Pouch Camp

April 28, 2011 -

There are many strange things in the Blood Root Valley. There is the half-abandoned tuberculosis hospital. There is a 260-foot mountain made by Robert Moses. And there is Pouch Camp, a hidden 143-acre oasis with a 68-year-old lake, mountain ponds, rustic cabins and 55 lean-tos. For over 60 years, Pouch Camp has been a secret haven for New York City's boy scouts. Each year, thousands of scouts learn to swim and camp within the boundaries this vast idyllic refuge. Located in the heart of Staten Island, Pouch Camp is so large it even has its own private island, which is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the camp is situated inside the most populous city in the United States. Located just 10 miles from Wall Street, Pouch Camp has somehow remained largely anonymous. "Few New Yorkers know of it," according to the NY Times, and it is instead "a habitat for deer, owls, snakes, turtles and herons."

In the off season, William H. Pouch Scout Camp is peaceful and largely deserted. Winding trails snake through hills dotted with ponds. Lean-tos sit quietly in the woods, waiting for summer. Small streams flow down from the hills into Ohrbach Lake, the man-made lake at the heart of Pouch Camp. Its beaches are closed, the boats stowed, and park rangers are busy replanting trees and cleaning roads around its edges in preparation for another busy summer season. Aside from the scouts, Pouch Camp also hosts a day camp each summer for boys and girls from around New York City, with fishing, swimming, boating, rock climbing and archery.

Ohrbach Lake


However, a "black cloud" hangs over the preparations for this summer, and "the future of the property is very much uncertain," according the most recent news from the Staten Island Advance. Back in November 2009, "citing financial stress," the Greater New York Councils of Boy Scouts announced that they planned to market and sell Pouch Camp (PDF document). The boyscouts had been "hit hard by the recession," according to the NY Times, and had lost $5 million in donations. Almost immediately, thousands of Pouch Camp supporters organized in response, according to the Staten Island Advance, amidst fears that the property would be sold to developers. Members of the community have marched on City Hall, organized a website (www.savepouch.com) and have a 6,000+ member facebook group (Save the William H. Pouch Scout Camp). Despite their efforts, the camp may still be closed down and sold off.

For many of Pouch Camp's supporters, the heart of the issue is not just supporting the camp's activities, but trying to preserve a vital link in Staten Island's Greenbelt, a 2,800 acre wilderness that is "New York City’s largest remaining forest preserve," according to the Greenbelt Conservancy. "Even if you don't have any first-hand caring about the Scout program or the habitat for critters there, the economic benefit throughout the world, the country and the region is proven," the president of the Greenbelt Conservancy told the Staten Island Advance. "Something like this just makes your home livable."

Down in the Valley

Scout Skills

Black Oak Lean-Tos

Yellow Pine Cabin

Dark Shadows

Pouch Amphitheater

Not For Sale


Hill Pond Lean-tos

On The Trail


Scout Knot

Ropes Course


Lumberjack Director

Island Bridge

On Lee A. Ellison Island

South of the Border

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