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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matteawan 1913Above: Matteawan State Hospital, as it looked in 1913 (photograph from New York State Archives). Below, Matteawan today, as part of the Fishkill Correctional Facility (photograph by Jeff McMullin)

matteawan 2011

Adaptive reuse

When asylums weren’t pawned off by the state to builders, they occasionally found other uses. In Fishkill, some buildings from the former Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane now serve as part of the medium-security Fishkill Correctional Facility. But in 1886, the site was considered rural, set apart, and dramatic — in other words, perfect for helping troubled people improve themselves. It was purchased from the Dates family for $25,000.

Outdoors, patients played “quoits,” which was similar to horseshoes, and made rugs and baskets. By 1949, however, the facility was jam-packed, with almost 1,500 men and 250 women, in a space that was built for 550. Around that time, George Metesky, aka the Mad Bomber (he planted explosives around New York City for more than a decade), was its most notorious patient; he was eventually released. Legal decisions in the 1970s making it more difficult to keep mentally ill people incarcerated led to Matteawan being absorbed into the prison system.

 

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