Renwick Smallpox Hospital: The Abandoned Smallpox Facility in Roosevelt Island

Renwick Smallpox Hospital, often referred to simply as the Smallpox Hospital, was a medical facility on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan, New York. It was originally designed by James Renwick Jr., a famous 19th century architect renowned for designing churches, and first opened its doors to patients in 1856. Today, it lies abandoned with decaying structures and falling walls.

The History of Smallpox Hospital

Construction of Smallpox Hospital started on April 1, 1854. It was located on the southernmost point of Blackwell Island (the modern-day Roosevelt Island). Although the smallpox vaccine was already available when the hospital was constructed, there were still large outbreaks of smallpox disease. The arrival of infected immigrants significantly contributed to this.

The Smallpox Hospital was the first major hospital in the United States dedicated to caring for smallpox victims. It was mainly constructed of granite gneiss sourced from the island, and it was three stories tall. For a building built in the 19th century, the Smallpox Hospital’s architectural detailing was magnificent.

Smallpox Hospital’s Development under Sisters Management

From 1856, when the Smallpox Hospital opened its doors to the first patient, to 1875, it was under New York City government’s management. However, the authorities delegated the role to the Sisters of Charity at St. Vincent’s Hospital as they wanted to get the most from the facility.

It was also at this time that the building’s name changed to Riverside Hospital. The new management thought the name was symbolic since the hospital was surrounded by views of the East River and served a larger pool of patients, not just those suffering from smallpox.

Within a short time under the Sisters’ management, the Smallpox Hospital had undergone significant positive development. It was so much so that the New York City officials released a statement commending the Sisters’ work.

The Closing of Riverside Hospital

Unfortunately, the Sisters’ reign only lasted for a decade. In 1886, the Riverside Hospital was closed, and the building was redesigned into a nursing school known as the Nurses of the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School.

The beds, surgical rooms & equipment were removed, and the rooms were converted to classrooms, training wards, laboratories, and dormitories.

Why the Smallpox Hospital Was Abandoned

The Home for the Nurses of the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School lasted from 1886 to the 1950s, when the building was officially abandoned, and the nurses’ school operations shifted to new buildings in Queens.

With no students, patients, or staff, the Smallpox Hospital’s building fell into disrepair and eventually became ruins. In the 1970s, architect Giorgio Cavaglieri, a famous figure in the historic preservationist movement in New York City, inspected the building. He recommended that it be added to the National Register of Historic Places. As such, it became the “only landmarked ruin” in New York City.

Because of architect James Renwick Jr.’s input in designing and maintaining the Smallpox Hospital building, the ruin was eventually called the Renwick Ruin.

The Current State of the Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island

The Smallpox Hospital building now lies in a sorry state, a shadow of its former self. Its roof no longer exists, and the interiors have been stripped of floor slabs. The windows and stairwells are barely intact, with the majority already collapsed. As part of its preservation measures and general safety, the authorities fenced the building from the public.

There is hope for the facility, though. If the current $4.5 million stabilization project is completed, the Renwick Ruin will have a new lease of life and probably be opened to the public again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *