EEKERS of solitude, abandonment and subtle disquiet will find a banquet of opportunity in mid-Staten Island. Here lie the slowly rotting wards of old Seaview Hospital, the former property of the horrific Willowbrook State School, and our destination today, the windswept ruin that was the New York State Farm Colony.
Here, in a place now forgotten, were placed forgotten people for decades: the poor, the destitute, the insane, the unwanted. Their shades now cower in the shadows lest the hordes of graffitists and paintballers who are now their only visitors might see them in death as they were in life. Come with us now as we roam through their realm. These lands pose unique and singular hazards that only the most intrepid Forgotteners will brave.
“Poor farms” were established in the USA around the turn of the 20th Century as a means of rehabilitation for the mentally ill and impoverished; many of them included farms and gardens tended by the residents and patients (the Queens Farm on Little Neck Parkway employed patients from nearby Creedmoor Hospital).
The slavering maw of the NYC Farm Colony will easily admit but uneasily allow egress.
Listen. Can you hear them? Soft as a summer zephyr. Only the slight echo gives them away as coming from a noncorporeal source. “Come,” say the voices, almost undetectable above your nervous, swiftly beating heart. “Come.”
The New York Farm Colony was established in 1902, when the Richmond County Poor Farm was reorganized on Brielle Avenue, across the street from Seaview Hospital. Its present gambrel-roofed Dutch Colonial brick and fieldstone buildings, some of which were designed by Renwick, Aspinwall and Owen, were built between 1904 and 1916.
The almost subliminal tinkling of a piano lulls you into a trance. Turn the next corner: the worshipers of the jackal-headed son of Ra and the brother of Isis have preceded you.
In 1945, Alice Austen, the as-yet-unknown photographic chronicler of Staten Island and New York City, arrived here to spend the remaining eight years of her life after her bankruptcy.
Sacrifices must be made to the guardians of this deep realm. Cave crickets cannot fly; but they can jump and swarm. They grow large here, from unwholesome sustenance.
“This place is totally trashed, ” says fellow explorer Andy Hoffer. The spirits may scare you away, and the crickets might deter you from exploring the darkest sub-basements of the Farm Colony where whispered legend states that “scientific” experiments were carried out. But here the only real danger comes from the asbestosis and mesothelioma that arise from breathing the air and the tetanus that will come when you slip, fall, and impale an arm on a rust-studded locker. Nevertheless: the bakelite beckons as it must.
After the last residents of the Farm Colony were moved out in 1975, the buildings languished in abandonment and decay; in 1984, 22 acres of the property were made part of the Staten Island Greenbelt, making them more difficult to demolish.
A rustling noise in an adjacent gallery arouses your curiosity. You walk over some damp material that feels like wet newspaper; you don’t want to venture a guess about its true nature. You enter the Farm Colony’s laundry room. Here is 25-year-old raiment left behind for the moths. It doesn’t look like anyone will be picking them up. Perhaps their owners are no longer alive.
Did you see the suits move? Just a little? You did.
Your stall and locker are ready. The Farm Colony has been waiting for you to arrive for thirty years. You won’t be able to leave quite as swiftly as you arrived.
Rest awhile. The Farm Colony’s spirits have arranged a comfortable spot for you. There is a vacancy. No cable TV. But wait just awhile and there will be plenty of thrills.
Climb a staircase to the second floor. Walk to where the floor drops away and the ceiling has collapsed, and know you are steps away from multiple broken bones. But what’s that peering at you from behind the sash? Lean forward to get a better look. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii
Photographed: February 21, 2005. Written: March 10. Props to Andy Hoffer and Andrew N, the Lost City Explorer. Cricket photo: treknature.com