The majority of New Yorkers have never even heard of North Brother Island. Just a 10-minute boat ride from the Bronx’s Barretto Point Park in the Hell Gate section of the East River, you’ll find the lost world of North Brother Island.
This place once had a sinister reputation.
In 1885, the island was established as a mandatory quarantine center for hundreds of patients who suffered from horrible infectious diseases, including scarlet fever, typhus, yellow fever, smallpox and even leprosy. There were allegedly six people with leprosy confined on these grounds in wooden huts among the dense woods.
According to one patient, it was a place of unspeakable misery.
The most notorious resident of Riverside Hospital was “Typhoid Mary.” Mary Mallon was the first person in the US to ever be identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever. She died after spending nearly 30 years in isolation.
By the time the 1960s rolled around, this place became a disgraceful rehab center for adolescent drunks and addicts (many said to have been held against their will) before being closed down and abandoned in 1963.
North Brother was also the site of a catastrophic shipwreck on June 15, 1904. When the PS Slocum caught fire and sank in the East River, the lives of 1,021 people were lost — mainly women and children.
Today, what’s left is an eerie and unique landscape, complete with an unforgettable labyrinth of crumbling ruins. Nature is gradually taking over every man made structure in sight. Crumbling walls, stairwells strewn with debris and echoing corridors can be found at every turn. The startling contrast between vast, lush greenery and decaying buildings makes North Brother a sight to behold.
Hiding beneath the thick overgrowth, there are curbs and roads.
Take one look at the photos above, and you’ll soon realize that this is what will happen to every city once human civilization has died off. If this place could talk, oh the stories it would tell.
The island was pretty much lost to the history books for about 50 years; that is, until Christopher Payne put together a proposal to document and photograph the ruins. After the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation agreed to let him explore these forgotten grounds, Payne began a five-year expedition. The incredible photographs are available in his book, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City.
To ensure the former quarantine zone is never violated, and that visitors aren’t injured by falling debris, made ill by asbestos, or killed by falling into an open utility shaft, the waters surrounding the island are constantly patrolled by armed guards. It is permanently closed off to the public, and known as one of the most tricky places to get to in New York. Although, a few urban explorers and eager photographers have managed to illegally make their way over.
For good reason, no one is allowed to step foot on North Brother after dark, but we’re sure that hasn’t stopped people from satisfying their curiosities.
Images: Ian Ference/Christopher Payne/AbandonedNYC.com