I recently gave a TEDx Talk on the stigma and misconceptions attached to the American insane asylum. I conclude by asking the listener to change their viewpoint - or if they cannot manage that, to at least acknowledge the history and preserve the buildings. Please check it out & share with your followers to get the word out!
Corridor in Athens State Hospital, an asylum that’s been abandoned for decades in Ohio. A rambling Kirkbride-plan asylum, the central ward - the administrative pavilion - is still in use as an art museum.
Night view of Buffalo State Hospital, probably the grandest of all of the American insane asylums. At right, partially occluded by the tree in the foreground, is the central administrative pavilion, with its distinctive towers. At left is the first of five connected female wards. This was H. H. Richardson’s largest - and arguably, most interesting - commission.
Connector corridor with a globe light, Athens State Hospital, 2008. Most connector corridors which joined the wards together in Kirkbride-plan asylums were notably lacking in adornment. A notable exception was H. H. Richardson’s brilliant curved connector hallways at Buffalo State Hospital. But at Athens, an Ohio Kirkbride asylum, there were lovely arches and lights updated to the 1950s or 1960s - in this case, globe lights. On the exterior wards, there were bizarre holes about 4’ in diameter cut through to let light in from the rooms to the side. Athens is absolutely a unique and beautiful Kirkbride asylum, and the current plans by the university to chop the wings off it are wholly unacceptable.
Patient dormitory at sundown at Buffalo State Hospital. People have this dismal misconception that insane asylums were “snake pits” - places where patients were treated like animals, if even that well. Perhaps they eventually became that, but the Kirkbride buildings of the 19th century were anything but. Here, patients would enjoy sunlight from three of four directions, in a room whose 16’ ceilings were supported by ornate columns. Certainly not the view of the asylum you’d get if you bought into “American Horror Story”!
This is the administrative extension of the original 1892 building of Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, New York State’s first forensic asylum, in Beacon. More asylum than prison, Matteawan’s care model was based upon the Moral Treatment principles that were the backbone of the 19th century asylum system as developed by Kirkbride, Dix, Stribling, and others. However, the asylum was eventually emptied, and patients deemed “not guilty by reason of insanity” in the state are now treated more or less like prisoners. And ironically, the rest of the sprawling complex in Beacon has now been transformed into a part of the medium-security Fishkill Correctional Facility. The treatment of violent criminals and the mentally ill in America has merged in more ways than we should be comfortable with.
In July 2008 Greystone Park Psychiatric closed and the remaining patients and Administration Offices relocated to the new facility less than a mile away.
Since then, the state of New Jersey has been deliberating over the best course of action for the decaying hospital. In the last few years, a group known as Preserve Greystone formed and has been advocating for the preservation of the massive Kirkbride building, along with hundreds of historians, preservationists and nearby residents.
Sadly, the state has not even entertained contracts of up to $100 million to restore the facility, but instead have chosen to demolish the building using $50 million of taxpayer money. Sometime later this year, the building will be demolished and over one hundred years of history, stories and medicine will be nothing more than a memory.
I have wandered the lonely collapsed halls of the former Hudson River Psychiatric Hospital many times, but until last month, I had never seen the Administration Building from this perspective. Standing in front of this historic grand architecture watching the moon rise was really magical.
This gorgeous building was completed in 1871, on a piece of land along the river in Poughkeepsie, New York. Most Kirkbride buildings were constructed with symmetrical wings, but this hospital was not, because there was an expectation that more male patients would be submitted than female.
The campus operated for over one hundred years before closing in 2003. The campus not sits abandoned, mostly collapsed from years of neglect and a major fire in the male wing in 2007.
One of the great arches that line the halls of Greystone Park State Hospital, photographed at sunrise. Perhaps the most recognizable feature of the wards of this grand asylum, the largest continuous-foundation building in America until the construction of the Pentagon, these arches provided patients both with an ample dose of sunlight and a place to socialize. Just about every ward in the building had an arch such as this at its midpoint; Woody Guthrie likely hung out in one when he spent years on the wards here. Sadly, the arches will fall with the rest of the building soon; Greystone has been slated for demolition by the Powers That Be in New Jersey.
GREYSTONE PARK IS FALLING DOWN. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s being torn down by, as Richard Nickel would say, “stupid men”. I now have it on good authority from multiple sources that the Greystone Park State Hospital Kirkbride building is currently undergoing demolition. This comes as a bit of a shock to me; publicly, the State of New Jersey said demolition would commence in April. But it looks like corrupt developers and corrupt governor Chris Christie wanted to make sure that none of the preservation groups looking to make a final effort to save the building have the chance. It was a political parlor trick, and it worked. This is very sad for me; I’ve made dozens of trips there, slept in the building over a dozen times, shot models there, had great times with great friends. It’s sad for the other travelers who saw the insides of her, or enjoyed walking their dogs around the exterior. It’s sad for those that never got the chance. But mostly, it’s a travesty against history; the 1876 building was a prime candidate for adaptive reuse, and several proposals for preservation were ignored by the state. The hospital where Woody Guthrie was visited by Bob Dylan, with its nearly 130 year history, will soon be nothing but a pile of rubble. They don’t build ‘em like this anymore. Shame on you, myopic New Jersey. Shame on you, corrupt developers padding the pockets of politicians. Shame on you, you double-dealing blowhard Chris Christie.
“Great architecture has only two natural enemies: water, and stupid men.” –Richard Nickel
Hallway inside Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.
Sadly, in a few months, this asylum will be nothing more than dust. Abatement has already begin inside this massive Kirkbride building.
Within four years of this facility opening in the late 1800′s, the hospital was already accommodating 800 patients, though it was only designed to care for 600. At the hospital’s peak, in 1953, Greystone housed over 7,000 patients, many soldiers suffering from PTSD post World War.
If you don't mind me asking, how did you get into the Utica Asylum and take pictures?
This is probably a good time to address this sort of question, since I get it a lot - I will NEVER answer questions about how to access a particular building or location. Please understand that I’m not trying to be rude here - but I have to protect both the buildings and you!
There’s also the issue of protecting you - I don’t have any idea how skilled you are at walking collapses, for example, but many of these buildings are collapsing to a great extent. That might be an extreme example, but I don’t have any reason to believe that any given questioner knows how to throw themselves backwards when a floor gives out under them. Or how to recognize and avoid hydrogen sulfide gas - first whiff is bad for you. Second is worse. By the third, it’s fatal. Point is, I have 19+ years of experience tromping around these places, and I still get in dangerous situations. If I told you how to get into one and you wound up dead, that would be on my head, wouldn’t it?
So please take no offense; I need to protect both the buildings I love so much and people of various skill levels that want to see them. And all that said, I will tell you this - don’t try Utica State Hospital now; you missed your chance in 2007 when they ripped the wings off, sealed up the holes, and alarmed the remaining structure. That one, I will give away, since it doesn’t hurt either the building nor you.