The Creepy Story Behind New York’s Deserted Hospital [A Byte Out of the Big Apple]


Welcome to Thomas Insights – we publish the latest news and analysis every day to keep our readers updated on what’s going on in the industry. Sign up here to get the top stories of the day straight to your inbox.

A byte from the Big Apple

Medium_StephanieNikolopoulos.jpg - a few seconds ago

New York City attracts industry captains, innovators, and creatives. It’s home to iconic skyscrapers and intricate subway tunnels, the neon lights of Times Square and the delicate flora of Central Park, stationary shops and dot-coms – and all of them are powered by the manufacturing industry.

Join Thomas Insights Editor Stephanie Nikolopoulos as she digs a “byte” out of the Big Apple’s history and future in this bi-weekly column.

“How about a trip to an abandoned smallpox hospital?” I recommended.

My idea for a date approaching the macabre looked at me for a minute.

“How small is this hospital?” he swayed. He imitated Zoolander and asked, “Is it a hospital for ants?”

It turned out that New York’s Smallpox Hospital has a great history. It may have been given up, but it should not be forgotten.

Isolate the victims

Pop-up hospitals sprang up in New York City last year when COVID-19 numbers overran traditional facilities. In Central Park, Samaritan’s purse set up tents for a field hospital to treat those with the coronavirus. The Army Corps of Engineers turned the Javits Center into a makeshift hospital. The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which had remedied it by admitting patients with other ailments, also revolved around COVID-19. Still quarantined today, New Yorkers across the five boroughs are lining up in their closet-sized studio apartments to stop the spread of COVID-19 but put the looming shadows of pop-up hospitals in our parks, in our convention centers and even on our rivers are gone.

In the past, New York has taken more drastic measures to stop the spread of infectious diseases – evidenced by eerie ruins on one of our islands.

“Before a vaccine was developed, smallpox was one of the most feared diseases on the planet – it was extremely contagious and had killed and disfigured millions of people since ancient times,” said the Brooklyn Public Library.

In the 1800s, an outbreak of smallpox threatened the citizens of New York. In 1856 New York created a kind of smallpox colony by confiscating victims on what is now Roosevelt Island. “Essentially, the hospital has isolated and quarantined patients on Blackwell’s Island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens,” a summary in the Journal of Community Health reads.

It is important to understand the context of what is being implied here. As the National Parks Service put it, “New York City bought East River Island in 1828. In 1832 a prison was built on the island. These physically isolated prisoners from the city and the mainland. Prisoners weren’t the only inmates on Blackwell’s Island, however. Blackwell’s Island in the 19th century also housed a workhouse complex, a general hospital, a poor house, a hospital for the “incurable” and, at times, a smallpox hospital.

Renwick Smallpox Hospital: Technology and Design

Although the design of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is considered its crowning achievement, James Renwick Jr., who studied engineering at Columbia University, also designed a number of hospitals and institutions in New York. Among them was Renwick Smallpox Hospital.

Plans for the New York Smallpox Hospital began in 1850, and construction on the southern portion of Blackwell’s Island began in 1854. According to Untapped New York, “it was built with workers from the nearby insane asylum.” The New York Health History said: “Although difficult to imagine, this gloomy picture is not too far removed from reality. According to Stephen Martin, who runs the Friends of the Ruin, the smallpox hospital was built with prison labor by the chain gang. “Two years later, in 1856, the original part of the hospital opened.

In keeping with Renwick’s aesthetic, the Smallpox Hospital is an impressive neo-Gothic building. It looks like a fortress – in this case apparently both to keep visitors out (none were allowed) and to keep patients in. At the top are battlements, those gaps between walls that are normally used in castles so that knights can start their attack, but can only have served as a kind of watchtower. One can imagine a patient with the “hideous disease” staring out the large arched windows wondering what life is like on the other side of the quarantine.

“When the old buildings were destroyed by fire, patients had to be moved to the new hospital, which was not yet completed,” said the Roosevelt Island Historical Society. These are the south wing, built by York & Sawyers in 1903-04, and the north wing, built by Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen in 1904-05.

Smallpox supply chain: vaccination and health facilities

This was the first major hospital in the country dedicated to the care of patients with smallpox. “The vaccine for this disease, developed by Edward Jenner around the turn of the 18th century, was successfully based on variolation and has helped almost eradicate the disease today,” said History of Health in New York. Those who were too poor to afford, too suspicious of the vaccine, or had otherwise not been vaccinated were brought here – sometimes by police escorts. Many were immigrants or Union soldiers.

The three-story facility could accommodate 100 charitable patients. While the poor were banished to the lower floors, paying customers could get private rooms on the upper floors. The quality of care should depend on solvency.

“During the 19-year history of the hospital, around 7,000 patients have been treated each year, with around 450 deaths annually,” reported Culture Trip. According to the History of Health in New York, piles of coffins were in sight – as was the scattering of the ashes of the dead into the river.

Despite the extra wings, the disease was so widespread in 1875 that the hospital could not handle the surge in new cases. The hospital was closed and operations moved to North Brother Island, a previously uninhabited island near Rikers Island.

Renwick ruins

After it was no longer used to treat smallpox patients, the building was reborn as a training school for maternity and charity hospitals and student residence.

In the 1950s, however, the building was abandoned. Renwick’s neo-Gothic work was in decay, a haunting reminder of our town’s past. The New York Development Corporation rented the entire island in 1969, and the Smallpox Hospital was identified as one of seven buildings to be redeveloped.

But this rehabilitation never came.

In 1973 it became part of the National Register of Historic Places and was granted landmark status three years later. However, little effort has been taken to keep it from falling to the ground. Unlike many other landmarks that have been meticulously preserved and restored, this architectural marvel is in a state of decay, as if suggesting a collective desire to let its filthy history crumble into dust so that it no longer serves as a visual scar on ours Past serves.

In 2009, a $ 4.5 million project was launched to stabilize the remains of the Smallpox Hospital. Bright lights were installed to illuminate the roofless structure, which is surrounded by the bricks it has already shed. Some say that Renwick Ruins is haunted. Some say it should be demolished to make way for a business that could bring revenue to Governors Island.

But in 2018 Friends of the Ruin was founded to raise the money to maintain the currently fenced smallpox hospital. Martin told Untapped New York, “The building is one of our last remaining artifacts from an era when New York City would store its sick and disenfranchised. Within its walls lie the stories of our collective treatment of the poor, the sick, and those who are considered unworthy by the New York ruling classes. “Likewise, its walls are reminiscent of the hands that were forced to build it.

Here you can take your own virtual trip to Renwick Smallpox Hospital with drone material.

Smallpox today

According to the CDC, research on smallpox continues in the US and focuses on developing vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests to protect people from smallpox in case it is used as an agent of bioterrorism worldwide in 1980. “

In addition to the US laboratory, there is another laboratory in the world that is known to have a live sample of the virus. In September 2019, an explosion occurred in this Russian laboratory. The sample was reportedly not compromised. The World Health Organization believes that the samples should be destroyed, but there is still no consensus on when.

Photo credit: Rob Starobin /

3D printing could take aviation to new heightsNext story »

More from engineering & design

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.