The New York City Farm Colony

April 20, 2011 -

The New York City Farm Colony is one of the most popular ruins on Staten Island. Although closed to the public and completely surrounded by chain link fences, this 70 acre site has many visitors throughout the year. On weekends, couples can be seen strolling along its abandoned streets. Paintball enthusiasts have built an elaborate homemade obstacle course on its grounds, including sniper roosts in the trees. Graffiti artists have entered into every building and covered nearly every surface with thousands of tags. Inside some buildings, visitors have even built makeshift bedrooms.

These visitors, alongside decades of city neglect, have left the buildings on the Farm Colony campus wide open to the elements. About a dozen structures still stand on the campus, ranging from a huge four story dining hall to a single small greenhouse. All of these structures are gutted shells, their interiors covered in dirt and full grown trees. The oldest structures in the Farm Colony - Dormitory 1 & 2 - date back to 1904 and are collapsing under the weight of decay, their roofs entirely missing.

Staten Island has not been kind to its many abandoned hospital buildings. A landmarked 1842 building rots at Bayley-Seton Hospital. The endangered 1889 Smith Infirmary has never been landmarked and is slowly falling to pieces. The ruins of the 1899 Seaside Hospital, which was demolished in 1964 by Robert Moses, are being washed away by the tides on New Dorp Beach. And directly across the street from the Farm Colony, many of the historic buildings on the Seaview Hospital campus have been left to decay in dense overgrowth.

Dormitory 1 & 2 (1904)


Open Interior

Surprisingly, both the Farm Colony and Seaview are a part of Staten Island's first official historic district - the 320-acre "New York City Farm Colony - Seaview Hospital Historic District" - which was designated in 1985 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The commission's designation appears to have saved the Farm Colony buildings from outright demolition, but has done little else to preserve them, other than to create a detailed report on their history (PDF). This report traces the origins of the Farm Colony back to the Richmond County Poor Farm, an 1829 "institution for the able-bodied indigent." The poor farm was renamed the New York City Farm Colony at the turn of the century, and continued to house impoverished "inmates" who were expected to "pay for their board twofold by their labor, working on the farm raising vegetables, not only for themselves, but for other unfortunates."

Although the farm was shut down in 1925, the Farm Colony campus continued on as a home for indigents with "the following cases of dependency: senility, destitution, paralysis, crippled, epileptic, blind, dumb, deaf, deaf and dumb, and cancer." At its peak, this institution housed 1,700 men and women, and was "a haven for old people," including well-known Staten Island photographer Alice Austen, who died in poverty in 1952 at "the local poor house, the Staten Island Farm Colony," according to one biography.

The Farm Colony complex was closed in 1975 and its patients transferred across the street to Seaview Hospital, which continues to provide "long term care" to "vulnerable populations." The buildings of the Farm Colony were sealed, but by 1991 the campus was "developing into a tangled jungle" with "occasional vandalism," according to the NY Times and by 1999, the Preservation League of New York State reported that the Farm Colony was facing "demolition by neglect" and that its "buildings remain open to the elements and the city has no plans for their future reuse."

Several plans to redevelop the campus have failed to materialize. In 2005, the Municipal Art Society reported on a study that had established "stabilization plans, and conceptual reuse" for the buildings, and in 2010, the Staten Island Advance reported the Farm Colony had been mentioned as a possible site for a college campus. Nothing has come from these reports, and despite their acknowledged historic value, these buildings seem fated to be destroyed by the elements, much like Admirals Row. When considered alongside other abandoned New York City landmarks, including the 68th Police Precinct and Bayley-Seton's Victim Services building, the Farm Colony's derelict state questions the purpose and the mission of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.


Dormitory D (1931)



Dormitory Interior



Dormitory Cubicles



Dormitory Bed and Urinals



Dining Hall, Kitchen, Service and Bakery Building (1914)



Upper Floor



Dining Hall



Suck Me Hallway



Zone Portal



Laundry and Industrial Building (1914)



Laundry and Industrial Building Interior



Dark Interior



Open Doors



Obscured Ruins

22 comments:

  1. Cool series...this is where we used to go on weekends to get our graf on without being harrassed. That was long ago, before I had any appreciation for things past. That being said, Staten Island is the place where history goes to die.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Word - i've been going to this place for years. Staten Island is an excellent place to find dead history!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Xtreme UE!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Dark Interior" is one of the best shots I've seen by you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. These shots are fantastic. When were you there? Is it hard to find? Any risk of getting caught?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Charlie - These shots were taken in 2011 (and a couple in 2009). The Farm Colony is pretty easy to find - you can see it from the road.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for your quick response, any problems to get in to Dormitory and Dinning Hall? I would love to do something similar to what you have done.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Just found out my great uncle Thomas McCullough was an inmate in 1916. I do genealogy. You have a great site.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ken B. My gr.Aunt Lizzie was also there about the same time period. Sad to think that they had nowhere to go but here huh? ED Dunne

      Delete
  9. My great aunt, Lizzie Dunne was an inmate there in the 1920's era. Does anyone know if there are still files or records left in a room somewhere? crabapple1951@me.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. Check out ancestry.com. They have hand written records of inmates.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hey. Do you know if there is any asbestos in the colony?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you always bring a respirator, just in case...

      Delete
  12. @j814wong - No idea if there is asbestos there...

    ReplyDelete
  13. During the mid 1940's the Colony had a building that hels many milk cows. It was the closest building to Willowbrook Pond. A school teacher of mine showed me and a few friends atrail from the pond to the building mentioned above. We never knew of the Farm Colony and when we entered the building we were amazed to see all the cows. There were no houses at all on the trail from willowbrook Pond to the cow barn back then ! Approximately where the 2 baseball fields are on Brielle was the Richmond County Reform School.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The City of NY stinks to the high heavens.
    Indeed shamefull leaders through the ages to let these handsome historic buildings fall into dispair. This city and now this country because of mmany [most] politicos is quickly taking the same route as the Farm Colony.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great pictures and history coverage! did you go by yourself? im going to visit this place one more time with some friends to take more shots of the place. keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I recently found out that a great-granduncle of mine was an inmate there - reason for 'dependency' listed as 'crippled', and have been trying to find out the history of the NYC Farm Colony. Your pictures are amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  17. very beautiful stuff.

    Where is it located exactly?

    ReplyDelete
  18. I tried to research this on ancestry.com and there were no results. All I have found was a 1940 Census sheet on my husband's spinster great aunt. Any hints?

    ReplyDelete