Fort Slocum, Davids Island
NEW ROCHELLE, NY
From 1965 to 2008, about 90 buildings and structures were left abandoned on Davids Island, an 80-acre rock in the Long Island Sound off New Rochelle. The United States government developed the island in the 1860s as a hospital for the treatment of Union soldiers, and after the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, as a prison hospital for Confederate soldiers. Beginning in 1878, the island served as the Principal Depot, General Recruiting Service. Officially named Fort Slocum in 1896, the island installation served many functions, including as a medical center, recruitment center, training school, embarkation point for soldiers heading off to World Wars I and II, and a NIKE Control facility for the launcher site on Hart Island. Most U. S. Army recruits from east of the Mississippi River passed through Fort Slocum. But in 1965, the US Army declared Fort Slocum and Davids Island to be "excess." The Army soon turned over the island to the City of New Rochelle, which took no interest in maintaining or preserving the site and allowed the buildings to decay.
Proposals for a power plant, and later, a luxury housing development, were floated between the late-1960s and mid-1980s (the island changed ownership several times before coming back into the fold of the City of New Rochelle as it is today), but in more recent years talk of passive recreation came to the fore of discussions regarding reuse of the island. But the buildings remained, and it was determined that something had to be done about them. As of is often the case, the abandoned buildings came to be seen as an impediment to, rather than an asset for, redevelopment. In 2004, Congresswoman Nita Lowey delivered federal funding from Congress for the demolition of all remaining buildings and structures of Fort Slocum. The United States Army Corps of Engineers was hired to demolish these buildings, but first conducted a survey of the site and determined that the Fort Slocum was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. Citing a lack of financial resources to devote to their preservation, the City Council of New Rochelle voted in late 2007 to continue with demolition of the then-25 or so remaining structures.
Citing the vacant buildings as a "potentially hazardous situation," one city official said that demolition "makes the island safer" (Because old buildings kill so many people each year. Soon we will need a federal agency devoted to the regulation of ruins, as we do for alcohol, tobacco and firearms.) But seriously, buildings and people can co-exist. Ruins abound on public land throughout New York State alone, including the Overlook Mountain House, Cornish Estate, and a famous place known as Bannerman's Castle. New Rochelle could have viewed the ruins of Fort Slocum as an asset rather than a hazard - the island could have been advertised as a "ruins park" and no doubt many people would have showed up to view the old fort up close, as they can do at other sites elsewhere in the state. Alternately, many of the buildings could have been adaptively reused.
Public officials in charge of demolition decrees often seem to believe that they are being reverential when they talk of the things they do save. At Davids Island, "preserving the past" meant saving token features such as old roadways and fire hydrants - heck they even "saved" the tennis courts. As if that somehow respects the history of the site. Unfortunately these kinds of public officials and council members are really blind to the damage they have caused by destroying the real monuments of the past, the buildings and places that should have been preserved. On September 9, 2008, the last standing structure on Davids Island, a water tower known as "Building 45", was torn down.
- With information from the US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, June 2008 Fact Sheets and pamphlets.
Many thanks to the staff of the City of New Rochelle and the US Army Corps of Engineers for arranging this visit.
Thanks to Michael Cavanaugh for corrections . He also maintains a website for Fort Slocum Alumni & Friends; the site contains interesting historical information and vintage photographs.
Valley Ruins and Abandoned Buildings, etc.
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Buildings 60, 59 and 58 (left to right) in the foreground. Building 57 at upper right.
Image from Microsoft Virtual Earth / Live Search Maps. Circa 2007?
This building and those in the following two photographs stood
along the island's west side, on the road south of the water tower.
(Above and following two photographs): Building 57 (Drill Hall / Gymnasium / Theater).
(Above and below): Building 108 (Post Chapel).
Rodman Gun Monument.
Yaz’ Hudson Valley Ruins and Abandoned Buildings, etc.
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This page copyright © 2008 by Robert J. Yasinsac.
Reproduction of these photos without the permission of Robert Yasinsac is prohibited.