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North Brother Island

February 2, 2012 by staff 

North Brother Island, North Brother Island is an island in the East River situated between the Bronx and Riker’s Island. Its 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 (81,400 m2).

Bodies from the General Slocum wash ashore on North Brother Island in 1905 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.

The island is currently abandoned and off-limits to the public, because it is now a bird sanctuary. 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 2011 this species has abandoned the island, for unknown reasons.

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