The Smallpox Hospital & RiverSide Hospital


1854 — 1875: 'The Smallpox Hospital'

Stereoscopic photograph of the original Smallpox Hospital building

On April 1, 1854 construction of the Smallpox Hospital began on the southernmost point of Blackwell Island (Roosevelt Island was formerly known as Blackwell Island).

Map of Blackwell's Island showing location of Smallpox Hospital on southernmost tip of island

Original architectural details included a tower with recessed arches, a cupola at the main entry, and crenelated parapets throughout, New York City Municipal Archives

Original architectural details included a tower with recessed arches, a cupola at the main entry, and crenelated parapets throughout, New York City Municipal Archives

This building would be the first major U.S. hospital dedicated to the care of victims of this virus. The gothic revival structure was designed by the renowned architect James Renwick, Jr., architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

The original hospital opened in 1856 and had a rectangular footprint that measured 104 feet by 45 feet. It was situated on the southern end of the island at the water’s edge, was three stories tall, and was constructed of granite gneiss quarried from the island. The building had magnificent architectural detailing:  a light-filled tower with recessed arches supported by corbels sat at the central roofline, a smaller cupola was positioned just above the main entry, a large single-story porch crowned with a bay window marked the entrance, and throughout were crenelated parapets, pointed arches, and mullioned windows. The hospital was managed by New York City and could house one hundred patients at a time. It provided health services for all — charity cases were housed on the first floor and private cases were located on the upper floors.


1875 — 1886: 'Riverside Hospital'

In 1875, New York City government asked that the Sisters of Charity at St. Vincent’s Hospital take over management of the Smallpox Hospital. The building's name would change from the Smallpox Hospital to Riverside Hospital. It was given the name Riverside because it was entirely surrounded by views of the East River and because the hospital began to serve a larger body of the sick patients.

Southern half of Blackwell's Island with Riverside Hospital at southernmost tip, New York City Municipal Archives

New York City officials were so pleased with the Sister’s work that they published a report stating "since the change in management [from City to the Sisters] has been effected, the hospital has been steadily growing in popularity, and it is not at all unusual for us to be gratified with the sincere thanks of returned patients for the kindness and tender care which they received."


Converted to a Nursing School

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The Building Becomes a Ruin

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