Renwick (Ruins) Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island,NYC (by rjcaputophotography)
The Smallpox Hospital (sometimes referred to as the Renwick Smallpox Hospital and later the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School) is an abandoned hospital located on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., the 100 bed hospital opened in 1856, when the area was known as Blackwell’s Island.
A century after it opened, the hospital was closed. The building eventually fell into disrepair. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a New York City Landmark four years later, the only ruin in the city with that designation. After a $4.5 million dollar stabilization project, the Smallpox Hospital ruins are open to the public.
Despite the availability of the smallpox vaccine, New York City still had large outbreaks of the disease, in part because of the arrival of infected immigrants. Located on the isolated southern tip of the island in an attempt to quarantine patients, the hospital contained a large charity ward in addition to private rooms on the upper floors. In 1875, the hospital closed and became a training center for nurses attached to City Hospital, later renamed Charity Hospital. Renwick designed the building in the Gothic Revival style, and in 1903-1905, two wings with the same architectural theme were added to the school, named the Home for the Nurses and the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School, to accommodate the growing student base. In deference to the changing use of the island, in 1921 Blackwell’s Island was renamed Welfare Island, and many of the structures there fell into disrepair as they became obsolete. In the 1950s, both Charity Hospital and the nurses school were closed, and their operations moved to new buildings in Queens.
Both buildings fell into disrepair, eventually becoming ruins. In the 1970s, architect Giorgio Cavaglieri inspected them both, making plans to reinforce the walls of the Smallpox Hospital. In 1972, the hospital was added to the National Register of Historic Places, making it New York City’s “only landmarked ruin.” In 1973, Welfare Island was renamed as Roosevelt Island in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Often referred to as the Renwick Ruin, the Neo-Gothic ruins have been illuminated nightly since 1995, in a somewhat successful effort to raise funds for stabilizing the structure. However, on December 26, 2007, a section of the north wing collapsed, adding an urgency to preservation plans. On May 28, 2009, ground was broken on a new park on Roosevelt Island that includes plans to stabilize the Smallpox Hospital, a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a 14-acre (57,000 m2) public area. After a $4.5 million dollar stabilization project, the Smallpox Hospital ruins will be open to the public.