Curiosity

There’s An Abandoned Island Off The Coast Of New York City

"Typhoid Mary" was once quarantined on this island!

New York City dwellers looking for a place where they can truly get away from the hustle and bustle may be surprised to learn that there’s an island just off the coast of the city. It’s called North Brother Island and these 30 acres of land are only accessible by boat.

The only catch? It has been abandoned for over 60 years, you need a permit to visit, and once you learn about its history, the trip may sound a little less appealing.

Located in the East River just south of the Bronx and northwest of Astoria, Queens, the island is an ecologically protected area. It is part of the Harbor Herons Complex, which includes several nesting islands and foraging areas throughout the NYC area that serve as a habitat for shorebirds.

Check out artist Jeremy Penn’s aerial view of the island, which he posted to Instagram:

The island was claimed sometime during 1611 and 1614 by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. It was taken, along with an adjacent island to the south known as South Brother, for the Dutch West India Company.

In the 1880s, the island served as home to Riverside Hospital, a quarantine for sufferers of diseases like tuberculosis and typhoid fever. One famous resident was Mary Mallon, aka “Typhoid Mary,” an Irish immigrant who was forcibly confined to the island after her work as a cook for wealthy families spread typhoid through food and killed several people. Mellon eventually died while quarantined on North Brother Island in 1938.

typhoid mary photo
Flickr | JGNY

After medical advances eliminated the need for quarantine hospitals, the island was utilized as place for returning veterans and their families to live. In 1951, it had yet another transformation and served as the site of a drug rehabilitation center for adolescents. That facility closed in 1963, and the island has been largely untouched by humans ever since. The 25 or so buildings on the island are all abandoned and largely overtaken by vegetation.

Photographer Christopher Payne became fascinated with the dark history of the island and published a book of striking photos of the eerie piece of land, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City. He captured the images over a period of about five years from approximately 2008 through to 2013, frequently photographing in autumn and winter because the island is overrun with poison ivy.

Watch Payne talk about his experiences exploring the island and see some of his stunning images in the video below:

“Most people view ruins as if they were looking into the past, but these buildings show what New York could be years from now,” Payne told Smithsonian Magazine. “I see these photographs like windows into the future. If we all left, the entire city would look like North Brother Island in 50 years.

Unfortunately, according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, access to North Brother Island is rarely permitted. We’re absolutely fascinated by this island and its rich history — even it seems unlikely any of us will ever get to visit!

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