Webatuck State School † is a partially closed state institution for the developmentally disabled in New York. It was one of six state residential schools operated by the Department of Mental Hygiene, offering full medical care, training, and education for its residents. 4 The goal of the state school was assisting mentally disabled children in attaining the highest possible level of self-sufficiency to be able to live outside of an institution.


History

The New York State Department of Mental Hygiene acquired property for the construction of the School for Imbeciles at Webatuck in the Webatuck Valley in 1926. 48 Before the state ownership, the land was split among three farms. Forty buildings were planned for construction at the cost of $13 million to serve four surrounding counties and 4,259 patients.

Construction was split into two major phases. The first phase was constructed from 1927 to 1930, while a second expansion phase extended from 1930 to 1933. 4

By 1929, 27 buildings were in a state of erection, five of which were nearly completed. 48 It included two infirmaries (buildings 6 and 7), ten ward buildings for 2,400 inmates (buildings 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 24 and 25), four employee living quarters (buildings 8, 9, 1 and 11), laundry (building 21), bakery (building 16), vegetable storage (building 18), storehouse (building 17), and firehouse (building 19). The powerhouse (building 26), mechanics dormitory (building 20), one of two dining halls, and other minor structures were nearing completion.

Acting Superintendent Dr. Ross stated at the time that the “ten ward buildings (would) care for 2,400 inmates” 11 and that two four total infirmaries would be needed. 36

Significant contractors involved were the Feeney and Sheehan Building Company of Albany, Miller and Gaynor of Poughkeepsie, Johnson and Company of Buffalo, R.J Murphy and Son of New York City, James J. Finn Construction Company of Albany and the M. Shapiro and Son Construction Company of New York City. 48 Many of the contractors had been involved in the building of Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center.

The majority of the buildings were designed in the Mission style, with some Classical and Colonial Revival influence, and grouped around two ovals separated by two dining halls, hospital, and administration building. 48

The campus was split into three distinct sections according to gender and treatment type. 48 The north half of campus included two male infirmaries and seven male residence halls, one of which was reserved for difficult or violent patients.   The south half of campus mirrored that of the north half but was used for female residents. Buildings in the Webatuck Valley were referred to as the “Valley Area” and included some residential buildings for patients who were not as mentally defective. 48 The “Valley Area” also included maintenance structures and the power plant.

Another section of Webatuck consisted of the farming complex and staff residences located west of Ten Mile River. 48 East of Ten Mile River and west of Webatuck Creek was land set aside for a scout camp, Wastchem Park Clubhouse, pump house, and wells.

Operation

The opening of Webatuck State School in 1930, and the opening of four others across the state around the time, led to a decrease in developmentally disabled persons in psychiatric institutions, county homes, or municipal hospitals. 13

For instance, the population of the Children’s Hospital on Randall’s Island in New York City dropped dramatically. 13 The Children’s Hospital was meant to be a place of temporary care for the mentally disabled or epileptic, but it often became a permanent stay for most due to a lack of accommodations in other institutions.

Not long after Webatuck opened, it garnered controversy for several suspicious deaths. 18 On August 31, 1934, at 1:30 a.m., three young males were found dead in bed. They had been reported as alive two hours prior. The state Health Department investigated and found no traces of diseased structures or chemicals in the digestive organs of the boys. The department went further and made tests with guinea pigs to determine a cause of death but found no definitive answers. The state closed the case on on September 5, stating that the boys died of natural causes simultaneously. 19

By 1935, Webatuck was at capacity, despite the modest expansion of beds at Webatuck and elsewhere. 13 Surprisingly, every expansion project programmed and completed at state schools led to even more overcrowding.

Routine escapes at Webatuck were frequent, but by 1942, overcrowded conditions and a shortage of employees due to World War II led to 150 flights in that year alone. 21 Most of the escapees were captured. Of the escapees, several were convicted of burglary while out and at least three were accused of setting fires to buildings east of Millbrook. 23

Two escapees, found in a farmer’s dairy barn on November 24, led to a leading group of residents in the county to commission a public indignation meeting. 22 A grand jury convened on the issue.

Bids for the construction of wire mesh guards for the windows at Building CM were let in March 1943 in preparation for the conversion of the building into one for high-risk residents. 23 A 20-foot wall at the opening of the U-shaped structure was also added.

After World War II concluded, the state programmed $3 million in expansion projects for Webatuck. 24 The projects included additions to the male and female infirmaries, an addition to the tubercular patient ward which treated patients from all state schools, and power plant and water supply additions. The state also proposed constructing a 40 patient children’s hospital to handle mentally defective children less than five years old.

Webatuck acquired the 300-acre Wright Farm, located between the state school and Bell School, in July 1947 for $25,000. 25 The farm was needed to help support the school’s 185 dairy cattle and many more swine. The school had been renting part of the estate for the prior few years.

In 1962, former dining facilities in the Webatuck and Taconic Building were converted into classrooms. 5 Replacement kitchens and dining rooms, on a smaller scale, were constructed in various ward buildings. The auditorium in Building 59 was renovated in 1966 at the cost of $139,938. 27 Bids totaling $70,965 were also received for the reconstruction of dining rooms in Building 28 to provide classrooms.

Fundraising for a Catholic chapel began in 1960, with employees and friends of Webatuck staging one-act comedies, dances, and musicals. 17 The ground was broken for the Guardian Angel Chapel 15 on July 18, 1965, 14 15 with the building finished by December. 20 The new single-level building was built utilizing hyperbolic paraboloids and signified space-age architecture. Its design was a stark contrast to the Mission and Colonial styles that dominated the campus.

Decline

By 1965, the 770-acre Webatuck State School housed 4,223 children and had 856 ward employees. 6 A state committee, on September 13, called for a closer look at extended range plans that would expand mental health facilities in the state by 40%. That would allow for 1,200 to 1,500 children to be moved from Webatuck. To an extent, some children had already been moved from Webatuck: 30 patients to the Samson Division of Willard State School and another 30 to Sunmount.

In 1972, a Poughkeepsie Journal reporter and photographer visited Webatuck unannounced during an evening at the invitation of a night supervisor. 3 The reporter and photographer documented severe overcrowding, insufficient staffing, and inadequate fire safety procedures. In one building, the newspaper found 139 men housed in a building designed for 60 with only five attendants on duty.

New York agreed to replace residential schools with smaller institutions, such as family care homes, nursing facilities and private residences, 26 after atrocious conditions were exposed at Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. 8

As a result, state institution censuses declined from 20,062 in 1975 to 1,434 in 2010. It mirrored the de-institutionalization movement, the process of replacing long-term psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services, which began in 1960. 5

At Webatuck, the census declined to 3,300 residents with 2,100 staff by mid-1973. 26 There were 1,506 residents by March 1983, 49 1,200 residents by 1986, 9 946 residents by March 1993, 49 and just 266 residents by 2000. 9

Closure

The state unveiled plans in 1991 to close Webatuck and two other state institutions, Monroe Developmental Center in Rochester and a facility in Staten Island, by 2000. 8

In 2000, 430 acres of unused property at Webatuck, the northern half of campus, 12 were sold to an architect who wanted to build an environmentally sustainable development. 8 The project met with significant community resistance over fears that Webatuck would close altogether. Several buildings were gutted until the majority of the project was abandoned. Part of the development eventually continued as an environmental education center and farm. 12

Webatuck was initially on track to close the residential component of its campus, by the late 1990’s 3 but the state was receiving $4,556 per day from the state and federal government for each of the 152 residents at Webatuck, or roughly $1.7 million a year per person, by 2010. 7 It was the highest Medicaid rate in the nation and four times the next highest facility cost.

The state and federal agreement allowed New York, since the 1980’s, to collect two-thirds of the federal reimbursement for thousands of residents who are moved from state institutions to community homes. 7

The state admitted the actual cost of care was about a third of the rate and that the hundreds of millions in extra cash underwrite state programs for the developmentally disabled. 7 As the reimbursement rate soared, the closing of Webatuck and eight others were delayed indefinitely as it would shut off a guaranteed flow of cash. To collect more federal dollars, the state opened local intensive treatment units for those with criminal tendencies and difficulty behaviors at Webatuck. 11

Federal officials knew since at least 2007 about the over-billing agreement. 7 Despite that, the Medicaid reimbursement rate increased to $5,118 per day by 2012.

Despite the earlier movement towards closure of Webatuck, the state announced plans to rehabilitate 22 buildings at the cost of $28 million. 8 Among the projects, $7.1 million was expended to renovate the power plant, $5.1 million to replace roofs on 14 buildings, $2 million towards climate control replacements, $5.5 million to remove mold and replace fire alarms, and $6.5 million for the construction of a new water treatment system.

Officials at the time stated that two locked units for residents with severe behavioral problems would remain open. 8 A detailed proposal, dated December 30, 2008, called for the rebuilding and doubling of the size of the 60-bed Local Intensive Treatment Unit at the south end of campus.

The state announced in mid-October 2011 that the residential component of Webatuck would close at the end of 2013. 2 8 The 518 employees that worked at Webatuck would be offered positions in other state institutions.

During 2013, 76 residents were transitioned into the community. 2 The state closed the residential portion Webatuck on December 31, 2 leaving 110 staff for outpatient services. 1

Webatuck came under controversy as it was discovered that between 2014 and 2017, over $5 million had been expended for operational costs. 1 The most significant value was for heating oil, with $1.4 million spent in 2014 and 2015 to heat 11 vacant buildings. The heated but otherwise abandoned structures accounted for 44% of Webatuck’s total square footage.


Buildings

Administration Building (Building 57)

The Administration Building is a two-story, nine bay, stucco structure constructed in 1933. 28 Designed under the State Commissioner of Architecture, W.M. Haugaard in the Georgian Revival style, it included certain Mission Revival elements, such as the colonnaded balcony, tubular tile roof vents, and rough stucco wall finish. It was built during the second and last major phase of building at Webatuck.

Amity Hall (Building 2)

Amity Hall was constructed as a two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the building closed in 2013.

Barton and Carver Hall (Buildings 3 and 25)

Barton and Carter Halls were constructed as two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco buildings in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, they were later used for residents with serious medical issues. 11 Both closed in 2013.

Berkshire Hall (Building 59)

Berkshire Hall was constructed as a three-story, 13-bay stucco building in 1933 during the second and last major phase of construction at Webatuck. 39 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style, it contained Classical details, such as a complex cornice, belt course, string course, and hip and gable roofs arranged in a formal symmetrical design.

The structure was originally intended to train female patients in various forms of work relating to sewing, weaving and crafts, and was one of the major centers of activity on the female side of campus. 39 The building also included an auditorium and bowling alley.

Berkshire Hall was used for a Day Treatment Center by 1983. 39 As of 2018, the building remains active for medical record storage.

Catholic Chapel

Fundraising for a Catholic chapel began in 1960, with employees and friends of Webatuck staging one-act comedies, dances, and musicals. 17 The ground was broken for the Guardian Angel Chapel 15 on July 18, 1965, 14 15 with the building finished by December. 20 The new single-level building was built utilizing hyperbolic paraboloids and signified space-age architecture. Its design was a stark contrast to the Mission and Colonial styles that dominated the campus.

The church closed in 2013.

Cedar Knolls (Building 60)

Cedar Knolls was constructed as the superintendent’s residence in 1933 during the second and last phase of construction at Webatuck. 29 It was later reused as a client building and closed in 2013.

Dutchess Hall (Building 56)

Prior to the completion of the hospital, Dutchess Hall served as a medical clinic and handled medical treatments and emergencies. 32

Dutchess Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-30 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 36 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the building was later used as a local intensive treatment unit. It was set to be renovated and doubled in size at the south end of the campus in detailed plans released in 2008. 8 11 Despite the promises of expansion, Dutchess Hall closed in 2013.

Eisenhower Hall (Building 6)

Prior to the completion of the hospital, Eisenhower Hall served as a medical clinic and handled medical treatments and emergencies. 32

Eisenhower Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-30 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 36 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the building was later used for patient programs and closed in 2013.

Firehouse (Building 19)

The Firehouse was constructed in 1927-29 during the initial phase of construction at Webatuck. 46 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, it was utilitarian but did include an octagonal belfry with a tiled, bell cast dome.

Franklin Hall (Building 7)

Prior to the completion of the hospital, Franklin Hall served as a medical clinic and handled medical treatments and emergencies. 32

Franklin Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-30 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 36 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, it was later renovated into a recreation center with a therapy pool. 11 Franklin Hall closed in 2013.

Gordon Hall (Building 20)

Gordon Hall was constructed in 1927 during the initial phase of construction at Webatuck. 47 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the building served as employee living quarters and later as a combined residence and program area.

It’s location in the valley was referred to as the “Valley Complex” which was designed to deal with the rehabilitation of clients. 47 They were considered more well and were often put to work on the facility farm or in the maintenance area.

Grant Hall (Building 55)

Grant Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1933 during the second major phase of construction at Webatuck. 37 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style, the building served as a residence facility for the more violent or difficult patients. 37 The wings to the east had cells in the basements for the most violent inmates.

Portions of the building began to be used as an infirmary prior to the completion of the hospital. 37

Grant Hall closed in 2013.

Hilltop Hall (Building 61)

Hilltop Hall was constructed as a three-story, seven-bay stucco building in 1938. 40 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in a mixture of Mission and Classic styles, the building was originally intended to train male patients in various forms of industrial work and was one of the major centers of activity on the male side of campus. 40 Hilltop Hall also featured an auditorium.

Hospital (Building 58)

The hospital was built during the early stages of the second major phase of construction at Webatuck. 32 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style, it was later renamed the Services Building. As of 2010, the four-story building included the Office of the Advocate, Office of the Ombudsman, Office of Human Resources Management, Staff Development & Training, various business offices, a clinic and dental offices. 11

Prior to the construction of the hospital, medical treatments and emergencies were handled at the four medical clinic buildings — Quaker, Niagara, Eisenhower and Franklin. 32

Ivy Hall (Building 5)

Ivy Hall was constructed as a two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, Ivy Hall was used until 1994.

Jacobi and Hudson Hall (Buildings 4 and 24)

Jacobi and Hudson Halls were constructed as two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco buildings in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, they were used to house residents. Hudson was later used as a local intensive treatment unit. 11 Both Jacobi and Hudson Hall closed in 2013.

Kennedy Hall (Building 15)

Kennedy Hall was constructed as a two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 It was designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Laundry Building (Building 21)

The Laundry Building was built in 1928 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 34 It was designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Lincoln and Mohawk Hall (Buildings 14 and 32)

Lincoln and Mohawk Halls were constructed as two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco buildings in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 They were designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Maintenance Shops (Building 39)

The Hospital was built during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 35 They were designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style.

Niagara Building (Building 30)

Prior to the completion of the hospital, the Niagara Building served as a medical clinic and handled medical treatments and emergencies. 32

The Quaker Building was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-30 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 36 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the building was later used for patient programs.

Oneida Hall (Building 53)

Oneida Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-30 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 36 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the building served as a residence facility for the more violent or difficult patients. 37 The wings to the east had cells in the basements for the most violent inmates.

Portions of the building began to be used as an infirmary prior to the completion of the hospital. 37

Quaker Hall (Building 29)

Prior to the completion of the hospital, Quaker Hall served as a medical clinic and handled medical treatments and emergencies. 32

Quaker Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-30 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 36 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style, the structure was later used for patient programs.

Paint Shop (Building 18)

The Paint Shop was constructed in 1927 during the initial phase of construction at Webatuck. 43 It was designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Piaget Hall (Building 54)

Piaget Hall was constructed as a one-story, multi-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1933 during the second major phase of construction at Webatuck. 37 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style, the building served as a residence facility for the more violent or difficult patients. 37 The wings to the east had cells in the basements for the most violent inmates.

Portions of the building began to be used as an infirmary prior to the completion of the hospital. 37

Power Plant (Building 26)

The power plant, constructed in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 41 It was designed under the State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones roughly in the Mission style.

Residence Halls (Buildings 8, 9, 10, 11, 33, 34, 35 and 36)

The employee residence halls were three-story, three-bay, stuccoed structures with flat capped parapet roofs, constructed between 1927 and 1930 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 31 All were designed under the State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style. By 1983, the structures were used for resident program centers or were vacant.

Roosevelt and Scully Hall (Buildings 31 and 13)

Roosevelt and Scully Halls were constructed as two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco buildings in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 They were designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Storehouse (Building 17)

The Storehouse was constructed in 1927 during the initial phase of construction at Webatuck. 44 It was designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Taft Hall (Building 12)

Taft Hall was constructed as a two-story, eleven-bay “U”-shaped stucco building in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck. 30 It was designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission style.

Webatuck (Building 28) and Taconic Hall (Building 1)

Webatuck and Taconic Hall were built as central dining facilities in 1928-29 during the first major phase of construction at Webatuck State School. 33 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style, they served as cafeterias until 1962. 5

By 2010, Webatuck was referred to as Webatuck Mall and housed a club store, employment services, speech and hearing facilities, a photo lab, and a barber and beautician shop. 11 Taconic Hall, referred to as the Professional Services Building in 1983, included Central Food Service, and offices for Health Information Management, Site Development and Information Services as of 2010. 11 It also included space for Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy and an Interfaith Chapel. Both Webatuck and Taconic Hall closed in 2013.

Underhill Manor and Victory Hall (Buildings 22 and 23)

Underhill Manor and Victory Hall were constructed in 1927 during the initial phase of construction at Webatuck. 42 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission and Colonial Revival styles, the buildings were farm help dormitories to house residents who were better able to function in the community and help in the school’s farm operation. 42

Vocational Rehabilitation Building (Building 16)

The Vocational Rehabilitation Building was constructed in 1927 during the initial phase of construction at Webatuck. 43 It was designed under State Commissioner of Architecture S.W. Jones in the Mission and Colonial Revival styles. It’s location in the valley was referred to as the “Valley Complex” which was designed to deal with the rehabilitation of clients. They were considered more well and were often put to work on the facility farm or in the maintenance area.

Y Building (Building 62)

The Y Building was constructed as a three-story, nine-bay stucco building in 1936 during the second and last major phase of construction at Webatuck. 38 Designed under State Commissioner of Architecture William Haugaard in the Mission style, the building was used as staff housing to supplement buildings 8, 9, 10, 11, 33, 34, 35, and 36. By 1983, it housed a variety of administrative and program offices and was referred to as the Staff Services Center.

Other

† The actual name of the location has been modified to protect the location as much as possible from vandalism.

Sources