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Abandoned, Cemeteries, Hospitals, Overgrown, Schools

Legend Tripping in Letchworth Village

Ruins of Letchworth Village.

Letchworth Village rests on a placid corner of rural Thiells, a hamlet west of Haverstraw set amid the gentle hills and vales of the surrounding Ramapos.  A short stretch of modest farmhouses separates this former home for the mentally disabled from the serene Harriman State Park, New York’s second largest.  Nature has been quick to reclaim its dominion over these unhallowed grounds, shrouding an unpleasant memory in a thick green veil.  Abandonment becomes this “village of secrets,” intended from its inception to be unseen, forgotten, and silent as the tomb.

Owing to its reputed paranormal eccentricities, Letchworth Village has become a well-known subject of local legend.  These strange tales had me spooked as I turned the corner onto Letchworth Village Road after a suspenseful two-hour drive from Brooklyn.  Rounding a declining bend, I caught my first glimpse of Letchworth’s sprawling decay—some vine-encumbered ruin made momentarily visible through a stand of oak.  Down the hazy horseshoe lanes of the boy’s ward, one by one, the ghosts came out.

This map gives a sense of scale.  Most of these buildings still stand, altered or abandoned.

By the end of 1911, the first phase of construction had completed on this 2,362 acre “state institution for the segregation of the epileptic and feeble-minded.”  With architecture modeled after Monticello, the picturesque community was lauded as a model institution for the treatment of the developmentally disabled, a humane alternative to high-rise asylums, having been founded on several guiding principles that were revolutionary at the time.

The Minnisceongo Creek cuts the grounds in two, delineating areas for the two sexes which were meant never to mingle.  Separate living and training facilities for children, able-bodied adults, and the infirm were not to exceed two stories or house over 70 inmates.  Until the 1960s, the able-bodied labored on communal farms, raising enough food and livestock to feed the entire population.

1933 photo of Letchworth Village’s Girl’s Group

Sinister by today’s standards, the “laboratory purpose” was another essential tenet of the Letchworth plan.  Unable to give or deny consent, many children became unwitting test subjects—in 1950, the institution gained notoriety as the site of one of the first human trials of a still-experimental polio vaccine.  Brain specimens were harvested from deceased residents and stored in jars of formaldehyde, put on display in the hospital lab.  This horrific practice has become a favorite anecdote of ghost-hunters and adolescent explorers.

The well-intentioned plans for Letchworth Village didn’t hold up in practice, and by 1942, the population had swelled to twice its intended occupancy.  From here, the severely underfunded facility fell into a lengthy decline.  Many of the residents, whose condition necessitated ample time and attention for feeding, became seriously ill or malnourished as a result of overcrowding.  At one point, over 500 patients slept on mattresses in hallways and dayrooms of the facility, meagerly attended by a completely overwhelmed staff tasked with the impossible.

Having discontinued the use of the majority of its structures, and relocated most of its charges into group homes, the institution closed down in 1996 as old methods of segregating the developmentally disabled were replaced with a trend toward normalization and inclusion into society.  The state has made efforts to sell the property, with mixed results.  Most of the dilapidated structures were slated for demolition in 2004 to make way for a 450-unit condo development, but the plan has evidently been put on hold.  Ringed with ballfields and parking lots, shiny Fieldstone Middle School makes use of nine buildings of the former girl’s group, an island of promise in a landscape of failure.

Letchworth Village

The hospital laboratory, a rumored supernatural hotspot.

Today, the rest of the neglected campus retains a kind of elegiac beauty.  With its meandering walkways, pleasant natural setting, and evocative decay, it’s a peaceful spot for small town dog owners and amateur photographers alike, but by night a new breed of visitors descends upon these grounds.

Embarked on by the young and curious, a moonlit pilgrimage to a haunted location promises a brush with the unknown and an affirmation of courage—it’s a ritual that’s become commonplace at Letchworth Village.  Pervasive graffiti and piles of beer cans and snack packaging mark the most popular hangouts.    Much of the writing alludes to the institution’s allegedly horrific past, or warns of its vengeful spirits.  Is it all just for teenage kicks, or are these acts of remembrance?

Within a crumbling fieldstone facade, one of Letchworth’s most impressive structures has been reduced to an ugly black skeleton.  It’s the most evident of an outbreak of arson attempts that plagues the property, but not the most successful—some blazes don’t leave a trace.  Perhaps without knowing it, these amateur arsonists, vandals, and spiritualists are quickly scouring away a shameful memory, absolving a collective guilt with paintballs, matchbooks, and pentagrams.

An unmarked grave in The Old Letchworth Village Cemetery

In a little-known and easy-to-miss cemetery about a mile from the facility, amends are being made more constructively.

Off Call Hollow Road, a new sign has been erected pointing out the “Old Letchworth Village Cemetery.”  Down a seldom-traveled path, an unusual crop of T-shaped markers congregate on a dappled clearing.  They’re graves, but they bear no names.

Few wished to remember their “defective” relatives, or have their family names inscribed in such a dishonorable cemetery—many family secrets are buried among these 900 deceased.  Here, in the presence of so many human lives devalued, displaced, and forgotten, the sorrow of Letchworth Village is keenly felt.

As part of a movement taking place across the country, state agencies and advocates funded the installation of a permanent plaque inscribed with the names of these silent dead, and a fitting epitaph: “To Those Who Shall Not Be Forgotten.”

More than ghost stories, bursts of cool air, shadows and slamming doors, we fear our capacity for cruelty and our willingness to overlook those who most needed our care and understanding.  Letchworth Village isn’t a house of horrors, but it has become a thing of the past, and a symbol of these failings.  Now, its ruins are vanishing—any moment, they’ll powder to dust, dirt, and ash.  Who will mourn when the village crumbles, and what will remain?  Soot-black foundations, half-remembered histories, and nine hundred numbered graves, poignant reminders of an all-too-recent injustice.

-Will Ellis

Letchworth Village

Each of the six groups of buildings included eight small dormitories.

Letchworth Village

The hospital, north of the boy’s group, is known as Letchworth Village’s most haunted building.

Evidence of last night’s joyride on the hospital lawn.

Letchworth Village

Inside, vines invade a crumbling hallway.

Letchworth Village Fire

A dayroom library fueled the flames of an arson attempt.

Letchworth Village

A small basement nook of unknown purpose, this was the only door of its kind.

Letchworth Village

A storage area in the basement of Letchworth Village.

Letchworth Village

An adjacent room was filled with hospital plasticware, some overflowed into this darkened hallway.

Letchworth Village

A renegade paintball game left a gruesome mark on this room.

Letchworth Village Morgue

Cold storage.  The first room I came across in Letchworth Village, a morbid introduction.

Letchworth Village

Moments after taking this photo, a group of young explorers entered through a side door.  I gave them quite a scare.

Letchworth Village

A dining hall is brought to light as its ceiling crumbles.

Letchworth Village

Inside a typical dormitory, some cubbies had four beds cramped within.

Letchworth Village

The top floor of Stewart Hall has been thoroughly razed, but the bottom remains mostly intact.

Letchworth Village

Fire damage visible on the lower floor.

A strange camera malfunction lasted the entire time I was in this building and stopped the moment I stepped out. It’s the closest I came to a paranormal experience.

Letchworth Village

Many of the cheaply made service buildings were in a similar state.

Letchworth Village

Plastic foliage survived a blaze that threatened to take down a two-story building, most recently used for storage.

Even in broad daylight, the place is eerie.  Here, an ominous administration building.

Better late than never, a monument to Letchworth’s dead.

Related Links:

For more abandoned state institutions, check out Creedmoor State Hospital’s Building 25.

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Discussion

51 thoughts on “Legend Tripping in Letchworth Village

  1. Stunning!

    Posted by ellis3000 | 8-6-12., 6:58 am
  2. Haunting photos! I especially liked the way you handled the subject with sensitivity and respect for the unfortunate souls who once called those buildings home.

    Posted by lovelymrse | 8-6-12., 10:30 pm
    • We just visited it. It’s down the street from where I live. Went to the grave site. Eery!

      Posted by Karen | 9-2-13., 7:14 pm
    • Wow, I just found out about this place a few minutes ago & after looking at some of these photo’s & reading the different things about this place, it is truly unbelievable!

      Posted by James Cansler | 1-24-14., 9:56 pm
  3. AMAZING!

    Posted by Shaked | 8-9-12., 9:15 pm
  4. spooky images – my imagination is running wild!

    Posted by sarahryan85 | 8-31-12., 8:48 am
  5. Such beauty from such pain. This is by far my favorite story so far.

    Posted by Heather Marie Hellums | 10-18-12., 6:15 pm
  6. Really great write up i realy enjoyed the picture’s also :) It’s a tradgey to see this plave in such dismay :( Thank you for sharing

    Posted by ed | 12-12-12., 1:32 am
  7. Thanks for your photos and the info. Went out this weekend. It was amazing ( and enormous). We were there for about 5 hours and did not even come close to seeing everything. Heading back out soon.

    Posted by Zoe | 1-21-13., 7:35 pm
    • This looks amazing. I am looking for places to photograph! Can anyone go out here? Is it fairly simple to find? Any help would be so appreciated!

      Thanks,
      jennifer

      Posted by jenny | 3-1-13., 10:23 am
      • The grounds of Letchworth Village are open to the public, but going inside the buildings is considered trespassing. It is fairly easy to find, look up Letchworth Village Road on google maps and you should be able to spot it.

        Posted by abandonednyc | 3-6-13., 1:00 pm
  8. It’s sad that the state of NY left Letchworth Village to rot like this. It’s a real disgrace! I remember working there back in 81 as a mental health medical administrative assistant. Letchwoth was kept nice then and there were a lot of good caring staff there too. My grandmother worked there for 35 years as a head nursing assistant and loved those patients like they were her own kids. My sister still works with some of the patients that were placed in half way housing later after the shut down of Letchworth village. She too is loving and caring for her girls as she calls them and takes them out to nice places and does everything she can for them. I know it wasn’t always like that there at Letchworth during other earlier times and there were reports of abusive staff, but there were a lot of good hearted people (Staff) there too who wanted to make a positive difference for the Letchworth residents. It’s a shame something more wasn’t done to preserve the site and used for other types of businesses. It would have been quite a useful site. I resent the place being portrayed as haunted and being shown all in ruin the way it is. I remember when it was thriving and when good caring healthcare staff took pride in their work there, trying to make a difference for the developmentally challenged. During the 80’s as I knew it back then there were good caring mental health staff whom worked at Letchworth Village and went out of their way to ensure proper care.

    Posted by AlisonTew | 5-29-13., 12:30 pm
    • Thanks for your comment, Alison, I totally understand your reaction. I don’t doubt that the staff were committed and cared deeply for the residents, even during the worst years. Although our methods of caring for the developmentally disabled have changed, the individuals who dedicated their lives to caring for them will always deserve our gratitude. These articles tend to focus on the negative, so I’m grateful for people like you who share memories of happier times.

      It is unfortunate that all of the buildings haven’t been repurposed, but most are structurally sound and renovation is still a possibility. What you don’t see pictured here are the portions of the property that have been reused, specifically Fieldstone Secondary School and about a dozen buildings north of Willow Grove Road.

      Posted by abandonednyc | 5-29-13., 1:46 pm
    • The state did not let Letchworth ‘rot’, the town of Haverstraw did. They bought this land years ago.

      Posted by dmack | 10-31-13., 6:57 am
    • Do you know where the second grave yard is? I’m trying to respect the dead. Did they stop burying the patients in 1967? Would your grandmother or you know?

      Posted by Kim | 11-18-13., 2:26 pm
  9. It is actually Willow Grove Middle School. I grew up in Thiells & as a teen explored many of these buildings. I had 1 freaky experience trying to leave one time with my brother. There are many spots still in use in the area, including the soccer fields used by the nrsa.

    Posted by Valerie | 7-1-13., 11:08 pm
    • Thanks for sharing, Valerie! Looks like there are two secondary schools on the grounds, one of them being Willow Grove as you said. I think Fieldstone hasn’t been around for too long.

      Posted by abandonednyc | 7-1-13., 11:20 pm
  10. thank you thank you thank you. that is all

    Posted by SIXP3NCE | 8-21-13., 8:33 pm
  11. I hope it’s ok with you if I post this link on my blog. You did a wonderful job!

    Posted by lsstuhler | 9-4-13., 9:39 pm
  12. I was so surprised and saddened to see the condition that Letchworth Village is in. My cousin, born in 1964 on Long Island, was diagnosed with PKU when she was about a year old. There was a doctor at Letchworth Village who was the only person who really knew how to treat and manage the disease at that time. So once a month my aunt and uncle made the trip to Letchworth with my cousin, for quite a number of years. My cousin never lived at Letchworth, but I do recall my aunt saying what a beautiful place it was, and how dedicated the staff were. I suppose even then there were things happening that she neither saw nor could have known about. What a tragedy all the way around.

    Posted by Dale Almond | 9-4-13., 11:49 pm
    • Dr. George Jervis did pioneering work with PKU at Letchworth and a test for the condition is part of every newborn’s care as a result.

      Posted by MyBarkingDog | 1-19-14., 10:11 pm
  13. Never again !

    Posted by Francis kimmes | 9-15-13., 5:02 pm
  14. Makes you wonder what kind of intellect would get their jollies out of painting all over everything.

    Posted by John Billings | 9-18-13., 3:40 pm
  15. I Have been there for the second day now, 3 hours each day but I did not either manage to see it all. Something I really wanted to see but could not find was the cold storage, in which house was that? Thanks for an amazing blog. I love the way how you describe the history and the photos! I am so glad I found your blog and managed to go there :)
    Thanks alot, you have really inspired me for photographing abandoned places!

    /Hilla from Sweden

    ps. it seems like most of the labratorys are pretty locked up now we had to move a piece of wood and climb in through a half window..And the place is also patrolled by the Park Gard, even though they do not seem to care very much. They drive around in their cars and try to scare people of without leaving the car. The Industry on the other side of the main road, to the entrance with the church is also a amazing experience!

    Posted by hilla aspman | 9-24-13., 12:07 am
  16. I live 5mins from Letchworth Village My whole life.. I remember Driving thur as a child . My father when we were younger use to bring us there at night sometimes while the patients were walking the streets and tell us he will drop us off there if we were not good.. That place use to freak me out . Now I’m a lot older I drive thur everyday.. There are two schools with in the village Willow Grove Middle which is now Middle grove secondary school which don’t have any of the Building used from the old structure but it does have two buildings on the property and Field Stone secondary School which was open 2004 and it use to be for 8th and 9th graders ..Now its FieldStone Middle School which have 7th and 8th graders.. This Building uses 8 of the original buildings that help make up the school.. I know because I’ve worked there since the school has open and there are 4 more buildings on the school property .. They made the school into a beautiful place for use. But it can still be creepy at times up there.. I also have walked thur The Village many times but never enter any of the Buildings only as a child because both of my grandmothers has worked there and there were both good stories and bad about the place and what some of the staff would do to the patients. It is a place of History which a lot of unknown thinks has happen there.. Especially in the tunnels that run under the Village that connect to each building..

    Posted by M.L.W | 10-29-13., 9:36 am
  17. Where is there a good place to park? I plan on visiting tomorrow morning!

    Posted by Ron Johnson | 11-1-13., 10:27 pm
  18. i rember it well becouse i live there for 10 years from 1960 to 1970

    Posted by james | 11-16-13., 3:37 pm
  19. Would someone please carefully photograph the entire list of names so that they can be read? I suppose that would require two or three photos of each column. If you do so would you please post them on here? Thanks in advance.

    Posted by Suzannah | 12-12-13., 9:13 pm
  20. I paintballed that building. And I’ve seen ghost.

    Posted by jay | 1-18-14., 1:29 pm
  21. I just watched an episode of Ghost Adventures, and this place really interested me!!! It’s weird reading all these positive comments of previous emplyees. They interviewed a lady who worked there in the 80’s, and she said the things that were done there were sick, and was why it was closed down. CBS did an interview in the early 90’s about the horrible things done there to patients??? Then in 96 it was closed down? Anyway, the episode I watched was super freakyyyyy!! In one of the scenes, they were “talking to a spirit” and they asked what happened in that specific room, and the only thing they could get out of their footage was a female sayong “attack” …. I’m skeptical about paranormal activity, but it was super interesting….. I’d looooove to visit this place sometime!!!!! I love things like this!

    Posted by Amanda | 1-25-14., 2:22 am
  22. While researching family history I found out that my aunt was a resident here in 1935 till ?? Haven’t found any info on her since she was a resident there. I don’t live any where near. Would someone be willing to photograph or list the names so that they could be read? Thanks

    Posted by Dee | 3-2-14., 10:01 pm
  23. How can I get permission to go in there and do some photography?

    Posted by fetzer | 4-11-14., 12:15 am
  24. I was there. Had a frightening experience. I was recording in a house which I assumed was an old nurses house. The basement was riddled with old records and asbestos everywhere. The scary part was after reviewing the tape I heard the words “get out of the house” on the tape. The strange thing was we didn’t hear it while recording, only after reviewing it. It still brings chills down my spine every time that I watch it. I mean how is that even possible? While we were leaving we heard “this is your last chance get out of the house now”. It sounded like the cops were outside with a megaphone. We were literally ten feet from the entrance and went outside right away to find that no one was even there. So fucking weird. That part I didn’t catch on tape but we all heard it.

    Posted by James | 4-24-14., 10:43 pm

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