Nestled between two modern looking rectangular wings is the Octagon tower. Originally constructed in 1834 and designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, the 5-story rotunda of gneiss quarried from the island was originally the New York City Lunatic Asylum.  Although the institution was meant to help New York City's most vulnerable, it seems that the institution was plagued with difficulties from the very beginning.

        When Charles Dickens visited the Asylum in 1842, he wrote in American Notes that the place had a "lounging, listless, madhouse air." Abuse became so rampant that in 1887, reporter Nellie Bly went undercover as a patient at the asylum to report on the deteriorating conditions.  Her book, Ten Days in a Madhouse became a best seller, and also led to patients being transferred to a more suitable facility on Ward's Island in 1894.

The buildings were later occupied by Metropolitan Hospital, which specialized in treating tuberculosis, and even operating a Leprosy Ward from 1902 to 1921.  The Hospital moved to Harlem in 1955, and the campus was subsequently abandoned. Although the Octagon tower was landmarked by the city in 1976, it suffered form vandalism and several fires, the largest being in 1999, which effectively gutted the tower. 

     In 2006, the tower was completely renovated and two modern wings were added, creating a 500 unit market-rate housing complex.  You don't have to be crazy to get a room in here anymore, but you do have to be competitive.  See for yourself. Apparently everyone is a little nuts when it comes to the Octagon.

       See if you can find the sculpture of Sabrina, nearby the Octagon.  Sabrina is also the patron goddess of Amherst College.  A metal casting of her, made by the J.L. Mott Iron Works of New York City, was given to the college by Massachusetts Lieut. Governor Joel Hayden in 1957. The statue was located adjacent to The Octagon building on the Amherst campus until 1885. Roosevelt Island's installation re-establishes the historic setting of Sabrina adjacent to an Octagonal building.

    Check out the Octagon's Designation Report here and see why we're just as crazy about it!

North Tour Stop 12: The Octagon


The Octagon, the Ex-Lunatic Asylum

Take a left and follow the roadTour_North_13__Dayspring_Church.html
Next Stop: Dayspring ChurchTour_North_13__Dayspring_Church.html
List of Stops List_of_Stops.html



Getting AroundGetting_Around.html
Roosevelt Island Historical Tourindex.html

‘King’s Handbook of New York City, pg. 468

Library of Congress


Marena Wisniewski