Mental health facilities in New York from the mid-1800s like psychiatric centers and asylums have a sad and dark history.
People at the time did not fully understand what was wrong with individuals with disabilities or mental illnesses so they separated them from society and locked them away in secluded places like Asylums.
The care that patients of these asylums went through is today considered torture and illegal. As new forms of care and therapy were created over the years, asylums have been shut down and forgotten all throughout the country.
Though they are no longer accepting patients, many abandoned mental hospitals in New York still remain standing to this day. Below is a list of the most well-known abandoned asylums in New York.
Abandoned Asylums in New York[lwptoc]
1. Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane
Starting off on our list of abandoned asylums in New York is the legendary Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane (map). It opened in 1880 and was in operation for nearly one hundred years before closing down and being abandoned.
In its time, it was considered a pioneer in the psychiatric field for incorporating the most modern treatments for mentally ill patients. People who were seeking treatment here would undergo different types of therapy that today are considered illegal.
Treatments such as insulin shock therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and lobotomies, among others, were all performed on patients here for decades. Not all forms of therapy used at the asylum were this harsh.
Also, a big issue the asylum had was that like many asylums throughout the United States, it suffered from overcrowding and at one point housed nearly 2,000 patients when it was only built to contain 600.
Not all patients were properly taken care of because there wasn’t enough staff for everyone. Mistreatment did occur here as former patients came forward to tell their stories years after leaving the asylum. In 1965, after having lost a large portion of its funding, patients were gradually transferred to a different hospital over the span of some years.
It was officially closed down and abandoned in 1974. The following decade it was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006 the asylum was bought and converted into a luxury hotel known as The Richardson Olmstead Campus. There are 13 buildings in total but only the center 3 are being used for the hotel.
Three others were demolished and the remaining five buildings are currently abandoned and slowly decaying away. YouTube urban exploring duo, TheProperPeople, managed to tour the abandoned insane asylum in New York in 2021, see the video above.
2. Hart Island Lunatic Asylum for Women
Not many people know that Hart Island (map), which sits at the western end of New York’s Long Island Sound, was once used to house an all-women’s mental asylum. It only operated for a single decade before shutting down and joining the list of abandoned asylums in New York.
At the time, asylums in New York were experiencing an overcrowding problem of patients. Because of this, the city of New York built a new asylum on Hart Island. The asylum was named The Pavillion and was a women-only facility.
It housed some 300 women with different degrees of mental illnesses. The asylum’s life was short-lived as it was only in operation for 10 years before closing down in 1985. Why it closed down after such a short time is not really known.
But it is worth noting that in 1890, a New York grand jury called the conditions of the dormitories “a disgrace to civilization”. When it was closed down, the asylum was repurposed as a workhouse for delinquent boys.
Though that too was eventually shut down a few years shortly after. Since then, the closed mental institution in New York has been left to rot with no future in sight.
3. The Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane
Since it was closed down and abandoned in 1995, the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane (map) in Ovid, New York, has been slowly falling apart and decaying away. For many years its empty halls and mysterious past have attracted curious urban explorers and amateur ghost hunters.
That’s because the history of this abandoned asylum in New York is both dark and deadly. Over its 126 years of operation, thousands of people coming here seeking treatment would end up dead and buried in the grounds cemetery. The hospital opened in 1869 after President Lincoln signed off on the proposal for the first state-run hospital for the insane.
For its first years, the Willard Asylum was truly helping mentally sick people by offering them the help that they needed. But the asylum was still a product of its times and many medical procedures and practices used such as lobotomies, trephination, and insulin comas, would not work and end up causing patients more harm than good.
Those same medical procedures are now banned today for causing irreversible damage and sometimes death. That is what happened to many patients at Willard. Even though Willard Asylum was a hospital, for many patients it must’ve felt like a prison.
In 1995 it was decided that the hospital must close down and that same year its last patient was discharged. The following year, while cleaning the attic, a clerk stumbled across hundreds of packed suitcases that used to belong to patients who came to Willard but never left.
Today the Willard Asylum sits empty and forgotten on the shores of Seneca Lake.
4. Letchworth Village
Like so many other abandoned asylums in New York, Letchworth Village (map) had a history of low funding, improper care of patients, and death. It is most well known for having used some of its patients as guinea pigs for experimental vaccines in the 50s.
It opened in 1911 and housed patients in a self-contained and self-sustained village of small cottages on a working farm. This was considered a radical model of care as it had never been done before.
The idea was to give patients a more humane and productive lifestyle by allowing them outdoors other than just keeping them inside. In its early years, it saw success as many mentally ill patients showed signs of improvements in many facets of their lives.
When overcrowding became a serious issue many patients were being neglected. The complex was built to house a maximum of 2,000 patients but at its height was home to 5,000.
Because of this, the hospital was understaffed and also had insufficient funds which meant many patients didn’t receive the care they needed on daily basis. In 1950 the leading doctor at Letchworth Village, Dr. Jervis, tested experimental polio vaccines on multiple patients.
It wasn’t until 1996, after years of reports of abuse and neglect that Letchworth was finally closed down for good. Today, some of the 130 original buildings were repurposed but not all of them. A few remain abandoned and regularly visited by curious explorers.
5. Kings Park Psychiatric Center
The Kings Park Psychiatric Center is a closed mental institution in New York that now sits abandoned on Long Island. Built in 1885, it was originally named the Kings County Asylum (map) and garnered a reputation as a house of horrors.
The hospital was opened because of overcrowding issues in other asylums in New York but ultimately suffered the same fate. It started off as a “farm colony” asylum in which patients would work on different farm-related activities such as taking care of livestock and gardening.
This was considered a form of therapy for the mentally ill. The asylum in New York reached a peak patient population of 9,300 in 1954 and this is when reports of mistreatment of patients reached an all-time high.
According to a state report, “the buildings were unsuitable and unhygienic, facilities inadequate, clothing insufficient and of poor quality, food often unfit for human consumption.”. Patients were beaten, drugged, and left restrained to their beds if they so much as misbehaved.
Because of the high population, more buildings were constructed at the hospital. By the mid-century, Kings Park was considered an independent city with its own power plant, morgue, and over 150 other structures. One of its most famous buildings was a high-rise tower 13 stories tall named Building 93.
Starting in 1970, patients were released, relocated, or dumped on the streets because the hospital did not know what to do with them. Since the hospital was abandoned in 1996, many of the 100+ buildings were demolished or repurposed. Some of the medical equipment was sent to hospitals in Maryland. But some still stand today empty and rotting away, Building 93 is one of them.
Have You Been to Any Asylums in New York?
The places featured in this article are only a few of the many abandoned asylums in New York that are still standing to this day.
Some locations like the Buffalo State Asylum offer guided tours to give people a last look at the haunting institutions.
Other places are fenced off and completely shut down but don’t do enough to keep people from infiltrating the property to get a peek inside.
Have you explored any of these abandoned asylums in NY?