North and South Brother Islands, East River
North and South Brother Islands are a pair of small islands in New York City's East River, situated between the Bronx and Riker's Island. North Brother Island was once the site of a hospital, but is now uninhabited and designated as a bird sanctuary. It measures approximately 1,310 by 820 feet (400 by 250 m). South Brother Island covers 7 acres (2.8 ha). It is uninhabited and designated as a wildlife sanctuary. Until 1964, South Brother Island was part of Queens County, but it is now part of Bronx County. It had long been privately owned, but was purchased by the city in 2007. Together, the two Brother Islands, North and South, have a land area of 20.12 acres (8.14 ha).
North Brother Island
The North island was uninhabited until 1885, when Riverside Hospital moved there from Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island). Riverside Hospital was founded in the 1850s as the Smallpox Hospital to treat and isolate victims of that disease. Its mission eventually expanded to other quarantinable diseases.
The island was the site of the wreck of the General Slocum, a steamship which burned on June 15, 1904. Over 1,000 people died either from the fire on board the ship or from drowning before the ship was beached on the island's shores.
After World War II, the island housed war veterans who were students at local colleges, along with their families. After the nationwide housing shortage abated, the island was once again abandoned.
In the 1950s a center opened to treat adolescent drug addicts. The facility claimed to be the first to offer treatment, rehabilitation, and education facilities to young drug offenders. Heroin addicts were confined to this island and locked in a room until they were clean. Many of them believed they were being held against their will (as one person wrote on the wall). By the early 1960s widespread staff corruption and patient recidivism forced the facility to close.
Now a bird sanctuary, the island is currently abandoned and off-limits to the public. Most of the original hospitals' buildings still stand, but are heavily deteriorated and in danger of collapse. A dense forest conceals the ruined hospital buildings, and from the 1980s through the early 2000s it supported one of the area's largest nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night Heron. However as of 2008 this species has abandoned the island for unknown reasons.
South Brother Island
Jacob Ruppert, a brewery magnate and early owner of the New York Yankees (responsible for bringing Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees from the Boston Red Sox), had a summer house on the island that burned down in 1909. No one has lived on the island since then. There are no structures extant.
Ruppert owned the Island until the late 1930s. In 1944 it was purchased by John Gerosa, president of the Metropolitan Roofing Supply Company, who intended to build a summer retreat for his workers on the island. This did not come to pass.
Hampton Scows paid property taxes every year but did not develop the island. In November 2007, the City of New York purchased the island for $2,000,000 using federal money. The city plans to preserve it as a wildlife sanctuary. It will be managed by the City's Parks Department and the Bronx Zoo.
The South island's dense brush supports a major nesting colony of several species of birds, notably Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Double-crested Cormorant. New York City Audubon has monitored nesting colonies on the island for over twenty years.
In popular culture
- In 1991, the rock band Mercury Rev used the North island to shoot a music video for the song "Chasing A Bee" from the record "Yerself Is Steam". It was directed by Jens Jurgensen and Jim Spring.
- North Brother Island was featured in episode 8 ("Armed and Defenseless") of Life After People on the History Channel. It was used as an example of what would happen to structures after 45 years without humans.
- North Brother Island was featured in an episode of Broad City.
- Williams, Timothy (November 20, 2007). "City Claims Final Private Island in East River". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. "South Brother Island, seven acres of dense forest, bittersweet vines, flocks of wild birds and little else, is a speck in the East River — and a glimpse of what the rest of the city might have looked like thousands of years ago."
- New York. Laws of New York; 1964, 187th Session, Chapter 578, page 1606.
- "The General Slocum An Unlucky Craft. Has Had Collisions And Accidents By The Score. Has Run Ashore Many Times. She Was a Crack Harbor Boat Thirteen Years Ago. Capt. Van Schaick's Good Record". New York Times. June 16, 1904. Retrieved 2010-02-28. "The General Slocum was one of the best known vessels about New York Harbor. Since the time of her launching, in 1891, she has been employed in so many different capacities, and on so many different runs, that possibly five out of every ten people in New York City have at some time been aboard of her, or have seen her at close range."
- "'Typhoid Mary' Dies Of A Stroke At 68. Carrier of Disease, Blamed for 51 Cases and 3 Deaths, but She Was Held Immune". New York Times. November 12, 1938. Retrieved 2010-02-28. "Mary Mallon, the first carrier of typhoid bacilli identified in America and consequently known as Typhoid Mary, died yesterday in Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island."
- Williams, Timothy (November 20, 2007). "City Claims Final Private Island in East River". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. "The island — the smaller sibling of the better known North Brother Island, which is 500 feet to the north and once the quarantine home of Typhoid Mary ... Neighboring islands, including North Brother, became sites for hospitals that treated infectious diseases like typhus and tuberculosis and for mental hospitals, power plants, jails, homeless shelters and cemeteries for the indigent."
- Craig, E. "Audubon’s Harbor Herons Project: 2009 Interim Nesting Survey Report". New York City Audubon.
- "New York's South Brother Island to be a sanctuary". New York Newsday. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-26. "The island, an overgrown, uninhabited 7-acre (2.8 ha) piece of land battered by wind in the East River, was sold to the investment group Hampton Scows Inc. by the city in 1975 for $10. Now the federal government is purchasing it from the group for $2 million, a markup of 20 million percent, and turning it over to the city's Parks Department."
- Block, Dorian (2007-11-27). "City buys South Brother Island on East River for bird refuge". Daily News (New York).
- Craig, E. "2012 Interim Nesting Report". NYC Audubon. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Berger, Joseph (December 4, 2003). "So, You Were Expecting a Pigeon?; In City Bustle, Herons, Egrets and Ibises Find a Sanctuary". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "By contrast, South Brother and its bigger sibling, North Brother Island, have resisted such an invasion. North Brother's vegetation -- a jungle of thick brush, low trees and tangled bittersweet vines set among the ruins of a dozen quarantine and hospital buildings -- has produced a secure haven for the black-crowned night heron, the city's most populous heron species. More than 230 crude nests of sticks and twigs were counted there last June."
- "Armed and Defenseless". History Channel. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- Seitz, Sharon & Miller, Stuart. (2003) The Other Islands of New York. ISBN 0-88150-502-1.
- North Brother and South Brother Islands: Block 9000, Block Group 9, Census Tract 5, Bronx County, New York United States Census Bureau
- "Talk of the Town", The New Yorker, 14 August 1954, p.15.
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- A historical article about the island accompanied by 60 recent photographs
- Brothers: NYC's worst maritime tragedy
- Forgotten New York Photos of the islands in 2004, and images of the General Slocum
- NYC Audubon Western Long Island Sound Project - includes Harbor Herons
- Harbor Herons Nesting Survey -2010 report on wading bird and gull nesting activity in NY Harbor, including North Brother Island
- NYC Audubon Harbor Herons Project
- Harbor Herons Nesting Survey -recent reports on wading bird, cormorant, and gull nesting activity at South Brother Island
- Photos of the abandoned hospital Photographs and history of the abandoned Riverside Hospital
- Urban Explorers A second gallery of images
- The Places We Don't See New York Times Lens Blog
- North Brother Island Eerie pictures abandoned New York leper colony
- North Brother Island Bird Sanctuary Documentary produced by The City Concealed
- North Brother Island Photo Gallery
- NYC property tax records See Valuation/Assessment for Bronx Block 2605 Lot 35.