Posts Tagged ‘Swinburne Island’

Obscure Manhattan phone exchanges

June 9, 2009

This one was spotted in a building on Park Place where some city agencies have offices. SW might stand for Swinburne—but why? The only Swinburne reference I’m aware of is Swinburne Island in New York Harbor.


On East First Street, a reminder of the East Village’s working class past, and the neighborhood’s proximity to GRamercy Park:


The quarantine island in New York Bay

February 23, 2009

Imagine traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City, ready to start a new life in a new country, only to be diagnosed with a deadly disease and then moved to a tiny spit of land off Staten Island where you might get well but will probably soon die?

That’s what happened to some unlucky immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Diagnosed with cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, or any of the other incurable, dreaded diseases of the day, they were sent to Swinburne Island at the lower end of New York Bay. Swinburne was specially created in the 1860s as a place to quarantine sick immigrants. 

A hospital, pictured below, and crematorium were pretty much the only buildings on the island. Over the years, many people were sent there, but not many left alive. 


Here’s Swinburne Island today. Changes in immigration law in the 1920s coupled with public health reform rendered the hospital obsolete.

The abandoned buildings and lack of any sign of human life give the island a spooky, desolate vibe. It’s now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and is a popular place for cormorants to nest.