This Mysterious And Deserted New York Island Has An Uncertain Future

By: Riley Brown | Published: Oct 24, 2023

In the large and bustling city of New York and the Bronx, it was discovered that there is an abandoned island. The island is called North Brother Island. It was randomly discovered after a Reddit user stumbled upon it on their travels from Connecticut to New York City.

The photos found of the building are beautiful and mysterious, but quite puzzling to some who wondered why this building had been seemingly abandoned for so long.

The Early History Of The Curious Land

In 1695, the British government granted both the North and South Brother Islands to James Graham. However, due to the currents, he didn’t wish to build on the island.

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Source: Jgburdette.wordpress

From here on out, most people who had an encounter with the land shared similar sentiments. Throughout its history, the land was perceived as unruly, unstable, beaten up, and broken down. High-rolling investors didn’t find much use for it.

Where Is This Mysterious Building Exactly?

As photos started circulating online, some wondered where this building was exactly located. It’s located between Queens and the Bronx. The building is massive in size, spanning about 20 acres.

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Source: Pholder

That was another reason people couldn’t fathom how it has been unused for so long, being that it was large enough to serve so much purpose. The man who came across the building decided to capture as many pictures as he could.

When Was The Building's Inception?

The island was unused until the year 1885 when it was originally used as a hospital complex. Before it was built up to be a hospital, it was claimed by the Dutch West India Company back In 1614 under the original name “De Gesellen.”

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Source: Hooch

The land remained undeveloped for several years due to weather concerns in the area at the time. With unruly waters being the main concern, plans were put on hold.

A Hospital For Infectious Disease

Beginning in 1885, the idea of the hospital began to take full effect. It would be a place for individuals to be treated who had smallpox and typhoid fever.

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Source: Atlasobscura

The hospital was used to treat the people with the contagious disease, but also isolated them so that they wouldn’t pass it on to others. The goal was to keep expanding in the hopes that they could house individuals with similar ailments and get them the care that they needed.

The Tragedy Of 1905

In the year 1905, one thousand people lost their lives amid a steam ship accident. The ship caught on fire very close to the island. There were a little over 300 survivors.

Source: Batona

A beautiful memorial fountain for the crew who lost their lives stands in Tompkins Square in New York City’s East Village. Not another major tragic event should occur again until September 11th, 2001 – the infamous city terrorist attacks.

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The Infamous Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon was unfortunately the first recorded case in the United States who carried the bacteria that caused typhoid fever. Mallon worked as a chef and had infected several families with the disease.

Source: YouTube

Mallon was seemingly in perfect health but was found to be asymptomatic and discovered to be the source of the sickness’s spread. Mallon was later quarantined at the island during the time it acted as a hospital.

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The Investigation Of Typhoid Mary

In 1906, the owners of an Oyster Bay home hired a typhoid researcher to investigate. Mary had previously worked with them and they suspected that she was the reason for the recent typhoid outbreaks.

Source: YouTube

They struggled to find Mary because she would leave every job suddenly. They discovered her working in a penthouse on Park Avenue. Mary then refused to give the investigator any urine samples. And, from there, they went on to document her employment history.

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A Lonely And Isolated Stay

Mary spent her time on the island living in a house specially built for her. She expressed her frustration with her isolation saying asking why she was being banished like a leper to live in solitary confinement with only a singular dog for company.

Source: alwan.elwatannews

Source: Alwan.elwatannews

With statements like that, it’s certainly understandable that she was unsatisfied with her stay on the island. The main concern of the city though was to keep others safe and uninfected.

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Released And Rebellious

Mallon was released from her quarantine in 1910 and she was instructed not to return to work as a cook. She wanted to return to her job and didn’t believe that she was infected due to her symptoms being masked.

Source: Medthai

She went on to continue working as a cook infecting the people that she came across along the way. It’s speculated that she infected around 8 families. She was forcibly quarantined in 1915.

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Typhoid Mary Quarantined For Life

After getting 25 people sick, she returned to the island to be quarantined until she later died of pneumonia in 1938. She believed throughout her stay on the island that she had been kept there unfairly.

Source: Thejournal

Her thoughts were something that other people who were being quarantined shared. Some Individuals who were being kept on the island for quarantine purposes (or for rehabilitation) felt they were being held there unfairly.

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Raging Rumors And Media Coverage

Rumors were swirling that Mallon was responsible for infecting and killing hundreds of people. Articles were being written about her that were able to be seen by thousands of people.

Source: Reddit

Mallon later wrote a letter to the New York American saying that she felt like she was a peep show for everyone. Everyone had an opinion about her and most of them weren’t positive. People felt she was being inconsiderate and irresponsible.

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Mallon Was Singled Out

It was said in a recent Guardian article that Mary suffered a type of injustice. They noted that other individuals had asymptomatic responses to typhoid and some people infected more people than Mallon. But, they were quarantined for only a few weeks.

Source: Allday

Individuals such as Tony LaBella who were said to have caused more cases did not face the same restrictions Mary did.  Somehow though, Mary was met with more public backlash.

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The Destination For Drug Addiction

Soon after World War ll the island was home to war veterans who were enrolled in colleges nearby. During that time, there was a nationwide housing shortage. The island prioritized the veterans and their families when providing shelter.

Source: Freepik

Soon after that, the island was abandoned again and then used as a treatment center to help teen drug addicts. The center offered treatment, education, and rehabilitation. Some addicts were locked in the facility until they were clean.

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Abandoned Again In 1963

Rumors started to spread that drug facilitation was more of a harm than a help to the ones struggling. The individuals who strived to get clean began to feel that they were being held against their will and that they were being abused.

Source: Elcomercio

Confining them to their rooms and not allowing them to maintain healthy practices of getting clean caused the facility to close in 1963. It would reopen again in the 1970s with a new mission.

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Tried To Sell In 1970 To No Avail

The mayors of New York City had meetings to discuss what the uses for the building could be. They came up with many things but not one thing could be decided on.

Source: Davidesoliani

One idea was for it become housing for the homeless. The idea was soon scrapped being that the land as a whole wasn’t available to the general public. They concluded to sell the building but investors weren’t interested.

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Too Costly To Renovate And Repurpose

The buildings were large and spacious and had a lot of potential to develop into something great. Why weren’t investors interested? A lot of the buildings were losing physical integrity, while some of the structures were at risk of collapse.

Source: Ctatatelibrarydata

The buildings were also very old and needed a lot of renovating in order to be structurally sound and visually appealing. Some investors might have reasoned it was too costly to buy and then fix up.

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The Perfect Building For A Prison

Another idea the mayors and New York City officials had was to turn the land into a prison. Since the regular public wasn’t allowed to roam it freely, it could have potentially been perfect to turn into a prison.

Source: Pinterest

That idea ended up being bypassed and the prison was developed in a different location. Officials determined it was cheaper to build the prison in upstate New York. The cost of construction materials, crews, and plumbing was a factor.

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A Gloomy And Chilling Feel

A consensus among the individuals who stayed here was that they were being kept against their will whether they were sick with different diseases or they were being rehabilitated because of their addictions.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A general idea that most had was that they were being kept there without needing to be there. Was how they felt rooted in truth? Or, was it very necessary for everyone who was there to remain held, despite how they felt?

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Years Of Documentation By A Curious Photographer

Photographer Christopher Payne spent years documenting his finds on the island. He was granted access to survey the area by the New York City Department of Recreation in 2006.

Source: Soha

His captivating and frightening photos taken over a change of seasons throughout the years showed the decay of the buildings due to no human inhabitants for many years. The nature of the island began to infiltrate many of the structures, and the weather broke some down.

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How Did Christopher Come Across The Island?

In an interview, Christopher states that he learned about North Brother in 2004 when he was commissioned to photograph types of industrial sites by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. The island’s landscape immediately intrigued him when he learned about it.

Source The-mainboard

He had been used to doing photography and adventuring around other abandoned institutions, so North Brother was right up his alley. He was excited, honored, and grateful to get the opportunity to explore.

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Christopher Remained Vigilant And Careful

Further in the interview, Christopher mentioned that he had to remain very careful where he walked because the buildings were in very bad shape and they could collapse in an instant.

Source: Reddit

He mentioned that the floors and roofs were caved in and there was danger all around him in nature. From poison ivy to manholes, everywhere he turned there seemed to be an immediate danger. Taking precautionary measures, he wrapped all of his equipment and plastic bags.

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The Wildlife Of The Island

A popular species that abandoned the island for unknown reasons back in 2008 was a large nesting quantity of black-crowned night heron. These are generally small black and white birds with red eyes.

Source: Portalnet

The New York City Audubon monitored the colonies on the island for over 20 years before their departure, which could sometimes be seen flying above the island.  Other species of bird included great egret, snowy egret, and double-crested cormorant.

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Christopher's Take On Public Visitation Of The Land

Christopher believes that public access should be allowed but he does understand why it isn’t due to some hazards.

Source: Freerunsca

His hope is that the island will stay preserved as a natural sanctuary and that he would love to see the tuberculosis pavilion be restored. He says that he would like to see some of the buried sidewalks be cleared and for it to look a bit more polished.

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The Rich History Is Compelling

The island has an ominous and thorough history, as well as the lush, thick nature. The contrast between that and the hustle and bustle of New York City has been intriguing to the townspeople to explore for a long time!

Source: smithsonianmag.com

Even though everything about the island calls to the everyday adventurer, it’s not a place you’d want to freely gallivant about. Tours are a rare occurrence on the island, as much as the general public would like to visit.

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Preserving The Authenticity

If the island was open to the public, New York City councilmen believed in keeping it authentic and nature-centered. They wouldn’t bring any elements of the city or change anything in any way.

Source: Homedecorations

They mentioned it wouldn’t have food trucks, other vendors, or any entertainment. People would come purely to enjoy the history of the island. They would also offer tours that were eco-friendly and focused on education.

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People Like You And Me Being Considered

The original permits for the buildings were said to be used for academic or scientific purposes. Mark Levine, the Chair of the City Council’s Parks Committee, set out to go visit the island and decided he would like to open the island for limited public access.

Source: Cityroom.blogs.nytimes

Levine stated that he would like for it to be seen as a public park with controlled access, so people could enjoy the island under certain restrictions.

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Alarming Dangers To The Public

Although it was a kind and hopeful thought to partially open up the island, it was later determined that it would be dangerous to do so. There were many hazards on the land that posed a threat to the general townspeople’s safety.

Source: Pinterset

The buildings were still unstable and there were manholes spanning the land. Roaming through the buildings without knowing whether it would collapse could result in tragedy!

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A Large Undertaking

The New York councilmen recognize the large project it would be to make it safe for New York residents to visit the island. Some structures would have to be torn down to ensure the safety of visitors.

Source: Spiegel

That in and of itself would be taking away from the history of the island. The councilmen also recognize that it would be very expensive to fix, and the city isn’t prepared to take on that big of a project right now.

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Safety Is The Main Priority

If tours were made possible, the officials of New York would want to ensure the residents could roam freely without worrying about structures or some of the harmful effects of nature.

Source: Dailymail

Since the ultimate concern is the safety of visitors, it was the best decision not to open the island up to tourists. The best and safest way to enjoy the history of this infamous island is by online research and studying!

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