The curious history of the city’s Rat Island

Dwarfed by tiny City Island and lilliputian Hart Island (New York City’s Potter’s Field) off the Bronx, Rat Island is currently uninhabited.

But this 2.5 acre hump of bedrock has a long, strange history.

Purchased from Native Americans in 1654 by the Pell family, the island’s name supposedly stems from the inmates then jailed on Hart Island.

When inmates—who were nicknamed rats—escaped, they swam to Rat Island first before making a go at reaching City Island.

By the 1800s, it was the location of the “Pelham Pesthouse,” a yellow fever hospital that quarantined 40 people.

New York bought it in 1888, though it’s not clear why, since the city didn’t put it to any use. Until the 1930s a group of artists and writers lived there.

Eventually it went back into private ownership—and last year was actually up for sale. The price? Just $300,000.

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7 Responses to “The curious history of the city’s Rat Island”

  1. *Everyday Chatter « NYC Says:

    […] Swimming out to Rat Island and the Pelham Pesthouse. [ENY] […]

  2. Nabe - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] fascinating history of Rat Island, a 2.5-acre parcel just off the Bronx.  It was often a stepping stone for escaped […]

  3. Mitch Says:

    How is it possible that anyone lived there? I sail past it regularly in my boat and the thing is *tiny*. I wouldn’t be surprised if a good nor’easter covers the thing.

  4. Interview with Michael A. Parker, Vietnam veteran. CCSU Veterans History Project | Best Lawn Care Tips Says:

    […] The curious history of the city's Rat Island « Ephemeral New York […]

  5. The “Devil’s Stepping Stones” off City Island « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] then there are even tinier chunks of bedrock that aren’t usually named on maps: Rat Island, the Chimney Sweeps Islands, and High […]

  6. Bill Twomey Says:

    See “The Bronx in Bits and Pieces” (latest edition by Rooftop Publising). Written by Bronx historian Bill Twomey it gives a complete history of Hart Island as well as the history of Rat Island, Anne Hutchinson,Haunted Cedar Knoll, Rikers Island, the Hell Gate Pilots, High Island, Stepping Stones, Rodman’s Neck, and everything else you’d want to knoe about the Bronx in 289 pages.

  7. Green daisy Says:

    This island was recently purchased by a man named Schibli for $160k, and he says he has no plans to develop or alter it. 🙂

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