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Renwick Smallpox Hospital

591 Main Street, New York, New York 10044 USA

  • Independent
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“so many centuries of history in one small place”

This place is on private property. Listing for informational purposes only. Please do not visit without express permission from the land owner. The Smallpox Hospital (sometimes referred to as the Renwick Smallpox Hospital and later the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School) is an abandoned hospital located on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., the 100-bed hospital opened in 1856, when the area was known as Blackwell's Island. A century after it opened, the hospital was closed. The building eventually fell into disrepair. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a New York City Landmark four years later, the only ruin in the city with that designation. After the completion of an ongoing $4.5 million stabilization project, the Smallpox Hospital ruins will be open to the public. The hospital is situated in an otherwise undeveloped area at the southern tip of the island. It was a three-story, nine-bay U-shaped structure faced in granite veneer in a random ashlar pattern over load-bearing rubble masonry. The central block has a hipped roof, with corbeledcrenelated parapets on the projecting sections, with a simple cornice on the non-projecting sections. Crenelated polygonal chimneys rise from the southeast side of the main block. The two wings, which project from the ends of the northwest (front) facade, had mansard roofs. At the center of the front facade is the main entrance. It has a porch open on three sides, oriel window above and projecting corbeled feature above the roofline. A wide pointed arch holds the main entrance. Though designed in the Gothic Revival style, all of the windows on the third floor have pointed arches rather than curves, unusual for that architectural style. Despite the availability of the smallpox vaccine, New York City still had large outbreaks of the disease, in part because of the arrival of infected immigrants. Located on the isolated southern tip of the island in an attempt to quarantine patients, the hospital contained a large charity ward in addition to private rooms on the upper floors. In 1875, the hospital closed and became a training center for nurses attached to City Hospital, later renamed Charity Hospital. Renwick designed the building in the Gothic Revival style, and in 1903-1905, two wings with the same architectural theme were added to the school, named the Home for the Nurses and the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School, to accommodate the growing student base. In deference to the changing use of the island, in 1921 Blackwell's Island was renamed Welfare Island, and many of the structures there fell into disrepair as they became obsolete. In the 1950s, both Charity Hospital and the nurses school were closed, and their operations moved to new buildings in Queens. Both buildings fell into disrepair, eventually becoming ruins. In the 1970s, architect Giorgio Cavaglieri inspected them both, making plans to reinforce the walls of the Smallpox Hospital. In 1972, the hospital was added to the National Register of Historic Places, making it New York City's "only landmarked ruin." In 1973, Welfare Island was renamed as Roosevelt Island in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Often referred to as the Renwick Ruin, the Neo-Gothic ruins have been illuminated nightly since 1995, in a somewhat successful effort to raise funds for stabilizing the structure. However, on December 26, 2007, a section of the north wing collapsed, adding an urgency to preservation plans. On May 28, 2009, ground was broken on a new park on Roosevelt Island that includes plans to stabilize the Smallpox Hospital, a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a 14-acre (57,000 m2) public area. After a $4.5 million dollar stabilization project, the Smallpox Hospital ruins will be open to the public.

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Reviewed by
Dana Newkirk

  • Road Warrior
  • 298 Reviews
  • 377 Helpful
September 25, 2014
Rated 4.0

Many who've visited what's left of the hospital report experiencing strange sounds, lights, and even dark shadows that seem to watch you from behind the walls. It makes sense when you consider the amount of death that occurred inside the building, it's no surprise that many visitors report having their own first-hand experiences with spirits at the Renwick Smallpox Hospital. It's a beautiful place to visit!

1 person found this review helpful

Reviewed by

  • 1 Review
  • 1 Helpful
July 20, 2014

The hospital has been stabilized and the land it sits on turned into a wildflower park.

Now by far the greater attraction is the stunning park memorializing FDR, an exercise in white granite and forced perspective with a fantastic view of the UN, which lies just to the south and is the only structure in the city designed by architect Louis Kahn.

He designed it shortly before his death in the early '70s, but construction didn't begin until more than 35 years later. It finally opened in the fall of 2012 and is the biggest tourist draw on the island; visitors from around the world combine a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tramway (of Spider-Man fame) with a pleasant walk to the park.

1 person found this review helpful

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Renwick Smallpox Hospital

591 Main Street
New York, New York
10044 USA
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