Butterflies of Memory

History of the Site

Roosevelt Island; Small Pox Hospital Ruins

Located a the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, the Small Pox Hospital Ruins are a Gothic Revival structure, originally constructed for the treatment of smallpox, and for many years was New York City’s only such institution. As late as 1871 smallpox reached epidemic proportions in New York, while during the Civil War many soldiers and a large number of immigrants, were stricken with the disease. The Small Pox Hospital ruin is New City’s only protected ruin.


The original Smallpox Hospital was built in 1854-56 and designed by James Renwick, Jr.

It was first opened for public inspection on December 18, 1856. When the old buildings were destroyed by fire, patients had to be transferred to the new hospital. The hospital was a critically important part of the city for the next 100 years. The History of the Smallpox Ruins follows an important part of the New York story line and connects us to our past. It reminds us of past challenges and how we met them.


As we currently face difficult and transitional times it is important to remember the triumphs and efforts of our history. This not only gives context to our hardships but hope.

James Renwick was a young self-trained architect who built many of the buildings that we now think of as New York treasures such as Grace Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 1950 the building was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 2009 the first phase of stabilization of the ruin was completed, with the hope of further and necessary renovations and fund raising in the future. This began the overall transformation of the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. This project brings attention not only to itself, the Tram and South Point Park, but to our history that is all to easily forgotten.