Hudson Valley Psychiatric Hospitals: Insane Asylums and Psych Centers of Upstate NY
They are now crumbling relics of a bygone era, but in their day, the Valley’s psychiatric hospitals — aka insane asylums — used cutting-edge methods to treat the mentally ill
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In May, the mid-Hudson Valley was buzzing with the news that the state’s Office of Mental Health planned to relocate most of the 150 live-in patients at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie to Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg. The goal was to save tens of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, jobs — 375 of them — could also be lost.
It’s the end of an era.
But in reality, the end has been coming for a long time. Hudson River Psychiatric is actually the successor to the once-grand Hudson River State Hospital on Route 9 across from Marist College. Completed in 1871, this 300-acre landscaped campus with elegant Gothic buildings housed as many as 6,000 patients and employed thousands in its heyday in the 1950s. Now, the buildings lay in ruins — the victims of a drastically altered mental health system, and also of major fires in 2007 and 2010 that consumed the structures several years after the state abandoned the campus.
The Poughkeepsie institution is just one of several abandoned psychiatric hospitals in the Valley. While most of them sit in various states of eerie disrepair, awaiting either demolition or further development, they have one thing in common: each has captured the public’s imagination. Many people have wondered about what went on inside these sprawling campuses, and dozens of Web sites chronicle the adventures of those who (often illegally) crawl through their crumbling buildings.
“Those buildings are a great window into understanding how much differently society dealt with the problem of mental illness back in the day,” says Gerald Grob, Ph.D., a former professor of medical history at Rutgers whose books on the topic include The Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill.