On cloudy days, this facade can seem like something out of a horror movie.  Although not quite a horror movie, this landmark was in an action movie, Spiderman in 2002. This gothic revival building was designed in 1856 by our good friend, James Renwick, Jr., as the first hospital in the United States to treat victims of contagion and plague.  It was the only hospital in New York to accept patients with smallpox and it was the only hospital on the island to accept paying clients, while the others were devoted strictly to charity. 

    The building was constructed of, you guessed it, island gneiss and used inmate labor, which was so cheap that the cost of construction was only $38,000 ($158,000 in today's money).  It is three stories tall with a central tower and two flanking  wings, added in 1902 and 1905. 

    In 1875, the hospital's name was changed to Riverside Hospital (there's an awful lot of name changing going on here, don't you think?), and 11 years later, the patients were transferred to the new Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island. The building was then used as a nurses's residence for neighboring City Hospital, but, as we saw earlier, Charity Hospital moved to Queens in 1957 and the hospital was, sadly, abandoned. 

    In 1970, our preservation architect Georgio Cavaglieri selected the Smallpox Hospital to be one of 6 buildings to be preserved on the island. Interestingly, Cavaglieri wanted to preserve the hospital as a ruin, which it was landmarked as in 1976, the only one in New York City.  Someone, however (we're looking at you, Cavaglieri) did not anticipate how quickly the salt air and heavy winds that pass over the island would affect the ruin.  Today, the ruin is being supported by a series of internal and external scaffolding and is surrounded by a fence, preventing the public from getting too close.  The only inhabitants of the ruin now are migrating geese and the island's cat population, who can be seen (if you're lucky) laying in the hospital's windows. 

    Check out the Hospital's Designation report HERE to see how special this ruin really is.  The hospital still requires stabilization efforts. If you are interested in helping out, contact the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

South Tour Stop 6: Smallpox Ruin


Smallpox Hospital Ruin by Renwick

List of Stops List_of_Stops.html









Getting AroundGetting_Around.html
Roosevelt Island Historical Tourindex.html
Walk to park entranceTour_South_7__Four_Freedoms_Park.html
Next Stop: Four Freedoms ParkTour_South_7__Four_Freedoms_Park.html

NYPL Digital Gallery

Earnest B, wikipedia, 1996

NYPL Robert N. Dennis Collection

NYPL Robert N. Dennis Collection

Roosevelt Island Historical Society