and blue skies illuminate a crumbling auditorium with jewel tones.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_07

Inside the tuberculosis pavilion.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_08

Metal barricades in an isolation room kept residents from breaking the windows.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_09

Most of the hospital’s glass fixtures had been vandalized…

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_13

…but the island exhibits a near-complete lack of graffiti.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_15

A spiral staircase in the former Nurses’ Residence.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_18

Walls were stripped to their skeletons in this dormitory.

No floors

A doorway holds steady in a collapsed section of the Nurses’ Home, where a few saplings have taken root.


 

 


Discussion

19 thoughts on “Getting Lost on North Brother Island

  1. It reminds me of Jurassic Park III. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    Like

    Posted by Claude | 10-9-13., 1:39 pm
  2. WOW! Best yet.

    Like

    Posted by ellis3000 | 10-9-13., 2:27 pm
  3. Always enjoy your adventures to lost worlds. Better you than me.

    Like

    Posted by kqduane | 10-9-13., 6:58 pm
  4. Thanks so much….I have been waiting anxiously for your next post. This is fascinating and the photos are great…many thanks

    Like

    Posted by Frank | 10-9-13., 7:03 pm
  5. Wow – great pics, thanks for your efforts !

    Like

    Posted by John Tringham | 10-10-13., 6:05 am
  6. How can I be part of the trip there?

    If you’re not taking pictures, then you’re not taking pictures.

    >

    Like

    Posted by Tom Komp | 10-10-13., 8:54 pm
  7. I know that, in my next trip to New York, this location will be part of my todo list. Thank you for the discovery 🙂

    Like

    Posted by Helena Toscano Photography | 10-26-13., 7:52 am
  8. Wow. This is really incredible. 🙂

    I’ve heard of North Brother Island, but only briefly. Reading this has peaked my interest more in learning about this island.

    Many thanks for sharing!!! 🙂

    Like

    Posted by zeenyc75 | 11-24-13., 3:17 pm
  9. Watching unforgettable. It was filmed on the island. This is fascinating.

    Like

    Posted by Gjs | 8-29-14., 10:18 pm
  10. Just got back from an amazing adventure on North Brother Island

    left a Geocache for the more experienced explorer as well:
    http://textuploader.com/oy0z

    This piece of history will soon disappear by the hands of the City and some greedy wealthy investor with the excuse for another “wonderful” and safe “public” place to be enjoyed by the new yorkers.

    All that glitter is not gold.

    Good Luck.
    E.T.
    earlturner@safe-mail.net

    Like

    Posted by Earl Turner | 11-25-14., 12:44 pm
  11. This location has been on my bucket list for ages. The beautiful photos have not sated my dust lust, but, I thank you for this portal to North Island regardless. Simply beautiful.

    Like

    Posted by Nanijay | 2-12-15., 5:02 pm
  12. After WWll North Brother was a home for returning vets and their wives when they were students and there was serious lack of housing for college students. My parents lived there when my dad was at NYU. They took a ferry over from NY. Sometimes the ferry
    broke and they had to share the Rikers Islamd ferry. There were many students living there who went to school at NYU, Columbia and other NYC colleges.

    Like

    Posted by Nancy myers | 12-29-15., 10:30 pm
  13. Something about that island gets my pulse racing! I often pass it on a fishing boat (the Capitol Princess, which docks at 23rd St/East River) en route to the Sound. And learning that that’s where Typhoid Mary spent much of her life in quarantine! I would so love to set foot on North Brother Island! Surely there must be a way to get a sanctioned, guided tour! Would this be handled by the Parks Department? Museum of the City of NY??

    Like

    Posted by Rebecca Klinger | 11-15-16., 11:30 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Friday Link Pack 12/06/13 | I make stories. - 12-6-13.

  2. Pingback: Abandoned: North Brother Island and Riverside Hospital (Photos) | The Ghost in My Machine - 7-14-14.

  3. Pingback: North Brother Island | Imaginary Adventures - 11-3-14.

  4. Pingback: North Brother Island | Forgotten Australia - 7-12-15.

  5. Pingback: Islands of New York - LifeDocLifetime - 8-31-15.

  6. Pingback: Top 10 Abandoned Places Around the World — TopTenzNet | My CMS - 9-4-15.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

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

Instagram

Thanks to @6sqft for featuring my Staten Island project "Arthur Kill Road" on their Urban Lens series today. Head to the link in my bio to check out the interview.
...
Pictured here: A foggy morning under the Verrazano Bridge at Fort Wadsworth.
...
#arthurkillroad #nyc #statenisland #abandonednyc #somewheremagazine #explore #verrazanobridge #fortwadsworth #outerboroughs Another view of the Kreischer Street worker's houses through the seasons.
...
#abandonednyc #abandoned #abandonedplaces #oldhouse #nyclandmarks #statenisland #outerboroughs #anotherplace #somewheremagazine #newyorkcity #seasons #timelapse #snow Kreischer Street, Staten Island.
...
A row of landmarked workers' houses stand frozen in time on Kreischer Street, in view of the famous (and haunted) Kreischer Mansion in Charleston, SI. They were provided to employees of the Kreischer Brick Works, which operated on the waterfront here in the late 19th century.
...
Check out the blog for more on the history of "Kreischerville." (link in profile)
...
#arthurkillroad #arthurkill #nyc #outerboroughs #somewheremagazine  #picketfence #abandonednyc #oldhouses #oldhouse #oldhouselove #nylandmarks #nyclandmark (2/2) Enterprising beachcombers can still find colorful Atlantic tiles if they hunt long enough, but regular bricks are more common.  Strangely, their manufacturer's marks point to a wide range of origins, some from as far away as Texas and Missouri.
...
(🔗 in profile for more views of NYC's "South Pole")
...
#brickcollecting #brickhunting #beachcombing #tottenville #arthurkill #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #statenisland #urbanexpliration #abandoned #nychistory #nyhistory (1/2) This unassuming patch of waterfront in Tottenville holds the remains of the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, which made colorful architectural ornaments for many notable NYC buildings, including the Woolworth and the Flatiron.  The rubble was piled up on the edge of the Arthur Kill after the factory was demolished in the 1940s.
...
(🔗 in profile for more views of NYC's "South Pole")
...
#brickcollecting #brickhunting #beachcombing #tottenville #arthurkill #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #statenisland #urbanexpliration #abandoned #nychistory #nyhistory A view of the Arthur Kill at dusk, with Outerbridge on the horizon.
...
The name of the waterway is an anglicized version of the Dutch "achter kill" meaning back river or channel, referring to its position at the "back" of Staten Island.
...
In an area rife with supposed hauntings, the Arthur Kill is itself a kind of ghost. The route was formed by an ancestral iteration of the Hudson River.
...
Glacial activity altered the course to its current position but the vestigial strait remained, isolating a sneaker-shaped landmass. Staten Island was born.
...
The Arthur Kill is home to several lesser-known "boat graveyards" in addition to the world-famous ship graveyard in Rossville.  This one sits off the Charleston waterfront.
...
More photos and history on the blog (link in profile)
...
#abandoned #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #shipgraveyard #lostplaces #urbanexploration #urbex #outerboroughs #statenisland #silive #shipwreck #boatgraveyard #originstory #arthurkill #arthurkillroad #nycprimeshot #nyhistory #nyhistoricalsociety #nyc #newyork Outerbridge Crossing happens to be the outermost bridge in NYC, but it's named for Eugenius Outerbridge, first chairman of the Port of New York Authority, now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "Outerbridge Bridge" wouldn't do, so they deemed it a crossing.
.
See more in my latest post on the blog outlining the remote edges of Tottenville and Charleston, the "South Pole" of New York State. (Link in profile)
.
#urbanexploration #bridges #nycbridges #bridgesofinstagram #arthurkill #tottenville #urbanwilderness #nyc #newyorkcity #silive #urbex #underthebridge #longexposure #daylightlongexposure #topnewyorkphoto #statenisland #outerboroughs #newyork_ig New post up on the blog today highlights a few areas of interest near the "South Pole" of New York, including this little-known bus graveyard. 🏚🚌 (link in profile)
...
I might not have been the first to discover this place, but it was new to me when I stumbled across it in May 2015.  I revisited a few times to capture it in different seasons, it's a beautiful scene any time of year.
...
#abandoned #abandonedplaces #urbex #urbanexploration #graveyard #exploreeverything #nyc #statenisland #abandonedworld #seasons #snow #urbandecay #abandonednyc Disappearing into fog, from the Brooklyn side... Any Bay Ridgeites remember what used to be on these signs?

#verrazanobridge #verrazano #bayridge #brookyn #nyc #newyork #newyork_ig #newyorkcity #fog #foggy #moodygrams #water #longexposure #weather #nycprimeshot #bridgestagram Borough residents speak longingly of Staten Island before the opening of the Verrazano Bridge in 1964.
...
Country roads meandered through sweeping forests, quiet beach communities, and open expanses of farmland crawling with nanny goats.
...
The nature of the island was permanently altered as the bridge prompted a mass migration of newcomers from overpopulated Brooklyn.
...
The influx covered farms and forests with mile upon mile of tract housing, plaguing the island with traffic problems that persist to this day.
...
#newyork_ig #nycprimeshot #newyorknewyork #nyhistory #nyc #statenisland #bridgeporn #verrazanobridge #newyork #topnewyorkphoto #fiveboroughs #bridgestagram #underthebridge The city of New York took over the Staten Island Ferry in 1905 after a series of deadly disasters on privately-run lines. 🌊💀🔥 The 1871 "Westfield" disaster was the worst of them.  Nearly 100 passengers lost their lives when a boat's boiler exploded in its slip at Whitehall.  Jacob Vanderbilt, head of SI Railway at the time, was charged with murder, but never convicted.

More history up on the blog (🔗 in profile)

#newyorkcity #newyorknewyork #nyhistory #nychistory #statenisland #statenislandferry #nyharbor #staten #historynerd #nycprimeshot #newyork_ig #newyorkers Seagulls follow in the wake of the Staten Island Ferry. ⚓️ #statenisland #statenislandferry #nyc #newyorknewyork #topnewyorkphoto #nycprimeshot #newyorkcity @newyork_instagram
%d bloggers like this: