j.n. adam


J.N. Adam Hospital

(1 of 3)

The sun, fresh air and beautiful surroundings were supposed to cure you. And for decades, the diseased and disabled dined in the healing light from stained glass under which a president had been assassinated.

In 1909, the city of Buffalo, N.Y., was struggling with a tuberculosis epidemic, and it needed a sanatorium to treat the growing number of patients. The mayor, James Noble Adam, purchased 300 acres of land on a hill near the rural village of Perrysburg, about 35 miles away, and donated it to the city for the project.

Construction of the J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital began later that year under the direction of architect John Hopper Coxhead, who was famous for his work on hundreds of buildings in Buffalo and around the country. He designed the new sanatorium in the style of a southern plantation: grand, airy and full of light. Completed in 1912, the space was configured to be curative, supporting the head physician’s method of “heliotherapy.” There were wide verandas and open spaces for sitting and strolling, and each patient’s room had french doors with large windows. But the light-flooded grand dining hall rotunda with the stained glass dome was the facility’s crown jewel.

The glass dome is believed to have been taken from the dismantled Temple of Music at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo - the place where President William McKinley was shot. It was now an experienced eye to watch over the sick and dying.

The facility continued to treat tuberculosis patients until 1960, by which time antibiotics and improved screening methods had brought the disease under control. After being transferred to the State Department of Mental Hygiene, it closed for a brief period and reopened later that year as an asylum for the mentally disabled.

J.N. Adam would go on to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

But by then, it had begun a decline that was typical for asylums. Patients were gradually lost as psychiatric medications proliferated and institutionalization fell out of favor. It closed for good in 1995. 

Twenty years later, in January 2015, it sat under a blanket of snow as heavy as the weight of its history. The light was mostly gone. The eye remained unblinking and unbroken but could no longer heal.

(For more photos of this site, see sets two and three.)