North Brother Island (Island Week 4)

Monday, 28th September 2009 by

It’s Island Week 4 here at GSS, which means we’ll mostly be posting about Islands. For about a week.

North Brother Island, home to many decaying and abandoned structures, sits just off shore of New York’s Manhattan borough in the East River. Now home to a few crumbling Gothic buildings, it once housed the Riverside Hospital, and is undoubtedly the creepiest island in New York City.

North Brother Island

Largely ignored until the late 19th century, North Brother Island did not see permanent settlement until the construction of the Riverside Hospital was completed in 1885. The hospital was built to house those suffering from infections diseases like cholera, typhoid, and smallpox as well as a constantly rotating staff of doctors and nurses.

In order to keep the island’s patients from infecting the rest of the city’s population, it was kept relatively isolated – a small ferry was the only mode of transport for hospital staff and supplies.

Brother Island Ferry

As the island’s population grew, additional dormitories and a tuberculosis pavilion were constructed. At its height during an 1892 typhus outbreak, North Brother Island held over 1,200 patients, many housed in makeshift tents.

Tuberculosis Pavilion dormitories

Perhaps the most infamous patient of the Riverside Hospital was Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary. A cook at various Manhattan restaurants in the early 1900s, Mary also carried Typhoid. After infecting a total of 53 people she was committed to Riverside Hospital and lived out the rest of her life in an isolated cottage on the island.


Riverside Hospital continued to treat victims of infectious disease and later, drug addiction, until it was permanently shut down in 1963 due to a staff corruption scandal. Over the past 40 years, North Brother has been left to decay into its current horror-movie-esque state and is now off limits to the public.

For more information and some great pictures, check out this blog.

Thanks to Edvado, yusaku and Katerina Korch.