3 votes

North Brother Island

New York, New York USA

Open Now
Wed 12a-11:59p
  • Independent
  • Not Wheelchair
  • No Public
  • Outdoor
  • No Wifi
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“An abandoned island, with a hospital, in the middle of New York City”

This place is on private property. Listing for informational purposes only. Please do not visit without express permission from the land owner. Ever wonder what Earth will look like 50 years after the apocalypse? Probably a bit like NYC’s North Brother Island. It’s lain empty in the East River since the 1960s- even the Black-Crowned Night Herons who lived on this once-bustling island have abandoned it. It all started in 1885, when Riverside Hospital moved there from what is now known as Roosevelt Island. Riverside primarily treated the victims of smallpox and other highly contagious diseases, so putting all of them on an island away from civilization was ideal. The first known asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, Typhoid Mary, was a guest of the hospital for over two decades. As a cook who carried the disease but displayed no symptoms, she infected over 50 people, three of whom died. She died there in 1938 and the hospital closed shortly after. In the mid-1940′s, it served as overflow housing for WWII vets and their families while they attended local college classes. This didn’t last long, as the housing shortage was quickly reversed and the island was used as a center to treat teen drug addicts in the 1950s. Heroin addicts were locked in empty rooms while they went through withdrawal, some leaving their writings on the walls. In the 60s, the corruption and bad treatments caught up to the rehab center and again the building was closed, never to be reopened or reused. Today, it’s a sanctuary for birds and the island is off-limits during nesting season. The best way to score a chance to visit is to contact the NYC Audubon Society or the parks department- you may have to charter a boat, and since there’s no dock, you’ll have to essentially shipwreck yourself onto a sandy area and scramble to dry land. All the trouble is worth it, though, to explore the haunting beauty of North Brother Island. -Roadtrippers North Brother Island is a small island in the East River situated between the Bronx and Riker's Island, New York City. Once the site of a hospital, it is now uninhabited and designated as a bird sanctuary. It measures approximately 400 m by 250 m. Its smaller companion, South Brother Island, is a short distance away. Together, the two Brother Islands, North and South, have a land area of 20.12 acres. The island was uninhabited until 1885, when Riverside Hospital moved there from Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island). Riverside Hospital was founded in the 1850s as the Smallpox Hospital to treat and isolate victims of that disease. Its mission eventually expanded to other quarantinable diseases. The island was the site of the wreck of the General Slocum, a steamship which burned on June 15, 1904. Over 1,000 people died either from the fire on board the ship or from drowning before the ship was beached on the island's shores. Typhoid Mary was confined to the island for over two decades until she died there in 1938. The hospital closed shortly thereafter. After World War II, the island housed war veterans who were students at local colleges, along with their families. After the nationwide housing shortage abated, the island was once again abandoned. In the 1950s a center opened to treat adolescent drug addicts. The facility claimed to be the first to offer treatment, rehabilitation, and education facilities to young drug offenders. Heroin addicts were confined to this island and locked in a room until they were clean. Many of them believed they were being held against their will (as one person wrote on the wall). By the early 1960s widespread staff corruption and patient recidivism forced the facility to close. Now a bird sanctuary, the island is currently abandoned and off-limits to the public between the months of March to October. Most of the original hospitals' buildings still stand, but are heavily deteriorated and in danger of collapse. A dense forest conceals the ruined hospital buildings, and from the 1980s through the early 2000s it supported one of the area's largest nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night Heron. However as of 2008 this species has abandoned the island for unknown reasons. In 1991, the rock band Mercury Rev used the island to shoot a music video for the song "Chasing A Bee" from the record "Yerself Is Steam". It was directed by Jens Jurgensen and Jim Spring. North Brother Island was featured in episode 8 ("Armed and Defenseless") of Life After People on the History Channel. It was used as an example of what would happen to structures after 45 years without humans. RadioLab visited the island and provided these tips for getting there: "1) Contact the parks department. They don’t even let themselves visit the island most of the time. March to October is off limits. That’s when the herons nest. 2) If the parks department gives you permission, you have to charter a boat, which can be really expensive. To make it more affordable, find other folks who need to visit and split the cost with them. 3) Thing is, a big group requires a big boat and a big boat can’t dock on the island. There’s no dock. We had to tie off on a rotting piling, motor over in a smaller boat, three by three, and beach ourselves onto the sand. In short, to get to North Brother Island, you have to mildly shipwreck yourself."

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Reviewed by
Greg Newkirk

  • Expert
  • 314 Reviews
  • 370 Helpful
July 24, 2014
Rated 4.0

Just a heads up, this place is totally awesome, but it's only open for a few months a year. It's a nature preserve for the local bird populations, so between the months of March and October (nesting season), the park is totally off-limits to visitors. Outside of those months, you can apply for a permit to visit the island, but you have to provide your own boat. Happy hunting!

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North Brother Island

New York, New York


Open 24 hours today
  • Sun - Sat: 12:00 am - 11:59 pm

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  • Parking
  • Pets Allowed
  • Restrooms
  • Wifi
  • Wheelchair Accessible
  • Credit Cards Accepted
  • Outdoor Seating
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