Lazaretto Quarantine Station – Essington, Pennsylvania - Atlas Obscura

Lazaretto Quarantine Station

Essington, Pennsylvania

North America's oldest quarantine facility was built in response to Philadelphia's 1793 yellow fever outbreak. 

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Considered by many to be the Ellis Island of Philadelphia, the Lazaretto Quarantine Station once inspected every person and piece of cargo coming in from the Delaware River. Although the complex was once in danger of collapse after decades of vacancy and neglect, several buildings have been renovated to serve as offices for the local government. 

The Lazaretto complex was originally constructed in 1799 to deal with the devastating yellow fever epidemic that took hold in 1793, killing thousands in Philadelphia alone and forcing the national government from the city. The disease center featured a large main building with a number of smaller support structures, and—as with many disease hospitals—its own burial ground. After opening in 1801, the center became the checkpoint through which anyone (and anything, as goods were inspected for signs of disease, just as thoroughly) coming to Philadelphia had to pass before entering the city. 

The facility operated until 1895, when its role as a disease hospital ceased. In the ensuing years, the site became a country club and a seaplane airbase, until it was finally abandoned. As age and neglect took their toll on the site, township officials lobbied for its upkeep and protection. In 2019, they got their wish: Several buildings were restored for use as government offices, and its grounds were opened to tours.* 

* Update, February 2020: The site was forced to close temporarily to tours due to COVID- 19.

Know Before You Go

The Lazaretto site is between the fire station parking lot and the river.