An Abandoned Island in the Middle of New York City

Books Places
Image: Fordham University Press
Image: Fordham University Press

North Brother Island sits in the East River, between the Bronx and Manhattan, near Rikers Island. It’s abandoned, but it wasn’t always so. In 1885, Riverside Hospital was built there to house smallpox patients. It was close to the city, but completely separated from it. Over the years, the buildings on the island served a variety of purposes, but it was eventually abandoned entirely in 1963.

Nature then did what nature does best. Thrive. The buildings deteriorated and the foliage spread. Recently, photographer Christopher Payne visited the island a number of times and photographed what he saw. The results are in his book, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City. You can also see a few of the photos on the Smithsonian Magazine website. The photos and the story are a fascinating look at slices of time from our nation’s history, and well as another example of nature reclaiming areas previously carved out by humans.

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