Hart Island Timeline – The New York Times


1654 Island purchased from Native Americans by the English doctor Thomas Pell.

1864 — Used as a training ground for the 31st Regiment of the United States Colored Troops, a segregated regiment of the Union Army.

1865 — More than 3,000 Confederate prisoners of war are imprisoned on the island.

1868 — The city Department of Charities and Correction purchases the island for a new municipal burial ground called City Cemetery. Public burials begin the following year and continue to this day.

1885 — The Pavilion, a 300-patient women’s insane asylum, is built. The asylum closes in 1895 and is later used as a mess hall and workhouse for young men incarcerated on the island. It is also used as a shoe factory by Phoenix House in the 1970s.

1931 — Cornerstone laid for the Catholic chapel. Built on city land, it is used by several denominations until 1966.

1950s — Two antiaircraft Nike missile silos built. After decommissioning, hatchways to their underground magazines are sealed.

1967 — Phoenix House begins using an old tubercular hospital, construction date unknown, for drug treatment.

1976 — Phoenix House ordered to leave the island as ferry service is cut back during the city’s fiscal crisis. Vandals begin damaging buildings.

2015 — An internal Buildings Department draft report recommends the demolition of 13 deteriorated buildings and the fencing of the Pavilion and the chapel. It also recommends “immediate repair” of the century-old Record Storage Building and a pumping station.

2016 — New York State designates all of Hart Island eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places because of historical, architectural and archaeological significance.

2019 — City laws are passed to transfer control of the island from the Department of Correction to the Parks Department by 2021 and to make City Cemetery more accessible to families of those buried there.

2020 — An internal Buildings Department draft report says that “eight-foot-high chain-link fences with lockable gates are viable options” for 16 vacant buildings but recommends demolition of all 16. The Record Storage Building is again recommended for “immediate repair.”

June 5, 2021 — The Buildings Department, citing public safety, issues an emergency order for the “immediate demolition of 18 unsafe and dangerous buildings,” including the Pavilion, the chapel and the Record Storage Building.

July 1, 2021 — Control of the island is legally transferred to the Parks Department, although the Correction Department continues operating the island in the short term.

July 14, 2021 — Working to resolve “questions and concerns” about the proposed demolition, the Office of Comptroller Scott M. Stringer approves an amended emergency request from the city to hire a construction manager to determine the timeline, scope and pricing of the project. To proceed with the demolition on an emergency basis, the city must still obtain final approval from the comptroller’s office.

Sources: Historic Districts Council; Melinda Hunt; New York City Buildings Department documents; New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; New York City Council; New York City Mayor’s Office.

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