A Farm:

. . . and
still does!

(2nd of 4 pages)
In 1923, NYC celebrated 25 years as five boroughs.
3 NYCHS images from NYC DOC photos, circa 1940s/1950s:
Top -- Farm field, barn, coops, & landfill work in background.

Above -- A chick chick here; a chick chick there on Rikers.

Left -- Inmate checking plants in Rikers greenhouse.

In a Silver Jubilee journal marking the anniversary, Correction Commissioner Frederick A. Wallis listed among his department's facilities "one municipal farm, the latter for the care of drug addicts." He wrote:

"Riker's Island is the hospital for the treatment of male drug addicts. It frequently happens that a man brought to the reception hospital primarily for drug addiction is found to be suffering from an infectious disease. These cases are retained at the Penitentiary and sent to Riker's Island for after-care.


Frederick A. Wallis, Correction Commissioner 1923-27.
"This policy has had favorable effect. Climatic conditions of the island are perfect. Graded exercises are given. The group sent for hospital cure is segregated from other prisoners. They are placed in the best surroundings, and receive efficient treatment."

The Commissioner Wallis who hailed the island's "climatic conditions" as "perfect" and the farm's surroundings as the "best" for the treatment of male drug addicts was the same Commissioner Wallis who helped initiate plans to deposit there the soil and rock from excavations for the Fulton Street, Nassau and Sixth Avenue subways. He also proposed buying South Brother Island and filling in the channel between it and Rikers to add another 40 acres.

Odd Mix: 'Fresh Air' Cure & Landfill

Today the mind boggles at the notion that anyone in authority would dare claim, much less believe, addicts were getting "fresh air" benefits from placement on the island municipal farm near the continuous dumping of garbage, trash, debris and excavated materials.

Yet there is little evidence that the authorities actually doubted what they proclaimed back then.

Rather, the explanation would appear to be that the state of medical and scientific knowledge concerning what constitutes healthful environments -- and general awareness of it -- has advanced considerably in more recent decades.


Richard C. Patterson, Correction Commissioner 1927-32
By 1927, the start of Richard C. Paterson's five years as DOC Commissioner, the Rikers Island hospital for male addicts was no more, evidentially supplanted by a more advanced program at the Correction Hospital on Welfare Island.

On Page 64 his 1927 annual report declared, under the "Correction Hospital:"

"The treatment of the drug addict with Narcosan is still one of the outstanding accomplishments at the Correction Hospital. . . .

"From March 30, 1926, up to and including Dec. 31, 1927, we treated 1,269 drug addicts, of which 148 had previously received the Narcosan treatment, reducing the percentage of returns, or repeaters, to 11 plus percent, as compared with 70 percent returns during the same period under the old, antiquated treatment known as 'The Reduction.' Of this number, 858 were male addicts with 91 returns, and 224 were female addicts with 54 returns. . . ."

Land Tilling & Landfilling

On Page 72 and 73, under an interesting pluralization heading "Municipal Farms, Rikers Island," the 1927 report describes the "Functions of the Institution:"

"During the year, the functions of this Institution have been to provide suitable labor for inmates transferred to it from the Penitentiary on Welfare Island, and the supplying of farm produce to the different Institutions under the supervision of the Department of Correction.


A Rikers Municipal Farm work gang poses for a photo that appeared in the Department's 1930 annual report. The Commissioner reported the farm "flourishes amazingly, notwithstanding the fact that the soil is not particularly good [being mostly] settled ground made by the garbage dumps . . . full of pieces of glass, tin brick and other articles."
"Also the supplying of inmate labor to unload coal boats for the Department of Plant and Structures . . . The raising of pigs . . . and the grading and regulation of all that part of the Island filled in by the Dept. of Street Cleaning on the dumps of the Island . . .

"On dump No. 1 and 2, the Street Cleaning Department has been assigned approximately 100 inmates daily . . . Several gangs of inmates were employed on the farm, picking the produce and performing all other work necessary to the conservation of same.

"Ashes were carried from the fire room and used to as fill for numerous holes about the Island.

"A gang of from 20 to 25 inmates were employed feeding and carrying for the 300 to 400 hogs on the Island and keeping the piggery in a sanitary condition."

Throughout the report are appear various references to inmates laying railroad tracks and building a roundhouse on Rikers Island in connection with the landfill operations.


Commissioner Patterson's 1930 annual report described Rikers Farm inmates filling in a basin near the dumps. The image above shows the project. Its caption: "Inmates Reclaiming Large Quantity of Valuable Land, Municipal Farms, Riker's Island."
Landfill material off-loaded from barges would go into holding cars on narrow gauge tracks running from the island's docks to various outlying points on the constantly growing island.

But, even though the island's acreage kept increasing, ironically there were fewer Rikers inmates available to farm the land. Inmate housing had to make way for space needs of the Rikers Island Penitentiary complex under construction. The 1931 annual report explained:

"This [Municipal Farms, Rikers Island] is a dormitory institution and when first constructed it held about 600 inmates. At the present time this population had been cut down to about one-half, due to the closing of four dormitories during the year, each building being dismantled as one of the new structures encroached upon the land which it occupied. It will probably be necessary to close two or three more dormitories during 1932 as the new structures progress. . . .

"On the Island are located a number of the City's dumps and a large gang of inmates is employed at all times raking them over. This is considered the least desirable work in the Department. . .

"We also send inmates to North Brothers Island to unload ice boats for the Department of Hospitals and a gang of men to the 134th Street docks of the Department of Plant & Structures for the purpose of filling-in and leveling some land which is being reclaimed for dock purposes.

"There is also a piggery maintained at the institution by the inmates where we have about 600 hogs. During the year, we supplied approximately 30,000 pounds of pork to our other institutions. The hogs are fed on swill obtained from our institutions both on Riker's and Welfare Island."

Click the underlined page description link to access its page.
Page 1:
Rikers family farm & Municipal Farm
Current -
Page 2:
Land Tilling & Landfilling
Page 3:
Eggery, piggery & tree nursery
Trees go but vegs & flowers linger.
The New York Sun full story "At Work on Rikers, in the Garden of Good and Evil" by staff reporter Lauren Elkies published Friday, August 12, 2005.

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