4. The Ruins of a Smallpox Hospital Remains on Roosevelt Island

Smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island

If the lunatic asylum and prison weren’t enough, another former, creepy institution on Roosevelt Island can be added to the list: a smallpox hospital. By the end of the 1800s, it was common to isolate patients suffering from contagious diseases like smallpox on islands, like North Brother Island, Hoffman and Swinburne Islands, and of course, Blackwell’s Island. The island’s Gothic Revival-style Renwick Smallpox Hospital was designed by James Renwick Jr. (who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral), built using labor from the lunatic asylum and completed in 1856.

It functioned for 19 years and treated about 7,000 patients. Many of these were impoverished immigrants or Union soldiers who needed curing. In 1875, the hospital moved to North Brother Island when it became too crowded, but the original building remains today and is the “only landmarked ruin” in New York City. During the construction of FDR Four Freedoms Park, the organization behind the park hoped to use the hospital as a visitor center, but funds and interest petered out after initial stabilization. Recently released is the new short film Unforgotten: Renwick Ruin by artist Aaron Asis, Untapped New York’s Artist in Residence. Asis and his team at Green Ghost Studios were given special access inside the abandoned structure, and the film showcases perspectives of the Renwick ruin that are rarely seen by the public.