Stairwells strewn with debris and walls crumbling slowly to dust, it is the island that New York forgot for 50 years.
Now, in a series of extraordinarily eerie pictures, the lost world of North Brother – quarantine zone, leper colony and centre for drug addicts – has been brought back to life.
It is hard to believe that these echoing corridors and abandoned halls were home to hundreds of patients – or that a criss-cross of tree-lined avenues were once roads.
But the haunting quality of these pictures makes it easy to imagine that it was a place of indescribable misery, which one inmate compared to the notorious black hole of Calcutta.
Just 350 yards from the crowded tenements of the Bronx, North Brother Island was first employed as a quarantine centre in 1885.
It was soon a home to six lepers. Its most notorious resident was ‘Typhoid Mary’ – the first healthy carrier of any disease ever to be identified – who spent years confined in its bleak woods.
North Brother Island was also witness to America’s worst disaster until the 9/11 attacks – the 1904 fire onboard the passenger ship, General Slocum which killed 1,021 people, mainly women and children on a church outing.
Closed in 1963, it is now a haunting labyrinth of crumbling ruins. Protected birds are its only inhabitants and the waters around the island are patrolled by armed coastguards who ensure the sanctity of the former quarantine zone is never violated
Meanwhile, the hospital, staff and patient quarters and forced drug rehabilitation centres are slowly reverting to nature.
These pictures were taken by local historian and photographer Ian Ference who was given unprecedented access to the site. He has slowly pieced together the forgotten story of this unique landscape.
‘This has got to be one of America’s most important places to visit,’ he said. ‘Historically it has had a notorious and sometimes sinister reputation.
‘It was established as a forced quarantine camp for people suffering from infectious and often fatal diseases such as typhoid, scarlet fever, yellow fever and typhus. There were six people suffering from leprosy confined here in wooden huts.
‘New York was taking in a huge number of immigrants in the late nineteenth and earth twentieth centuries – and new arrivals were forced to live in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
‘Diseases would inevitably spread and once the health authorities identified a person as having a communicable disease they were seized and forced to live on North Brother Island – unless they were rich enough to afford a private clinic.