It is perhaps not very generally known that both Hoffman and Swinburne Islands are not entirely natural formations, but mainly artificial constructions. They are both built on West Bank, a long strip of sand bar lying just east of the channel that runs southeast of Staten Island.
The sand is inclosed (sic) by cribwork protected by heavy riprap, and by a concrete wall surrounding each island, inside of the cribwork, and extending from below low-water mark to a foot above the surface of the islands.
The foundation of Swinburne Island was laid in 1866, that of Hoffman Island some tow years later, the first being completed in 1870, the second in 1873. The improvements made within the last three years have, however, brought the cost of the whole up to pretty near $3,000,000.
Swinburne Island, as it now stands, after the improvements it has undergone – with its rows of hospital wards, its crematory and mortuary (maisons des morts), the new dock, seventy-five feet long, the breakwater that makes a safe slip north of this dock for vessels, and all the other necessary arrangements, as complete as any in the world – is as satisfactory as the plans intended it to be.
Hoffman Island, as we have seen, is not a hospital, but simple a "Quarantine of Observation," for those who have been exposed to smallpox or typhus, and 12,000 emigrants (sic) have been isolated here since 1880. The other island, Swinburne, is a hospital pure and simple and is intended solely for yellow fever and cholera cases. It has been used for this purpose ever since its completion in 1870, in place of the "floating hospital" called for by law. The ten white hospital wards, opening off from both sides of a central hallway, are airy and pleasant, each ward forming a building by itself. These, as also John Butler's dwelling, are of wood, the other buildings being of brick. Those of the patients who die are cremated, unless their relatives or friends object. The effects of the sick are fumigated with sulphur, and in case of the owner's death, if not claimed by the heirs within two months, they are delivered over to the public administrator.