Last Days of the Staten Island Farm Colony

Eerie ruins of the Staten Island Farm Colony

A ruined Farm Colony dormitory seen through the trees.

Part of what makes abandoned buildings so captivating is that their existence is ephemeral, they cannot remain decayed and crumbling forever, and inevitably that means saying goodbye.

Admittedly, the Staten Island Farm Colony is not one of the most spectacular places I’ve seen, (the interiors have been completely destroyed by vandalism) but it remains the one place I’ve come back to more than any other. What’s always impressed me about it is its changeability. The place is reborn with every season, and I suppose that’s true of all abandoned buildings, but I’m always struck by it at the Farm Colony. In the height of summer, its jungle-like atmosphere lends it the look of a fallen Aztec empire, which is almost unrecognizable in the cooler months. It’s haunting in the fall when the fog rolls in, and desolate in the winter when ice and snow blanket the buildings inside and out. Through 40 years of abandonment, the Farm Colony is as ever-changing as the natural world that engulfs it, but it’s looking more and more definite that this historic district will be undergoing a final, permanent transformation in the days ahead.

The Farm Colony’s existing structures.

New renderings for the “Landmark Colony,” with several buildings preserved.

Last month, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved a proposal to bring 350 units of senior housing to the site, part of a large new development called “The Landmark Colony.”  In the process, the institution is returning to its historic function as a home for the elderly after a four decade hiatus. (The place was essentially a geriatric hospital when it closed down in the 1970s, though it had been established in the mid 19th century as a refuge for the poor.)  With five buildings saved and one kept as a stabilized ruin, the design will preserve much of the area’s architectural character. The remaining structures will be demolished and replaced with modern residential units, which is to be expected considering just how far gone some of these buildings are.

Several of the places I’ve photographed in the last few years have been set aside for renovation (The Domino Sugar Refinery, the Gowanus Batcave, and P.S. 186 to name a few.)  The Smith Infirmary, the old Machpelah Cemetery office, and most troublingly, the Harlem Renaissance Ballroom have not been so lucky.  It’s rare and encouraging when a structure is fortunate enough to get a second chance in this rapidly evolving city, but as positive as these changes are for their communities, a part of me still feels like something is lost.  I know I’m not the only one who’ll miss the Farm Colony and its embattled ruins, which have become a popular spot for paintballers and Staten Island teenagers to pass the time.

Here’s a series of photos I’ve taken over the last year in sweltering heat, biting cold, snow, rain, and fog. Hopefully I make it back one last time before these ancient grounds are covered with fresh paint and brimming with active retirees year-round.


The Laundry and Industrial building will be preserved…


…As will the Dining Hall. These are the two largest open spaces in the Farm Colony.

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Daylight trickles into a dark room adjacent to the cafeteria.

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An arched walkway on a lower floor is a rare example of architectural ornament.

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The Farm Colony’s most picturesque building is sadly slated for demolition.

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But a similar dormitory on the south side of the grounds will be stabilized and preserved as a ruin.

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Snow piles up after winter storms, turning to ice when the temperature fluctuates.

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A wintry bathroom.

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This bed is one of the only remaining artifacts from the institution’s past.

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Trees silhouetted against the clouds, projected through a camera obscura on the ground floor of a residence hall.




15 thoughts on “Last Days of the Staten Island Farm Colony

  1. Hi, Thank you again for more great information.. Can I post it on Facebook? Didn’t see it on your FB page. Thanks


    Posted by Linda | 12-1-14., 5:09 pm
  2. Thanks for sharing


    Posted by Ellen | 12-1-14., 5:20 pm
  3. Hey Will, once again your photos are breathtaking!! Thanks for braving the elements to capture these stunning images. I am a native Staten Islander (now in Boston) and I just love seeing any of your posts about SI. So much has been lost that is crucial to record what remains for however long they might remain.
    All the best.


    Posted by Frank Brennan | 12-1-14., 6:56 pm
  4. Will, Such a moving post. And an interesting continuation to the themes of your blog. I’m so glad you took us there before it disappears… What’s happening with the book?!



    Posted by LouAnne Brickhouse | 12-1-14., 7:43 pm
  5. Thank you so much for the new post. Thank you for recording it before it vanished all together. Nice to find out they’re going to save some of it.


    Posted by Gwen Edgett | 12-2-14., 2:12 pm
  6. Hi guys, great site. Check out our free high definition aerial mapping for your next urbex mission.
    Let me know if you have any questions.


    Posted by Diane Sexton | 12-8-14., 8:47 pm
  7. Are people still able to visit it?


    Posted by Sbrnaia | 3-30-16., 3:21 pm
  8. I was just out here in march of 2016 and it still looks the way it does in your pictures so I think the plans for restoration were either delayed or scrapped.


    Posted by Fate167 | 7-19-16., 7:35 pm


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