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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A doctor and nurse at Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in 1965. They are inspecting the equipment used for shock therapy treatment
Photograph from New York State Archives
The Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital was the first institution of its kind in the world when it opened in 1874. The idea was to apply homeopathic principles to the institutional care of mental illness. Developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy sought to cure symptoms of disease by using drugs that induced similar symptoms, thereby restoring the patient’s “vital force.” Dr. Selden Haines Talcott, who ran the institution around the turn of the last century, believed that “the physical means for recuperating the worn and wasted systems of the insane may be stated in three words — heat, milk, and rest.” His patient-staffed baseball teams, which played on land that now seems windswept and empty, were also legendary.
In its prime, the campus had temple-like chapels, huge Tudor estates for nurses, and numerous entertainment halls, as well as a “profusion of floral beauties which constitute at once a charm and inspiration,” according to a New York Times account from that era. The hospital closed in 2006; many of the buildings have been demolished or are slowly decaying (like similar institutions around the country).