No One Is Allowed To Visit This Abandoned Island Near Manhattan, New York

No One Is Allowed To Visit This Abandoned Island Near Manhattan, New York!

Just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan lies North Brother Island, a place covered in mystery. This 22-acre island, in the East River, is still off-limits to the public. The island stood abandoned for over half a century.

New York City owns North Brother Island, and it sits between the South Bronx’s industrial coast and Rikers Island Correctional Center. Access is strictly controlled by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Only a few researchers and journalists can get permission to visit, accompanied by NYC Parks staff.

The only known resident of this eerie island was Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary. She was restricted to the island not once but twice. Mary’s second stay lasted until her death in 1938. The island also claims one of the worst maritime disasters in the U.S. Let’s dive in to know all its stories!

History of North Brother Island

Early History and Ownership

North Brother Island, along with its smaller sibling South Brother Island, was first claimed by the Dutch West India Company in 1614. They named the islands De Gesellen, which translates to “the companions” or “the brethren.” In the late 1600s, the British took over and gave the islands to James Graham in 1695. However, the islands remained with no structures or buildings like Manhattan due to dangerous river currents.

Initially, North Brother Island was transferred to New York County in 1881 and later to the Bronx in 1964. The islands were incorporated into Long Island City in 1870 before New York City’s consolidation in 1898.

Image source: Business Insider

Riverside Hospital

In 1885, North Brother Island became the new home of Riverside Hospital. The hospital moved there from Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). Founded in the 1850s as a smallpox hospital, Riverside expanded to treat other contagious diseases like typhoid, and tuberculosis. During the 1916 polio epidemic, the hospital was crucial in treating countless patients.

The hospital buildings were opened in 1943. But they fell into disuse by the mid-20th century.

Image source: Wikipedia

Decades of Abandonment

After World War II, North Brother Island sheltered war veterans and their families. But as the housing shortage reduced, the island was abandoned again. In the 1950s, it reopened as a rehabilitation center for adolescent drug addicts. It claimed to be the first facility offering treatment, rehabilitation, and education for young drug offenders. However, due to staff corruption and high costs, the facility closed in 1963.

Over the years, various New York City mayors proposed different uses for the island. Some wanted to sell it or convert it into housing for the homeless. Ultimately, the island was designated as a bird sanctuary, primarily for herons and other shorebirds. Today, it remains abandoned, with most of its 25 buildings. Limited access is given only for academic and scientific research.

No One Is Allowed To Visit This Abandoned Island Near Manhattan, New York
Image source: The New York Times / Curbed NY / ABC News / Matt Sonswa
Image source: All That’s Interesting / Twistedsifter / The Marginilian

The Infamous Typhoid Mary: The Only Person to Live on the Island

Mary Mallon, or Typhoid Mary, was an Irish-born cook who unknowingly spread typhoid fever to many people. She was the first identified asymptomatic carrier of Salmonella typhi in the United States. Despite being forcibly quarantined twice, she continued to work as a cook under fake names. This caused multiple outbreaks.

Her first quarantine on North Brother Island lasted from 1907 to 1910. After her release, she worked in various kitchens, leading to more outbreaks. In 1915, she was quarantined again on the island, where she remained until her death in 1938. During her captivity, she worked in the island’s laboratory and lived an isolated life.

Image source: Forbes / Brittanica

A Ship Sank Close to the Island, Killing Thousands

North Brother Island was also the site of one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history. On June 15, 1904, the passenger steamboat PS General Slocum caught fire and sank in the East River. The ship was carrying members of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to a picnic when the disaster struck. Out of the 1,342 people on board, an estimated 1,021 lost their lives, making it the deadliest maritime disaster in New York City history until the Titanic sank in 1912.

Image source: Wikipedia
Image source: The Nation


North Brother Island’s unique story is a blend of historical, ecological, and cultural significance. Its past as a quarantine site, its role in public health, and its current status as a bird sanctuary make it a fascinating yet forbidden place. The island’s eerie allure continues to captivate the imagination, reminding us of the ongoing mysteries and histories that lie just beyond our reach.

Also read,

Similar Posts