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James Renwick-Smallpox Hospital-Castle-Roosevelt Island-Landmarked Ruin-NYC

Did you know that ruins can be landmarked? The Colosseum in Rome and the pyramids of Egypt may be the most well-known ancient relics but they are definitely not the only ones. We did some digging and compiled this list of lesser-known landmarked ruins from around the world. Surprisingly, there is even one in New York City!

1. Renwick Smallpox Hospital, New York City

Before the end of the 19th century, it was common to isolate patients suffering from diseases like smallpox in hospitals on New York City’s other islands. North Brother Island was home to a typhoid sanatorium, Hoffman and Swinburne Islands off Staten Island were completely manmade quarantine stations, and a mob of arsonists burned down the Marine Quarantine Hospital on Staten Island.

Closer to Manhattan was Roosevelt Island, up until more recent history a place to locate those in society that didn’t quite fit: prisoners, lunatics and smallpox victims. The location of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island was strategically chosen so patients would be far away from the healthy population. The hospital, completed in 1856 in a Gothic-revival style, was designed by James Renwick Jr., who is known for designing St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

For the 19 years the hospital operated (until 1875), approximately 7,000 patients were treated here. In 1875, the hospital relocated to North Brother Island because Blackwell’s Island had become too populated and the building was converted into a nurses dormitory. By the 1950s, the original smallpox hospital was abandoned.

In 1975, the Landmarks Preservation Committee declared the structure a city landmark, and the only landmarked ruin in New York City. They reinforced the structure to prevent it from toppling to the ground, while the Four Freedoms Park has done some additional reinforcement in hopes to turn it into a visitors center. While the park was being completed, we had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes into the smallpox hospital on several occasions. Photographs from those visits here and here.

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