Considered by many to be the Ellis Island of Philadelphia, the Lazaretto Quarantine Station once inspected every person and piece of cargo washing in off the Delaware River, now, hundreds of years after its construction, the large hospital complex is in danger of collapse thanks to decades of abandonment and neglect.
The current Lazaretto complex was originally constructed in 1799 to deal with the devastating Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 which killed thousands in Philadelphia alone, and forced the government from the city which had been the seat of power up to that point. The disease center held a large main building with a number of smaller support structures, and as with many disease hospitals, its own burial ground. Once completed, the center became the gate through with anyone (and anything, as goods were inspected for contagion just as thoroughly) coming to the city in the early 1800’s had to pass before entering the city.
The facility operated until 1895 when the use as a disease hospital ceased and it became an airbase for a number of years until it was finally abandoned. However despite the abandonment, the building, which currently belongs to the Tinicum Township, still stands, making it the oldest quarantine center in America, and the sixth oldest in the entire world. Age and neglect are beginning to take their toll on the site however, leading to a group of conservationists to begin lobbying for its upkeep and protection. After over a hundred years of service protecting the populace, it seems like its time that they protect the Lazaretto center.
Update as of February 2020: After a long restoration, the main building reopened. It was forced to close temporarily a couple of weeks later because of the Covid- 19 pandemic. There will soon be an audio tour available by smartphone, and historical exhibits will follow.
Know Before You Go
10 miles South of Philadelphia near the airport off of the Delaware River in the town of Essington (Tinicum Township).
Take exit 9A from I-95 just south of Philadelphia International Airport, and follow Route 420 (Wanamaker Avenue) until it ends at Second Street. Continue straight into the Lazaretto and fire station parking lot. The Lazaretto site is between the parking lot and the river.