As Frank Sinatra famously sang of New York, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Both the city and the state as a whole are notoriously cutthroat environments where even the strongest of individuals and commercial enterprises have failed to survive.
Though they may be considered unsuccessful by traditional standards, the following sites did manage to achieve elite status as the 10 best abandoned places in New York for 2021.
The Best Abandoned Places in New York
Note: If you’re looking for lists from specifically New York City, we urge you to check out the guide Discovering The 8 Most Interesting Abandoned Places in NYC.
Red Hook Grain Terminal (Brooklyn)
For nearly a century, the Red Hook Grain Terminal has towered along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. By the time it was constructed in 1922, grain elevators were already being phased out in the region, and it operated at a loss for 22 years before the state gave up on it and turned it over to the New York Port Authority.
The 12-story, 430-foot-long terminal features 54 grain silos, each with fireproof concrete walls eight inches thick. With a capacity of more than 2 million bushels, the operation incorporated the most cutting-edge mechanical technology of the time; unfortunately, union agreements in New York made the cost of unloading grain there prohibitively expensive, forcing shippers to ports in New Orleans, Baltimore and Philadelphia instead.
The facility was finally deactivated in 1965, and it quickly declined along with the surrounding neighborhood, which had been closely tied to the shipping industry. The Red Hook waterfront was soon marked by vacant warehouses, derelict docks and most prominently, the mold-covered walls of the massive, now-defunct grain elevator. The nearby Red Hook public housing development became a hotbed of drug distribution and other crime.
In recent years, gentrification and redevelopment efforts have begun to revive the long-stalled economy of the Red Hook neighborhood, with the arrival of new businesses like craft breweries and an IKEA store offering signs of new life in an area once left for dead. However, several proposals for demolishing or renovating the Red Hook Grain Terminal have failed to take off, leaving the decaying industrial eyesore to continue its decades-long decline on the Brooklyn waterfront.
Letchworth Village (Thiells)
In the verdant hills of Rockland County, roughly 40 miles north of Manhattan, the quiet town of Thiells holds a strange history. In the early 20th century, it was selected as the location for an experimental community for individuals battling various forms of mental illness.
The 2,000-acre campus was designed to serve as many as 2,000 residents in its 130-building complex, which included a working farm, power plant, a handful of stores and several churches. The founders of Letchworth Village envisioned a more compassionate alternative to traditional insane asylums and state hospitals—a refuge where patients could live, work and receive treatment for their maladies.
In reality, the project’s seemingly noble mission was derailed almost as soon as it was launched. The facility was overcrowded, with children making up the majority of its population, and insufficient funding and lack of capable staff were constant problems.
Patients were also required to participate in medical experiments, and while some of the clinical trials conducted at Letchworth—most notably the polio vaccine—ultimately changed the course of history for the better, the system was still ethically questionable at best. The success of its medical testing program also prolonged the eventual closure of the facility due to reports of abuse, neglect and inhumane living conditions.
Eighty-five years after Letchworth Village opened, the last patients left in 1996 after a scathing exposé by TV journalist Geraldo Rivera revealed the rampant human rights violations there and at similar facilities like the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. While many of the abuses that occurred on the campus are lost to history, the existence of a small cemetery with about 900 shallow, unmarked graves just a mile from the site suggests that many of its patients did not survive the harsh treatment and medical experiments for which the community became known.
Since its closure 25 years ago, the Letchworth Village campus has been largely abandoned to the forces of nature, and although some areas of the property have been redeveloped into a golf course and a public park, the manicured greens and paved walking paths exist in jarring proximity to the crumbling, dilapidated buildings that once housed Letchworth’s unfortunate residents.
Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital (East River)
Though the coronavirus may seem to many of us like the most disruptive and potentially deadly pandemic of our time, there have been several viral outbreaks in the not-too-distant past that wreaked much greater havoc on the American public. Though many public health experts have compared the Covid-19 crisis with the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, the effects of the largely overlooked 19th-century smallpox pandemic were just as dire.
Though a smallpox vaccine was discovered in 1796, it took more than a century for the disease to be eradicated in the U.S. and even longer for it to be eliminated globally. In the meantime, dedicated hospitals were established to keep smallpox patients separated from the broader population, including the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital near Manhattan.
Architect James Renwick, Jr.—better known for his work on St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Broadway’s Grace Church—designed the handsome Gothic Revival-style facility, which opened in 1856 with resources to treat about 7,000 patients per year.
Unlike most hospitals of the era, the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital treated patients regardless of their ability to pay; many of them were recent immigrants who were skeptical of the newly-discovered vaccine as well as Union soldiers who caught the virus on the battlefield. The lower level of the hospital consisted of wards shared by indigent patients, while the upper floors featured private rooms for paying customers.
By 1875, the demand for services at the hospital exceeded its capacity, and patients were transferred to a larger hospital on North Brother Island. Meanwhile, the Roosevelt Island location was converted to a training facility for nurses and operated as such until 1950.
After its closure, lack of maintenance caused the aging building’s physical condition to decline sharply, and despite being named a landmark by New York City in 1976, virtually nothing was done to restore or even preserve the historic structure. Today, only a few crumbling exterior walls and the foundation remain, visible to visitors behind a fence on the south end of the island.
Buffalo State Hospital (Buffalo)
In the midst of a construction process that would ultimately stretch to nearly two decades, the Buffalo State Hospital—originally known as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane—opened its doors to patients in 1880.
At the time, it represented the cutting edge in both its architecture and its approach to mental health treatment, with architect Henry Hobson Richardson designing the complex in his innovative style now known as Richardsonian Romanesque. It featured two imposing 185-foot towers flanking a four-story main structure made of red Medina sandstone, with five brick wards arranged in a stairstep pattern on either side.
In keeping with the hospital’s innovative approach to treatment, the rooms included soaring 16-foot ceilings to provide proper ventilation and south-facing windows that maximized natural light. The wings on either side of the central administration structure were segregated according to sex, and violent patients were kept on the far ends of the wings, away from the general population. Curved hallways connecting the 10 wards were designed specifically to discourage the placement of overflow beds and prevent overcrowding.
The hospital’s bucolic grounds were the brainchild of landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the pair best known for the design of New York City’s iconic Central Park. The hospital property featured abundant open space with plenty of shade trees and winding paths to provide patients with exposure to the calming effects of nature. Behind the main hospital, a 100-acre working farm was operated primarily by the patients, as meaningful physical labor was believed to be a key component of a comprehensive approach to mental health.
Despite the best intentions of the hospital’s designers and staff, the living conditions at Buffalo State Hospital followed the familiar pattern of other insane asylums of the era. The hospital was soon inundated with more patients than the facility could reasonably house or treat, and patients resorted to sleeping in the halls and even outdoors. The growing population of the City of Buffalo also strained the hospital’s operations, with much of the farmland and open space taken over by construction of Buffalo State College in 1927.
In the 1960s, several of the aging wards were demolished to make room for a modern adolescent treatment center, and in 1974, the complex was rebranded as Buffalo Psychiatric Center. At that point, all patients were moved out of the original facility, which was essentially abandoned by the state of New York. Despite being named a National Historic Landmark in 1986, without the maintenance it so desperately needed, the once-handsome structure fell into extreme disrepair.
In 2008, the nonprofit Preservation Coalition of Erie County rallied to save the hospital, winning a lawsuit that compelled the state to invest $100 million in preserving and rehabilitating the complex. Triage on the most severely damaged portions of the building began immediately, but the painstaking work of restoring the historic building continues even now. Future plans include repurposing the site as a hotel and apartment complex, and private tours are available by appointment.
Halcyon Hall at Bennett School For Girls (Millbrook)
A well-known landmark in one of the nation’s wealthiest towns, the former Bennett School for Girls began its life as luxury lodging for the well-to-do. It was a pet project of New York publisher H.J. Davidson Jr., who envisioned a combination hotel and museum called Halcyon Hall where guests could explore rare books and artifacts collected from across the globe. Designed in the Queen Anne style by architect James E. Ware, the 200-room, five-story building featured dark wood and stone that evoked the look and feel of a medieval castle.
After 10 years of operating at a loss, the unique hotel closed in 1901 and remained vacant until 1907, when schoolteacher May Bennett relocated her girls’ school from nearby Irvington to the Halcyon Hall property. With a student population of roughly 120 girls enrolled in high school and postsecondary studies, the Bennett School for Girls soon added a chapel, dormitory, amphitheater and stables to the property.
Within a few years, the school eliminated its high school program and transformed into a junior college, officially changing its name to Bennett College. By the mid-1950s, the campus had further expanded with construction of another instruction building, a second dormitory and a library.
By the 1970s, increased demand for coed colleges led to a significant decline in enrollment at Bennett, which attempted to remain relevant by evolving into a four-year institution, which only added to its financial woes. After a failed merger with another local institution, the college filed for bankruptcy in 1977, and the contents of its buildings—including books, furniture and other equipment—were relocated to the town library.
The buildings themselves were simply abandoned, although the original Halcyon Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The campus has since been targeted for redevelopment, to the chagrin of community members who wish to see the crumbling structures preserved for historical purposes. The most recent plan called for subdividing the property into eight parcels, tearing down Halcyon Hall and repurposing some of the other buildings.
Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital (Ellis Island)
Built in 1900 to screen and treat thousands of immigrants arriving in the U.S. via Ellis Island each year, staff at the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital often played a pivotal role in whether its patients were permitted to stay or deported to their countries of origin.
The facility sat on a pair of man-made islands fashioned from turf leftover from the construction of the Lexington Avenue subway line. Initially, the islands were separated by a small channel due to the erroneous belief at the time that germs couldn’t survive the journey over a body of water, although they have since been connected.
On one island, a general hospital featured four operating rooms, a pediatric ward, a women’s ward and a psychiatric ward, as well as the massive laundry processing plant used to clean thousands of linens and items of clothing on a daily basis. The contagious disease hospital was located on the other island, where patients were segregated based on their diagnoses. Many wards included a separate “standing” room that allowed medical staff to see patients without coming into close contact with highly contagious illnesses.
Depending on their diagnosis, being sent to the contagious disease hospital could mean the end of immigrants’ short-lived American Dream. Scarlet fever, tuberculosis, influenza and the fungal scalp disease favus were all common in new arrivals, and these illnesses could mean spending months in the hospital at Ellis Island or even immediate deportation.
Still, the experience wasn’t totally bleak; most patients were admitted and received outstanding care, and the hospital had a surprisingly low death rate. Red Cross volunteers helped to make stays more comfortable for thousands of immigrants who didn’t even speak the language of their new land, and many of the more than 350 children born at Ellis Island were named in tribute to the doctors or nurses who cared for them. At the hospital’s peak, it wasn’t uncommon for staff to treat more than 10,000 patients from 75 different countries in a single year.
Starting in the 1920s, increased immigration restrictions dramatically reduced the hospital’s caseload. The complex was also beginning to show its age, and major renovations and improvements were made to the buildings and property from 1934 to 1936 as part of New Deal programs aimed at putting Americans back to work. The hospital closed completely in 1954 and the island was declared “excess federal property” and subsequently abandoned.
Within the last decade, the nonprofit organization Save Ellis Island has launched efforts to raise the funds needed to preserve the historic site. The group leads 90-minute “hard hat tours” that allow visitors to explore the dilapidated buildings where so many aspiring Americans were treated on their way to becoming citizens. The tour includes visits to the infectious and contagious disease wards, kitchen, laundry building, mortuary and autopsy room, many of which still contain the original furniture, fixtures and medical equipment used by hospital staff.
Rockland Psychiatric Center (Orangeburg)
The story of the mostly-abandoned Rockland Psychiatric Center is one we’ve all heard before: designed as a tranquil refuge for individuals suffering from various mental illnesses, the hospital eventually deteriorated into a haven for patient abuse and neglect.
When it opened as Rockland State Hospital in 1931, the 600-acre campus featured a working farm, power plant and craft shops where patients produced furniture and other handmade goods. This approach to mental health treatment centers on the theory that meaningful labor can have restorative effects on patients, and for a while, patients at Rockland seemed to thrive.
Initially, the facility offered space to 5,000 patients, but its population ballooned to more than 9,000 patients of all ages, including children, by 1959. Maintaining adequate staffing levels was a constant struggle, especially during World War II, when many able-bodied doctors and nurses were needed by the armed forces.
In addition to crowded, unsanitary conditions, the hospital soon became known for its controversial treatment methods, which included electroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock therapy. With the latter therapy, patients were injected daily with massive amounts of insulin to induce diabetic comas, with treatment cycles lasting for several weeks at a time.
As the practice of deinstitutionalization became mainstream in the 1970s, the inpatient population at Rockland declined dramatically, and many of its buildings were emptied out and abandoned. It was also rebranded as the Rockland Psychiatric Center in 1974. The 56-bed Rockland Children’s Center closed in 2010, and the building found new life as a filming location for the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black.
Roughly 600 patients—primarily those with severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—still receive treatment on the Rockland campus, but most of its buildings are vacant and in various stages of deterioration. Still, it remains the only one of New York’s original state mental hospitals still in any stage of operation.
Glenwood Power Plant (Yonkers)
Once responsible for providing electricity to the New York Central Railroad, the Glenwood Power Plant in Yonkers is but a mere shell of its former existence. The towering brick building was designed in the Romanesque-Revival style by the architects responsible for New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Detroit’s Michigan Central Station as well as the Yonkers Train Station. Initial construction was completed in 1906, and the facility was expanded in 1915.
At first an essential component of the New York rail system, the Glenwood Power Plant began its slide toward obsolescence in the 1930s, when it became more cost-effective for the railroad to purchase electricity instead of producing it.
The plant was sold to Yonkers Electric Light and Power Company in 1936, which was incorporated into the Consolidated Edison (ConEd) utility in 1951. It continued operating until 1963, when ConEd opened its new Indian Point nuclear power station, which could produce exponentially more power than the older facility. Most of the equipment from Glenwood was sold for scrap in 1965.
Purchased by a private buyer in 1978 as a storage site for a construction company, the historic brick structure was largely abandoned and left to deteriorate, though its towering cylindrical smokestacks remained an iconic piece of the Yonkers landscape until 2013, when it was slated for demolition and redevelopment as an arts-focused entertainment complex with a hotel, restaurants, shops, event space and a 22-slip marina. Over the years, the site also became notorious as a location for brutal gang initiation ceremonies and other nefarious activity.
Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel (Liberty)
Before the advent of low-cost airfare made long-distance travel affordable to the masses, family vacations typically consisted of one of two options: a cross-country road trip with family members crammed into a vehicle for hours or days, or a trip to a nearby lake or mountain resort. For many wealthy New Yorkers, the latter was the far preferable option, and holiday resorts in the Catskills bloomed like wildflowers in the 1950s and 1960s.
For families who sought an upscale vacation experience, Grossinger’s Resort in the tiny town of Liberty was the clear favorite. Referred to by some as “Waldorf in the Catskills,” the luxurious property drew more than 150,000 guests each year. It was the first U.S. resort to manufacture artificial snow to keep its ski runs operating all year, and live entertainment featured top names like Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle and Eddie Fisher.
At its peak, the resort sprawled over 1,200 acres, with a private airfield, several lounges and nightclubs, a dining room with capacity to seat 1,300 guests, an ice rink, multiple tennis courts and swimming pools and a posh golf course. The resort also famously provided the inspiration for the fictional resort setting in the hit 1987 film Dirty Dancing.
Though founded by Austrian immigrants Asher and Malke Grossinger in 1917, the resort’s best years came under the management of their daughter Jennie, who took over the operation as her parents aged. When Jennie died in 1972, the property began to decline, its fate hastened by the plummeting price of plane tickets. In 1986, the resort was permanently shuttered.
In the ensuing decades, the property was left mostly untouched, and nature began to take over this former playground for the wealthy. Its buildings sagged and crumbled, their walls obscured by moss and ivy; its lush lawns were consumed by weeds and brush; the cement walls of the indoor swimming pool were covered in grass and splashes of graffiti.
In 2018, a private developer announced plans to raze the property and rebuild a new resort on the site, one that might even rival the splendor of the original campus. The proposed $50 million site plan includes a 250-room hotel, restored golf course, convention center, spa and wellness center, nightclubs, restaurants and even permanent single- and multi-family residences.
The Pines Resort (Fallsburg)
Like Grossinger’s Resort, the Pines Resort was another vacation destination in the Catskill Mountains that saw its peak years in the mid-20th century. The property opened in the 1930s as a modest hotel called Moneka Lodge; when the hotel changed hands in 1946, its name also changed to the Pines Hotel.
In the decades that followed, multiple expansions made the resort one of the largest in the region. In addition to 400 guest rooms, the Pines offered tennis, golf, swimming, skiing and myriad other recreational activities.
Multiple bars, a lounge, a ballroom, a poker room and a theater rounded out the indoor entertainment options, which often featured marquee performances by big names like Buddy Hackett and Robert Goulet. In 1959, the installation of a new swimming pool with a bridge linking the cabanas on either side was sufficiently noteworthy to merit mention in the New York Times.
Like Grossinger’s Resort and many similar properties in the Catskills, the Pines saw rapidly declining occupancy rates in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The property’s ownership pinned its hopes for a turnaround on proposed legislation that would permit casino gambling in the region, but when it didn’t pass, they ran out of options. The Pines Resort ended its six-decade run in 1998.
Following its closure, a development group purchased the property with plans to renovate the hotel, but their vision never materialized, and the 96-acre resort was abandoned to the dual ravages of vandals and nature. Many of the buildings are now on the verge of collapse due to water damage, and the interiors have long since been gutted by trespassers, leaving the once-proud Pines Resort virtually unrecognizable.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in New York
Those who are into urban exploration in the New York state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in New York state, should get comfortable with New York trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of New York, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in California, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.