Eastern River State Hospital is an abandoned state hospital in New York. Eastern River was the first state hospital for the insane located on land received, by gift, from the citizens of the county. 3


History

A committee was formed to examine the problem of housing the mentally ill in the state. 10 It was regarded that the poor houses in the state were badly constructed and ill managed. In response, it was determined to locate a central facility to house the mentally ill that would meet the standard established by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride of Philadelphia in his 1854 publication on the subject of the treatment of the mentally ill.

Kirkbride advocated for a state hospital that could hold no more than 250 patients in a building laid out in a linear arrangement with three sets of wings extending from each side of an administration building. 10 The building and wings would be three stories high with a full basement. The wards were to be self contained, each with a parlor, dining room, clopthes room, bathroom and water closet. Each bedroom would contain a single bed, 9 feet by 11 feet. Kirkbride also advocated for hospitals in the country, surrounded by attractive scenery, to allow for adequate light and air.

James Roosevelt, father of future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, owned a country house along Post Road in the town of Poughkeepsie. 9 Roosevelt, a railroad executive residing in New York City, kept the country estate as his summer residence. Located on a knoll, it commanded a dramatic view of the Hudson River. In 1864, the adjacent property was proposed as the location for a state insane asylum, which prompted Roosevelt to sell his house to the state and relocate to Hyde Park.

In 1867, 200 acres of land that had been Roosevelt’s farm was acquired for $80,680 by the city and county and given to the state for the establishment of a “rightly equipped and constructed” hospital for the mentally ill. 10 Adding to the original 206 acres was the 84-acre farm of William Davies. On August 9, 1867, plans, elevations, specifications and estimates were approved.

The grounds were landscaped by Calvery Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted towards Kirkbride’s ideals. 10

Construction on the Main Building began in September 1867 and the first seven patients at Eastern River were admitted on October 20, 1871. 10 An additional 60 patients were admitted in 1872 and by 1890, there were 900 patients.

To emphase cutting edge outpatient treatment programs, Ryon Hall was constructed in 1932 with day rooms, conference rooms, offices and kitchens. The Cheney Memorial Building was constructed in 1952 4 to handle the influx of patients, which had topped 6,000. 10

Decline

Deinstitutionalization, the process of replacing long-term psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services, began in the 1960’s. The movement towards deinstitutionalization was born out of a socio-political movement for community-based services and open hospitals and the advent of psychotropic drugs and financial rationales. 1

Eastern River’s resident population was gradually reduced by releasing stabilized patients, shortening inpatient stays and reducing admission and readmission rates. Programs were implemented to reduce reinforcement of dependency, hopelessness and other maladaptive behaviors.

By the 1970’s, Eastern River had fewer than 600 patients, most of whom had serious mental illnesses that were not able to be treated with outpatient-based programs. 2

The Main Building received National Historic Landmark designation in 1989 as the first significant example of the High Victorian Gothic style applied to institutional buildings in the United States. 5


Buildings

Main Building (Building 51)

Eastern River was planned to accommodate about 200 male patients in the south wing and 200 female patients in the north wing, with the chapel in the Main Building. 10 The kitchen and general services department would be in the rear of the chapel. The department for each sex would consist of four wards on the main floor, four wards on the second floor, and one ward on the third floor.

The Main Building was designed in the High Victorian Gothic style by Frederick C. Withers. 5 It followed the Kirkbride plan, in which patient wings were an off-shoot of the main administration building. It was designed by Messrs Vaux, Withers & Company of New York, construction was supervised by Samuel D. Backus, resident engineer. 3

The first base stones were laid to the Main Building on September 17, 1867 and masonry began to be applied on September 25. 10 The bricklayers temporarily stopped work when they refused to continue on when “non-society” men were excluded. By the end of November, however, all of the brick work on the main section had been completed except for the temporary walls and chimney.

The exterior was built with a polychromatic exterior finish, with materials of differing colors and textures that were used to create decorative bands, highlighting corners and arches. 10 Sandstone was used to define the narrow band-courses in the brick, door-heads and window-heads. Dark bluestone ashlar sections were interposed. Small granite columns were used to support the arched porch at the entrance to the main building, with Corinthian capitals and small caulicoli volutes.

In the basement, cast-iron girders and brick arches were used to span the floors. 10 The floor joists elsewhere was built of spruce timber, cut to order in Maine. Seasoned oak and Norway pine plank was used for flooring.

Iron frames were set for fire-proof doors that separated the wards from the staircases. 10 The lower sashes of the windows elsewhere were styled to avoid the appearance of a prison while the upper sashes were crafted of iron sourced from England. Iron treads were placed on all the stairways. The interior, otherwise, was plain in appearance for safety and durability purposes.

Each ward contained bedrooms on each side of the hallway, a living room, dining room with pantry and lavatory with showers and urinals. 10 A cold air shaft, connected to a fan-room, brought fresh cold air via a separate flue to every room in every ward. In the winter, steam heat was carried via the shafts.

Additions to the Main Building were made in 1870, 1871 and 1886. 10

Cheney Memorial Building (Building 98)

The Cheney Memorial Building was constructed in 1952. 4

Mortuary & Laboratory Building (Building 45)

The mortuary and laboratory building was constructed in 1896. 4 5

Power House & Machine Shop (Building 33)

The Power House and Machine Shop, a one and two-story brick, concrete and steel structure, was constructed in 1929. 6 Additions were built in 1934 and 1954. It was rehabilitated from 1965 to 1968 and in 1970. It contains a machine shop, boiler room, engine room, machinery space, conveyor space, pump and blower room, ash rooms and storage.

Ryon Hall (Buildings 13-15)

Ryon Hall was constructed in 1932 as the Continued Treatment Building. 7 Building 13, at front, contained a print shop, laundry and beauty shop in the basement, day rooms, offices, conference rooms and dormitories on the first and second levels.

Building 14, attached to Buildings 13 and 15, contained a storeroom, kitchen and training area in the basement, offices, occupational therapy rooms, dormitories on the first and second levels. 7

Building 15, attached to Buildings 13 and 14, contained offices, kitchen and cafeteria on the first and second levels and a cafeteria and serving area on the third floor. 8

Sources