Farm Colony is the Times Square of urban exploring. Everybody goes there, takes the same photo (see above) walks around the streets for a bit and then complains about what an overexposed shithole it is. Although the surrounding forest is scenic, the buildings have been bombed out, burned down and ransacked. It’s so well traveled that neither neighbors nor cops care about trespassers, which is why during one of my visits, I ran into a student film crew and some tourists from Japan who’d read about in a NYC tour guide. There’s even an elaborately constructed airsoft course on the property, along with multiple bonfire sites and piles of old beer cans. It’s a teenager’s wet dream, which means it’s an explorer’s nightmare.
I didn’t particularly want to do a post about Farm Colony for those reasons, but I figured I should get it out of the way while this site is still in its infancy. Despite how I feel about exploring the Colony, it does have an interesting history and in the right season, can be a really beautiful place to walk around. But I’m still going to write this post with the same kind of chagrin I imagine Beatnik enthusiasts feel when someone’s like, “oh yeah, I love On The Road.” I don’t know why I used that example, considering how I feel about that book but you get the point.
Farm Colony takes up 70 of the 320 acres of forest that it shares with the partially active Seaview Hospital. The nearby Willowbrook State School (which everyone knows from Cropsey) is often mistakenly cited as being part of Farm Colony, however those buildings are on what is now the campus of the College of Staten Island, about 2 miles NW of Farm Colony.
Farm Colony began in 1829 as the Richmond County Poor Farm. Poor farms were government run operations where the city’s poor lived in dormitory style housing, and in turn for shelter and food, the residents were required to work on the farm. The Richmond County Poor Farm was renamed New York City Farm Colony in 1898 when Staten Island became part of the five boroughs of NYC.
The farm produced grains and food that were used to feed the people of Farm Colony as well as residents of nearby hospitals, prisons and other institutions. In theory, it was a great idea and to some extent, a fairly successful one, although life at Farm Colony was less than ideal. The dorms were often subject to overcrowding and squalid conditions and alcohol abuse was a persistent problem amongst the residents. At one point, Farm Colony housed around 2,000 people, most of who were too old for physical labor. Others were unable to work due to handicaps, alcoholism and other afflictions that rendered them “undesirables” by the government and general public.
Despite some negative reports, many residents reportedly enjoyed the colony, where a life of outdoor work, steady housing and meals was preferable to living on the streets or working other government provided jobs, of which there was no shortage. According to a 1915 New York Times article that reads like it was written by Yosemite Sam, work at Farm Colony was the most favorable of forced labors.
In 1924, the land was transferred to the Homes for Dependents and the agency changed the system, no longer requiring manual labor in exchange for room and board. Most of the residents stayed put and continued to work voluntarily. The population began to decline steadily in the 1930’s due to Social Security, which basically paid people to be old and live on their own. Farm Colony was officially shut down in 1975 and the remaining residents were moved across the street to Seaview Hospital, where some still live today. About a dozen structures remain on the overgrown land, which was designated a city landmark in 1985.
Oh man, I pretty much fell asleep writing that post. Parts of the research were enjoyable- there are numerous personal accounts of bands and performances and shenanigans and murders and such fanfare during the Colony’s heyday- but I made the choice to report only the most barebones, insipid facts in order to keep it short Yeah I know, I’m disappointed in myself too. Let’s take a quick tour of the grounds as they are today and get this racket over with.
Even though the buildings are complete garbage inside, the property is undeniably stunning. It’s part of Staten Island’s Greenbelt, which consists of 2,800 acres of forest. This makes exploring Farm Colony in the summer difficult for a few reasons. 1) The trees and bushes obscure the buildings, which are more noticeable in fall/winter and 2) Mosquitoes. Hella mosquitoes. But the lushness of the summer forest does make for nice photos and a pleasant stroll and nnggg I can’t believe I actually just wrote “the lushness of the summer forest.” I hate myself right now.
This is the building that is featured prominently in Cropsey. I really wanted to like that documentary, and parts of the story were fascinating, but the narration…woof. Almost as bad as “the lushness of the summer forest.”
This elevated walkway leads into the dining hall, which is clearly where the teenagers do most of their mischief and tomfoolery.
The greenhouse is real purdy, but it’s been incorporated into the airsoft course, which actually looks like tons of fun. I want to do it, but it’s probably unacceptable for a 30 year old to approach underage kids and ask if I can play with guns with them, no? SIGH.
Stumbling across the airsoft course made me feel like the time in high school when I stopped by my friend’s house in the morning and saw remnants of a party to which I’d explicitly not been invited. It was during that awkward transition period when she was trying to be popular and I was just getting into drinking and drugs and not giving any fucks about anything, so it’s understandable that she didn’t invite me to a party fulla jocks and Key Club kids, but I was still totally butt hurt.
Here’s a door to nowhere. There’s a decent “going outside to fart” joke in here but I refuse to make it.
A room in one of the dormitory buildings, which are the oldest on the property. When I was a teenager, we used to fuck in the back of cars or maybe on the grass out in Westwood Hills but these city kids have a whole different set of unsavory choices.
An old newspaper clipping c/o the Staten Island Advance. This exact cottage is probably long gone but there are many similar buildings on the property.
People like to rag on Staten Island, but it’s kinda alright when it’s not busy being Manhattan’s dingleberry. That is if you don’t mind trespassing, copious mosquitoes, cave crickets and crack houses.
Here’s a buncha stuff I got distracted by that has nothing to do with the Farm Colony ruins but can be found on the property:
For more photos, see the NYC Farm Colony Flickr set.
Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.