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Thread: north brother island

  1. #1

    Default north brother island

    hello all,

    i was wondering if anybodys been around the islands...north or south. you're able to take the water taxi and view them along with a view of the city and bird watching.

    if theres information i can get from the internet, or a department here in nyc, please let me know. i thank you in advance

  2. #2


    The island is one of the largest nesting areas in NYC for Black-Crowned Night Herons, which are becoming common around the city.

    This one was at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

    The New York Audubon Society conducts tours in partnership with New York Water Taxi.


  3. #3
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Wow, very interesting.

    North Brother Island - Riverside Hospital

    Of all the forgotten and mysterious places in the Five Boroughs of New York City, few have histories as rich and interesting as that of North Brother Island. Situated in the Hell Gate, a particularly treacherous stretch of the East River, North Brother was home to the quarantine hospital that housed Typhoid Mary, was the final destination of the General Slocum during its tragic final voyage, and was the site of an experimental drug treatment program which failed due to corruption. Riverside Hospital, the name of the facility on the island throughout its various incarnations, treated everything from smallpox and leprosy to venereal disease and heroin addiction; after the Second World War, it housed soldiers who were studying under the GI bill. The entirety of the island has been abandoned since 1963; over a dozen buildings remain, in various states of disrepair.

    complete blog entry


  4. #4


    It is beautiful; nature wants it back, although I don't like decaying buildings. Another one to add to my tour list.

  5. #5
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    East Midtown


    I'd love an opportunity to photograph this place, but according to the blogger it's off limits to the public. I wonder how he was able to get access.

  6. #6
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    A Visit to Typhoid Mary’s Domain


    Photos: Ángel Franco/The New York Times

    It took five minutes of wading through jungly vines. “I think we’re standing where her house used to be,” he said.

    Her house. Daniel Avila did not have to say who she was: Typhoid Mary. The cook who carried a deadly disease and infected more than 50 New Yorkers in the early years of the 20th century.
    Mr. Avila has made a specialty of photographing off-limits places cared for by his employer, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation — places the public cannot go. So here he was on North Brother Island, “a 20-acre knob of glacial detritus which pokes out of the East River about 2,500 feet west of Rikers Island.”

    That description came from someone who never actually set foot on North Brother, the author and chef Anthony Bourdain, who published a 148-page book about Typhoid Mary in 2001. Mr. Bourdain called North Brother “a ramshackle Alcatraz” where Typhoid Mary — real name: Mary Mallon — was confined. Those who do not see her as a cold-hearted killer, someone who knew she was putting people in danger just by handling their food, would end the last sentence with a word like, say, incarcerated.

    But now North Brother is an urban ruin, abandoned for more than 40 years. The city has long owned the island but has no use for it, and assigned it to the Parks Department in 2001. The public is not welcome there — the parks department warns of “large sinkholes from decaying infrastructure and tremendous overgrowth (poison ivy, vigorous vines) that make public access hazardous” — but the Internet does not seem to know that. A search yielded the kind of come-on that would tempt unsuspecting travelers: “Find Low Rates at Top Hotels! North Brother Island — Cheap.”

    You cannot take a taxi there from nearby La Guardia, though. The only way to get there is by boat, unless you are a bird. North Brother is among the islands around the city that birdwatchers know as the Harbor Herons Preserve.

    But even the herons and egrets have abandoned North Brother, which can happen if predators like great horned owls take up residence “and think it’s a banquet all around them,” explained Glenn Phillips, the executive director of the New York City Audubon Society. He also said the herons and egrets had tired of the vines.

    Mr. Avila, who is 32, grew up a few miles away in Hillcrest, Queens, and now lives in Astoria, but said he had not known until recently that North Brother was so close by. “I could spend a week here,” Mr. Avila said. “The first time I was here, I was like, ‘Can I just bring a tent?’ ”

    That brought to mind a bacteriologist quoted in Mr. Bourdain’s book who saw Mary regularly and said of North Brother: “This is heaven. It’s delightful. Otherworldly. Unlike New York City.”

    It is, but Mr. Avila’s take was different. “So much negative history,” he said during the half-hour boat ride with a parks department crew packing weed cutters and vine clippers. “So much sickness and death and people being held against their will.”

    That was a reference to the island’s life as the site for a quarantine hospital for patients with contagious diseases and, in the 1950s and ’60s, as a drug treatment center. Typhoid Mary was not the island’s only connection to infamy: the General Slocum disaster, the deadly explosion of a steamer in 1904, unfolded just off the island. Some parks department workers who have read their history say rescuers lined up dozens of bodies in the grass.

    Once, the dock had a platform went up and down smoothly, like a drawbridge. One is tempted to guess who was president the last time it worked: Nixon? Johnson? Kennedy? Mr. Avila pulled himself up, and also his camera equipment — a bag with a Nikon and lenses, and a tripod, useful for long exposures in dim rooms. There are a lot of them here. The electricity was shut off years ago.

    He led the way past a smokestack and a building that was once the morgue and into another that was a wreck of peeling plaster, with an overturned bathtub here and a rusty examining table there. Mr. Avila tested the stairs before he climbed. One flimsy tread gave way.

    In an upper hallway, a tree was growing, its roots in dirt that had blown in through the broken windows.

    Mr. Avila spent a couple of hours clambering through the old building. Then it was off to find Mary’s house.

    Mr. Bourdain’s book said her bungalow had “a living room, kitchen and bathroom and all the conveniences of the time: gas, electric and modern plumbing.” It also quotes one of her nemeses as saying the house was “pleasantly situated on the river bank, next to the church.”

    Mr. Avila said he had seen photographs of the cottage on the Internet, and he knew the next part of the story. She was confined there for several years, and then, he said, “They allowed her off on the condition that she not work in the food industry.”

    “But they caught her doing that,” he said. “They brought her back.” That was in 1915, after an outbreak in a hospital where Mary had been working, under an assumed name, in the kitchen.

    She lived on North Brother for the rest of her life. The bacteriologist who saw her during those years remembered their first encounter, when Mary loomed like a frightening figure “with her hair unkempt pulled back in a tight knot and a huge lab coat” that was “filthy as hell with all kinds of stuff on it.” Mary had a stroke in 1932 — the same bacteriologist found her lying on the floor of the bungalow and referred to “the stench that came out of that doorway.” Mary died in 1938.

    In the weeds was the doorway to the chapel. Mr. Avila turned and took a few more steps.

    “Her house — this could have been it,” he said. On the ground was a fallen truss.

    “It’s sad,” Mr. Avila said, “but it’s become part of the landscape now.”

    Not far away was another building — no windows, poison ivy growing up the sides. Later he cut across what was left of a handball court. The smokestack loomed ahead, and beyond it the dock. The boat was waiting.

    As it churned toward Queens, he made an announcement.

    “I was looking at the map,” he said. That could not have been her house, after all. He had gone to the wrong side of the chapel.

  7. #7
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Such a shame this has been allowed to deteriorate. And those abandoned books all over the floor .

    The brickwork in that building is beautiful.

    A 30-Photo Tour of the Abandoned North Brother Island

    by Jessica Dailey

    see article for more pics

    North Brother Island, the 13-acre piece of land that once housed a quarantine hospital, has long been a source of fascination for urban explorers and history nerds. Abandoned since the early 1960s, the island and its crumbling medical structures, famous for housing Typhoid Mary, have been taken over by nature. As a Radiolab producer once said, "North Brother Island is what will happen to the whole of our civilization when humanity is dead." Curbed tipster and urban photographer Max Touhey recently journeyed to the island, only accessible by boat, and here now, we have 30 photos from his 7-hour adventure. "It's funny because often times you read about a place like this only to be let down after actually going," says Touhey. "North Brother Island is not one of those places. In fact, to date, it has hands down been the most fascinating location I've been to."

    Touhey writes:

    With little or no vandalism by people, everything has been left to decay naturally. In a number of the buildings, trees have rooted indoors and on some of the roofs. The island's soundtrack consists of constant low flying commercial airliners heading to LGA and a thriving population of birds. Strangely enough though, I did not see a single egret or heron, for which the island is a protected migration zone. In really any abandoned place, you always manage to come across something incredible. On North Brother Island, this happened every ten minutes. Resting lifelessly on an examination table in the morgue building was a small but exotic-looking bird. Close by, in the repurposed library building, were hundreds of books, none more recent than 1960, layering the floor. Strangest of all though was entering the collapsing stock house. A thousand-page "CITY OF NEW YORK—DEPARTMENT OF HOSPITALS STORES LEDGER" as seemingly epic as a Gutenberg Bible was repurposed as a "book hive" for enormous black bees (you can spot one at 5:02 in the video). These kinds of surprises are everywhere on North Brother Island, and I regret only spending 7 hours there when considering what else there is to discover.

    Touhey also made a video of his trip:

    Photos by Max Touhey [Curbed]
    How to Get to North Brother Island [Radiolab]

  8. #8
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    Exploring the East River's Lush, Lonely North Brother Island

    by Jessica Dailey

    View of the coal house from the roof of the morgue. All photos by Christopher Payne.

    Like so many abandoned places, North Brother Island in the East River constantly draws the attention and fascination of urban explorers, and the fact that the 13-acre piece of land is closed to the public only amplifies its intrigue. A few daring (or crazy?) souls have found their way to the island alone, but photographer Christopher Payne visited with the blessing of the New York City Parks Department, which allowed him to return to the island multiple times over a period of several years. The result is a 144-page book filled with Payne's photos. The images show a shockingly lush landscape, where nature has taken over the crumbling quarantine hospital that once housed Typhoid Mary, juvenile heroin-addicts, the mentally ill, and many others cast out by the city. The complex has been abandoned for more than 50 years, but an amazing amount remains on the isolated land. An essay by Robert Sullivan and a history of the island by Randall Mason accompany Payne's photos, providing a detailed portrait of a place that many New Yorkers once feared.

    Today, the island is haunting in different ways. Sullivan writes, "Just as the unimaginable greenness leaves you euphoric—ecstatic over the abilities of weeds, plants, and trees—so the abandonment is terrifying. When you look back where you just were, there are moments of real fright. No escaping them." Here, the crumbling tuberculosis pavilion.

    The lobby of the tuberculosis pavilion.

    A terrace in the tuberculosis pavilion

    The sandy beach where boats dock when bringing visitors.

    The nurse's home, taken over by nature. Part of the reason the island is now closed to the public is that the protected Black-crowned Night Heron has made it its nesting grounds.

    View of the boiler plant from the roof of the morgue.

    Inside the boiler plant, looking through the collapsed, overgrown roof.

    The male dormitory.

    Inside a classroom.

    Scattered, abandoned books left in the classroom.

    The church facade...

    ...and the church from the side.

    View of Riker's Island in the winter...

    ...and the same view in the summer.

    To learn more about the man behind the images and what it's like to visit "the last unknown place in New York City," Nathan Kensinger, Curbed's Camera Obscura columnist and photographer, will be talking with Payne about his work, so stay tuned for the interview. Payne is also hosting a talk and book signing next Friday, May 16.

    Christopher Payne [official]

  9. #9
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    The Top 10 Secrets of NYC’s Abandoned North Brother Island

    by Michelle Young

    North Brother Island is most famous today from the beautiful photographs of its crumbling state, but its history and secrets are what give the place its mythical status in New York City. With the latest news about a study to explore opening North Brother Island to public access, we’re sharing our favorite secrets of this island in the East River. Many of these secrets are sourced from the great book North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City by Christopher Payne and Randall Mason.

    10. North Brother Island and South Brother Island Were Known as the “Two Brothers” Islands

    North Brother Island Morgue in summer

    In 1791, the Two Brothers islands were put for sale at an auction at the Merchants Coffee House, where all business and politics seemed to take place in the early days of the colony. In the print advertisement, it was offered as a “eligible situation for a pilot or a house of entertainment,” due to its location along the river and noted that already extant on the North Brother Island was a “dwelling house, barn, orchard, and a variety of fruit trees, with a quantity of standing fire wood and timber.”

    9. North Brother Island Was Originally Part of Westchester

    Aerial shot of North Brother Island from last few years

    Initially, North Brother Island was part of the Bronx, which was part of Westchester. In 1881, a bill transferred North Brother Island to New York, which was just Manhattan as the consolidation of the boroughs did not take place until 1898. Thus, other early short-term structures to built on North Brother Isalnd were temporary hospitals by Westchester County in the mid-19th century.

    8. Traces of the First Lighthouse on North Brother Island Still Remain

    In 1868, after failed attempts to establish a lighthouse in 1829 and 1848 (the landowners refused to sell), a piece of land on the southern tip was acquired in 1868 by the federal government. The lighthouse built here was the first long-term structure built on the island. According to Randall Mason in North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City, the small lighthouse built had a mansard roof and octagonal tower. Today, Mason rates, “traces of the lighthouse and federal owned property remain.”

    7. North Brother Island Was Considered a Success For Infection Disease Control

    Tuberculosis Pavilion in spring

    By 1881, plans were underway to create an infectious disease hospital on North Brother Island, shifting the current operations off Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). While there was certainly controversy over the practices of the institution, both medically and socially, Mason writes in North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City, “North Brother Island worked. It protected the city from pestilence. The threat and fear of infectious diseases were great, and Riverside Hospital was essential to treating it in terms of the new science and policies of public health.”

    Cities like Philadelphia looked at New York City’s solution as an example. Photographer and reformer Jacob Riis was also a supporter of the undertakings at Riverside Hospital, finding it peaceful and effective, and felt, as Mason writes, “exile to North Brother Island was necessary to protect the city and well worth the cost, both social and financial.”

    6. Typhoid Mary Epitomized the Decline of North Brother Island as a Medical Facility

    Former Street on North Brother Island

    Mason in North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City, after the initial success in controlling epidemics in New York City, North Brother Island “soon became a place of moral compromise, lax care, and anti-immigrant discrimination.” The infamous Typhoid Mary (aka Mary Mellon) was simply a figure that epitomized the challenges and forthcoming decline to come to North Brother Island. She was a healthy carrier of typhus and worked as a cook for the upper classes of New York
    She infected more than twenty people and was first sent to North Brother Island from 1907 to 1910. She was released on the condition that she could not work as a cook, but continued to do so under an alias where she infected more. She was sent back to North Brother Island for life from 1915 to her death in 1938. She lived in a small house built just for her so that she could be in complete isolation. In the book Fever, about Typhoid Mary, Mary Beth Keane writes “I really believe that, if she had infected a tenement with hundreds of people in it, and far more deaths had been the result, she wouldn’t have been put in the position she was in, working as she did for a wealthy family.”

    5. In the Early 1900s, 25% of the Island Was Landfill

    Photograph by Christopher Payne

    Four acres of land were added to the eastern side of North Brother Island in 1909, accounting for 25% of the total island, on top which were built dormitories and other buildings. As Christopher Payne tells us, he ended the photography for the book North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City shortly after Hurricane Sandy, where much of the landfill eroded away. The photograph above shows manhole covers that once connected to sewers on what was once a street on North Brother Island.

    4. General Slocum Sinking at North Brother Island Was Largest Loss of Life Until 9/11

    Until the events of September 11th, the sinking of the General Slocum was responsible for the largest loss of life in New York City. The tragedy forever changed the composition of the Lower East Side. On June 15, 1904, St. Mark’s Evangelical Church chartered a boat, the General Slocum, to take 1358 members of its German-American congregation for a fun-filled day on the water and on a Long Island beach.

    Not far from shore, a fire burst out, and quickly consumed the ship. The combination of faulty lifeboats and life jackets, a panicked crowd of non-swimmers, and a cowardly crew that sought their own escape first led to mayhem and death. The crisis was made worse by the captain’s refusal to bring the burning ship to shore, ostensibly to prevent the fire from spreading, and the unfortunate timing of the fire occurring while the boat was in Hell Gate’s notoriously rough waters.

    The General Slocum sank just off North Brother Island with victims and debris washing up on shore. The staff of the hospitals of the island served as rescue staff for the event. 1,021 people died either by fire or drowning that day, with only a few hundred surviving. The disaster also devastated the large German-American population on the Lower East Side.
    See 5 other major shipwrecks on the shores of NYC.

    3. North Brother Island Served as Post-WWII Housing for Veterans

    North Brother Island had declined in importance as a medical institution as scientific advancements and new ideas on care emerged in the years leading up to World War II. Faced with the housing crisis following the war, the government leased land and buildings on North Brother Island to house returning veterans. It should also be noted that after World War I, North Brother also treated veterans with drug addictions. A ferry system was set up to bring veterans to the city’s universities to complete their education or for work. A small village emerged, replete with amenities like a grocery store, library, movie theater – not too dissimilar from Governors Island later which had a Burger King and a motel. About 500 people lived on North Brother Island and Mason writes that the “island population may have reached 1,500 at its peak in the late 1940s.”

    Photo via NYC Municipal Archives

    Those who lived here during this time, some whom came to speak to Christopher Payne and share their mementos after the release of his book North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City say it was an idyllic time. This was not to last however.

    2. North Brother Island Was a Drug Treatment Facility

    In the 1950s and ’60s, drug abuse came to the forefront as a major public health issue. In 1952, the Tuberculosis Pavilion and other buildings were repurposed as drug treatment facilities, with isolation returning as a preferred method of treatment. Graffiti that can still be seen on the walls of buildings today showcase the difficulty of patients on the island during this time.

    1. Abandoned North Brother Island Can Be Visited Occasionally, if You’re Lucky

    Canoe-view of North Brother Island

    It’s an urban explorers dream to get to North Brother Island, which has been a bird sanctuary. The islands are managed by the New York City Parks and Recreation Department, and if you aren’t some o the lucky few who have gained access for research or other reasons directly through the Parks Department, you may be treated to a surprise visit on a kayak trip, as we were this summer.

    Bonus: In the 1970s, Casinos Were Proposed for North Brother Island

    Service Building Auditorium

    According to Robert Sullivan, in the introduction to North Brother Island, The Last Unknown Place in New York City, two city councilman in 1971 proposed to build “The Vegas of the East” on North Brother Island. Other suggestions have included prisons and every so often, architecture students dream up visionary plans for the island. The new study, announced by New York City councilman Mark Levine and undertaken by PennPraxis is the closest yet to restoring public access to North Brother Island.

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