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Abandoned, Hospitals

Inside Rockland Psychiatric Center

Rockland

An abandoned section of the former Rockland State Hospital, now known as Rockland Psychiatric Center.

In 1923, the New York state legislature passed a $50 million bond issue for the construction of new mental hospitals. After a disastrous fire at Ward’s Island in 1924, “where scores of mentally afflicted…were burned to death,” $11 million was set aside for a new campus designed specifically to relieve overcrowding at institutions in New York City.  The town of Orangeburg, NY was chosen for its proximity to the five boroughs, picturesque surroundings, and “salubrious climate.”

Rockland

The hospital once housed 9,000 people, including patients and staff.

With funding in place, the construction of the Rockland State Hospital for the Insane moved forward at a staggering pace. Townspeople looked on as the monstrous institution swallowed up tract after tract of farms, houses, and undeveloped land. As patients flooded into the new buildings by the thousands, escapes became a regular occurrence.  The “potential menace” of this “new and formidable population of undesirable outsiders” was a cause of great concern for locals.  Infrequent but grisly murders in the vicinity of the hospital were attributed to “mentally disturbed” escapees. But the real horrors were occurring on the inside, as many of Orangeburg’s citizens could personally attest to–the institution was one of the largest job providers in the county.

Rockland

Chipped plaster, masonry, paint, and wallpaper fill a water basin.

The real trouble started during World War II, when lucrative war industry jobs lured much of the staff away and a large number of Rockland’s male attendants left to join the armed forces. As the population soared to nearly 9,000, patient-to-staff ratios plummeted.  “The work is hard, disagreeable and frequently dangerous, and the hospital has found it next to impossible to recruit employees.” New hires during this period were often untrained and unqualified. From a 1940s Times article: “An employment bureau in New York City sent a number of applicants here, but most of them were found to be suffering from arthritis, cardiac ailments or “unnatural” temperament and had to be sent home. ‘Some of them should be patients,’ Dr. Blaisdell said.”

Rockland

A stash of nudie magazines hidden long ago in the basement of a kitchen area.

Like most all institutions operating during this period, the overcrowding and lack of effective treatment led to systemic abuse and negligence.  Until the development of antipsychotic drugs in the 1960s, shock therapy and lobotomy were the only treatment methods available for severe cases of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. As the century progressed and the new drugs became readily available, most patients were able to live independently outside of the asylum system. Since the 1970s, Rockland Psychiatric Center (as it is now known) has predominantly been used as an outpatient facility. By 1999 it housed less than 600 patients.  Several new facilities were constructed in more recent years for outpatient care, but vast expanses of the 600 acre campus are entirely empty.  

Rockland

Mattresses piled up in a dayroom.

Today, a grid of overgrown streets divides a vast configuration of maze-like buildings known only by number.  These were separate wards for men, women, children, and other subsets of the population like the infirm, the violent, and the criminally insane. Others were workshops, auditoriums, power plants, administration buildings, staff housing… the list goes on and on.

Exploring the buildings can be confusing and perilous.  One ward’s heavy wooden doors had the nasty habit of slamming shut and refusing to open again, which can be a serious situation when there’s only one or two ways out. My solution was a series of improvised doorstops–beer cans, scraps of debris, whatever I could get my hands on–which doubled as a trail of breadcrumbs to give me a reasonable hope of finding my way out again.

One of Rockland’s most interesting features is the old four lane bowling alley.  It’s a heavily trafficked area full of tempting props.  Pins, balls, shoes, and trophies have been endlessly moved around, manipulated, and arranged into perfect triangles in the middle of the lanes. While I don’t blame fellow photographers for this sort of thing, it can be disappointing to walk into something that looks more like a stage set than a wild, unpredictable ruin.  I’ll take that over the mindless graffiti–some if which I removed with a little Photoshop magic in the images below.

Despite all the modern mischief making, the bowling alley represents the best intentions of the institution to provide quality of life to patients who spent their lives at Rockland.  These lanes must have been a welcome distraction from the monotony of asylum living.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the Rockland Children’s Hospital, which features an impressive collection of WPA murals.

Rockland

A well-preserved bowling alley was located on the ground floor of a recreation building.

Rockland

Blank score sheets could be found behind the ball return.

Rockland

The AMF bowling equipment may date back to the 60s or 70s.

Rockland

Bowling balls pile up at the end of the lanes from previous visitors.

Rockland

Compared to the bowling balls, the pins were scarce.  Many had been stolen over the years.

Rockland

Wood shelving used for bowling shoes, once arranged by size.

Rockland

Trophies for male and female bowlers.



Discussion

24 thoughts on “Inside Rockland Psychiatric Center

  1. Thanks again for a fascinating post. Can’t wait for the Children’s Hospital WPA murals!

    Like

    Posted by Pam Taylor | 8-24-15., 1:05 pm
  2. Hey Will, great post, super photos…..you should have grabbed some shoes in your size and bowled a few frames!! Great to see a new post…..Frank

    Like

    Posted by Frank Brennan | 8-24-15., 7:20 pm
  3. First Thank You for the history on the place. Sad to say but a lot of these places weren’t much better than a snake pit. (anarchic term for old mental asylums). My uncle went to NY and worked in a mental facility there to get his doctorate, but I believe he was at Bellevue (?). Have you ever been to the first TB hospital on some island? Saw it once and haven’t see nor heard of it since. I love you work so much.

    Like

    Posted by gwenedgett | 8-26-15., 6:00 am
  4. Hi there. How was visiting the place? I tried to visit but saw at least 3 police cars patrolling the streets? Any advice? If you’d rather not be public, please email me if you have a chance. I’d really love to go, as these places are genuinely beautiful. cameronettinger@aol.com thank you.

    Like

    Posted by calicocats | 9-1-15., 9:02 pm
  5. But wait, is it open to the public???

    Like

    Posted by kikahernz | 10-3-15., 2:02 am
  6. Very nice site! If you’re looking for an abandoned places in Poland feel free to see my page http://intotheshadows.pl

    Like

    Posted by n0timport | 8-31-16., 5:38 am
  7. My Great Grandmother was committed to a psychiatric hospital. in New Yorkl during the 20’s. I hear it was Rockland but, does anyone know how to find any old records declaring her residency. Her name was Lucia Sonsini.

    Like

    Posted by Debby | 10-26-16., 1:46 am
  8. Hey Will when you gonna post more pictures?

    Like

    Posted by Rob george | 11-22-16., 10:35 pm
  9. Love the pictures

    Like

    Posted by Rob george | 11-22-16., 10:36 pm
  10. I live within a 2 minute walk of this place i’m a sophomore in high school and have been going there since 7th grade i found out yesterday April 18th, 2017 that these buildings are being taken down soon so that a data center can be put there. Ive had some good times exploring these buildings and i’m almost sad that there being taken down.
    If you want to explore these building you better go quick and fyi watch out for the safety officers cause they are everywhere.

    Like

    Posted by Tommy F | 4-19-17., 9:51 pm
  11. For anyone wondering, as of April 2017, the abandoned section of the Rockland Psychiatric Center is still up. I think if you are walking there, there are iron gates at the opposite end of the property from the main entrance that may be slightly ajar for you to slide in. However my boyfriend and I drove there and entered through the main entrance to the currently active psychiatric center. Be aware that by the iron gates there were a few people hiding amongst the trees (possibly patients?) who were giving us some not-so-inviting looks. There are also a few cop cars patrolling the property, one of whom we stopped and spoke to on our way in. We played dumb and asked about the tourist area of the abandoned buildings. The cop assured us that this certainly is not tourist area, and that we could take photos of the buildings from the outside, but could not go in as that would be trespassing. We promised not to enter the buildings and went on our way. We decided to park in the lot for the golf course and walk around the property, instead of parking our car right next to whatever building we were visiting which would make it obvious that someone was inside. Walking around the he buildings is not prohibited, and there are many patients and employees who do exactly that. Some are friendly, some are not, definitely keep your guards up because we had a few patients who were watching us (and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them enter the buildings as well, though we did not notice anyone else in the buildings during our trip). Basically the best thing to do is keep a low profile, check up and down the street for cops before you cross, and be prepared to hide or pull out your pepper spray at any given moment. Most of them rip he buildings are totally locked and boarded up, but if you keep looking around you will find some open doors or broken windows from which you can enter. Of course I must remind you that this is illegal. After climbing out of a window of one of the buildings, I noticed a cop car just ahead of us, hiding behind the bushes. We panicked about what to do because there was no way for us to get out of that area without the cop seeing us, and it would be obvious we were coming from that building. We decided to just walk up to the car and my boyfriend said something like “wow, do you know how old these buildings are? This is really cool.” The cop said he had no idea and reminded us not to go inside. So keep a low profile like I said, but if you have no choice but to come face to face with a cop, keep your cool and don’t look guilty. Be on guard for cops, current patients, employees, broken glass, and of course ghosts.

    Like

    Posted by Ori | 4-24-17., 6:18 pm

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