America’s Oldest Quarantine Station
Hidden away along the riverfront just a stone’s throw from I-95 and the Philadelphia International Airport stands the oldest surviving quarantine facility in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth oldest in the world. The Lazaretto quarantine station served as the gateway to Philadelphia in a crucial period of the nation’s growth (1801-1895). During the warm weather months, when traffic was heaviest and imported epidemics threatened, all arriving ships, passengers, and cargo were inspected there, and quarantined if necessary. Vessels and cargo were disinfected, and sick passengers and crew members were treated in the Lazaretto hospital. (The name “Lazaretto” derives from St. Lazarus, patron saint of lepers. Maritime quarantine stations known as lazarettos were established in European port cities beginning in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.)
The Lazaretto stands today as a forgotten monument to a hidden history. The stories that comprise this history—stories of commerce and politics, suffering and death, medicine and caregiving, immigration and hope—are the stories of the city’s and the nation’s growth during the nineteenth century. This website, along with a book in preparation and an increasingly active campaign to preserve and restore this unparalleled historical site, aim to bring those stories back to life.