On October 23, 1829, Richmond County purchased the property from Stephen Martino for $3,000. The Richmond County Poor Farm opened as a home for the sick, homeless, alcoholics, unwanted children and the elderly. When Staten Island became part of New York City in 1898, the farm would be renamed the New York City Farm Colony.
Residents worked raising crops, caring for horses, chickens, etc. and in the general upkeep of the facility. In 1909 the city began construction of seven stone buildings to expand the facility. One was for the mentally ill, two were dorms for residents, two were infirmaries, one a service building and the last a residence for employees.
In 1915, the facility was merged with Seaview Tuberculosis Hospital and in 1924, the requirement for all residents to work was lifted by the Homes for Dependents Agency as most of the Farm's population was elderly.
In 1947, a well-known bank robber, Willie Sutton, escaped prison and apparently hid here, working the fields and laying low until he was recaptured.
The population reached a peak of 2,000 but began to fall off as Social Security was implemented. As the number of patients at Seaview also dropped off, due to better medications for Tuberculosis, and a reduction in the number of cases, the elderly from the Colony were moved to Seaview, and the Colony was shut down in 1975.
The city attempted to sell the property in 1980, but the sale was resisted. As a result, 25 acres of land was given over to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The rest of the property, an additional 70 acres, was designated a city landmark.
Update - January, 2016:
The property on which the colony sits is to be sold to a developer for $1 and turned into a senior's living complex. Details in the attached PDF file below.
Walking onto the grounds, it's incredibly hard to imagine that this had been a large-scale farm. The trees cover everything and are so tall, they almost blot out the daylight. There are few open areas in the vegetation initially, until suddenly, the ruins of a building appears before you, well camouflaged in vines.
I spent a considerable amount of time working my way through the buildings here. While in a terrible state of decay, enough remains that you're able to get at least a sense of what living here might have been like. Grim was the word that kept coming to mind. For many buried on the grounds, this was the final place to wait out their days. For others, this was a refuge that kept them from being homeless and starving.