Swinburne Island is the smaller of two artificial islands created in the Lower New York Bay east of South Beach, Staten Island. After several cholera pandemics in the nineteenth century, the federal government built Swinburne and Hoffman islands to serve as areas of quarantine for immigrants arriving by ship and carrying contagious diseases. Along with Hoffman Island, which was constructed in 1873, Swinburne was used through the early 20th century to quarantine immigrants to the United States who were found to be suffering dangerous contagious diseases upon arrival at the Port of New York.
Immigrants suspected of having such diseases were taken to the quarantine hospital and were not allowed to go to Ellis Island for entry until they were shown to be well or were cured of the disease. The island was used to quarantine patients during the last cholera outbreak in the United States in 1910-1911, which started with a passenger from Naples on the Moltke, a ship of the Hamburg-American line. Swinburne was the second built, about a mile south of the earlier island, and it has a crematorium. The island was originally called Dix Island, but was renamed in honor of Dr. John Swinburne (1820–1899), a military surgeon during the American Civil War.
During World War I, immigration was reduced. Later, the United States passed the Immigration Act of 1923, which sharply lessened immigration from southern and eastern Europe. By this time, the city and state had learned other means of controlling infectious diseases, so the quarantine facilities were little used. By the start of World War II, the United States Merchant Marine had adapted both islands as a training station, which had opened in 1938. It built additional quonset huts, which still stand. Both islands are now managed by the National Park Service as part of the Staten Island Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area.