Hudson River State Hospital is an abandoned mental institution in Poughkeepsie, New York, and was the first state hospital for the insane located on land received, by gift, from the citizens of the county. The site is being redeveloped into a mixed-use commercial, medical, and residential development.
It was well regarded that the poor houses in the state of New York were badly constructed and ill-managed, and a committee was formed in the mid-1800s to examine the problem of housing the mentally ill. 10 It was determined to construct a central facility for those suffering from mental disorders that would meet the standard established by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride of Philadelphia in his 1854 publication on the subject of the treatment of such individuals.
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 surrounded by attractive scenery. 10 The central building and wings would be three stories high with a full basement, with the wards each containing a parlor, dining room, clothes room, bathroom, and water closet. Each bedroom would contain just a single bed.
It was proposed in 1864 to locate the hospital on the grounds of James Roosevelt, the father of future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who owned a country house along Post Road in the town of Poughkeepsie. 9 Roosevelt, a railroad executive residing in New York City, kept the estate as his summer residence. Perched on a knoll, it commanded dramatic views of the Hudson River. The overture prompted Roosevelt to sell his house and 200 acres of land to the city and county for $80,680 10 and relocate to Hyde Park. 9 The 84-acre farm of William Davies was also acquired, and together, the land was deeded to the state for the establishment of a “rightly equipped and constructed” hospital for the mentally ill. 10
Plans, elevations, specifications, and estimates for the new mental institution were approved on August 9, 1867. 10 Calvery Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted were hired to design the landscaping.
Construction on the Main Administration Building began in September 1867 and the first seven patients at Hudson River State Hospital were admitted on October 20, 1871. 10 An additional 60 patients were admitted in 1872 and by 1890, there were 900 patients at the institution.
The Amusement Hall was added in 1905 and later converted into an auditorium. 23 A Catholic chapel was built in 1906, 26 followed by a modest library in 1910 22 and a Protestant sanctuary in 1925. 24
Brookside Hall, a new two-story infirmary, was constructed in 1929. 25 To emphasize cutting edge outpatient treatment programs and relieve overcrowding conditions, Ryon Hall was constructed in 1932 with day rooms, conference rooms, offices, and kitchens. 7 The Cheney Memorial Building was constructed in 1952 4 to handle a surge of patients, which had topped 6,000. 10
Deinstitutionalization, the process of replacing long-term psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services, began in the 1960s. 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 Hudson 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 1970s, Hudson 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 facility was consolidated with Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in 1994 and officially closed in 2003. 16
In 2005, the state sold Hudson River State Hospital to Hudson Heritage for $3 million. 16 The company had planned to transform the complex into a combination hotel and apartment facility, but the proposal did not come to fruition.
The former hospital complex was then sold to EFG/DRA Heritage, a joint venture between EnviroFinance Group and Diversified Realty Advisors, in late 2013. 14 15 EFG/DRA had proposed converting the site into Hudson Heritage, a $250 million 13 15 17 mixed-use commercial, medical, and residential development. 11 It would feature 750 residential units, 150 hotel rooms with a conference center, medical and office space, 350,000 square feet of retail, 3.7 miles of pathways and trails, and 50 acres of green space, 12 13 and be anchored by The Culinary Institute, Health Quest, Marist College, and Vassar Medical Center. 12
Six existing historic buildings would be reused: 17
- Avery Chapel, which would be reused as a flexible office and workspace
- Director’s Residence, which would be converted into a museum or a bed and breakfast
- Entertainment Hall, which would become a community center
- Library, which would reopen as a library or internet cafe
- Main Administration Building, which would be converted into 80,000 square feet of hotel space with 150 rooms with amenities and conference center
- North Tower, which would be converted into an observatory
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held on July 13, 2016. 15 Construction on Hudson Heritage began in March 2019 and the first buildings will be ready for occupancy by late 2020 with a total buildout by 2030. 13 15
Main Administration Building (Building 51)
The Main Administration Building was designed by Frederick C. Withers in the High Victorian Gothic architectural style, 5 and followed the Kirkbride plan, in which patient wings were an off-shoot of the main administration building. 9 The structure was designed to accommodate 200 male patients in the south wing and 200 female patients in the north wing, with administrative offices and a chapel located in the center. 10 The kitchen and general services department would be in the rear of the chapel.
The first base stones were laid on September 17, 1867, and masonry began to be applied on September 25. 10 By the end of November, all of the brickwork had been completed except for some temporary walls and chimneys. The exterior was built with a polychromatic exterior finish, with materials of different 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 were built of spruce timber that was cut to order in Maine. Seasoned oak and Norway pine plank were used for flooring. Iron frames were set for fire-proof doors that separated the wards from the staircases. 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 was otherwise 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
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
In 2007, lightning struck the Main Building, destroying a significant portion of the structure. 14 It was further marred by an intentional fire set at around 3 a.m. on April 27, 2018. 11
Cheney Memorial Building (Building 98)
The Cheney Memorial Building was constructed in 1952 to relieve overcrowding conditions. 4 10
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 replacing an earlier structure from 1894. 27 Additions were built in 1934 and 1954, and 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 and consisted of three independent structures. 7 Building 13, at the 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. 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
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- The Rockland Campus Plan. New York State Office of Mental Health, 1989.
- Cornachio, Donna. “Changes in Mental Care”. New York Times, 3 Jan. 1999. Article.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Main Center. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Master List of Properties. 9 Dec. 2012.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Mortuary & Lab Building #45. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Power House and Machine Shop. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Continued Treatment Building. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Kitchen and Dining Room. 24 Feb. 1980.
- “Description of Architectural Periods and Types.” Town of Poughkeepsie Reconnaissance Level Historic Resource Survey Update, Larson Fisher Associates, 2011, p. IV-31.
- Pitts, Carolyn. National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. Hudson River State Hospital, Main Building. 9 Feb. 1989. (NR 94NR00622)
- Barry, John W. “Arson triggered Hudson River Psychiatric Center fire: chief.” Poughkeepsie Journal, 27 Apr. 2018.
- “Hudson Heritage.” Charter Realty & Development, 2018.
- Simon. “Work Has Begun on Poughkeepsie’s $250 Million Hudson Heritage.” WRRV, 25 Mar. 2019.
- “Hudson Heritage (Poughkeepsie, NY).” EnviroFinance Group, 2016.
- “Hudson Heritage Redevelopment Kick-Off Ceremony Marks New Beginning for the Hudson Valley.” PR Newswire, 13 Jul. 2016.
- “Hudson River State Hospital Abandoned and Now For Sale.” Abandoned Playgrounds. Article.
- Final Environmental Impact Statement. Chazen Engineering, Land Surveying & Landscape Architecture Co., D.P.C., 2017.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Bakery Building 41. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Storehouse & Cold Storage Building 40. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Blacksmith Shop Building 42. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Laundry & Tailor Shop Building 50. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Library Building 73. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Amusement Hall Building 38. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Protestant Chapel Building 35. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Infirmary Brookside Building 67. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Catholic Chapel Building 28. 24 Feb. 1980.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Paint Shop (Old Power House) Building 21. 24 Feb. 1980.