Abandoned, Hospitals

Time Traveling in the Children’s Ward: Rockland Psychiatric Center

Telltale pink distinguishes the former girl's ward on the opposite wing of the structure.

Pink walls distinguish the girl’s ward of the former Rockland State Hospital children’s building.

Old buildings have many lives. Often the objects left behind in a modern ruin only reflect a place’s most recent iteration. But in Rockland County, one structure exists as a veritable nesting doll of time periods. Today, some areas of the abandoned Children’s Hospital at Rockland Psychiatric Center are unsettlingly modern, looking like a tornado swept through a present-day kindergarten classroom. But stepping from one room to the next can take you back another 10, 20, 30 years…

A tongue-in-cheek coffee mug seemed out of place in this especially decayed and relatively untouched section of the hospital.

A coffee mug seems out of place in this heavily decayed section of the hospital.

The squat, maze-like ward was constructed in 1929 to house the youngest subset of Rockland State Hospital’s population.  (The history of the institution and its notable bowling alley were outlined in a previous post.) Though it hasn’t been used to house mentally ill children since the 1960s and 70s, it continued to serve the needs of kids and families in recent decades. Beginning in the 1980s it was used as a day care center for children of RPC employees called “Kid’s Corner.”  In 1998, sections of the building were used for a program called “Under the Weather,” which provided free care to moderately sick kids, enabling their parents to get back to work while their children recuperated.  These valuable programs were abruptly closed by the Department of Mental Health in 2008 for budgetary reasons.

This section of the building was last used in the early 2000s as a day care program for sick children.

This section of the building was last used in the early 2000s as a day care center.

This mural might have been in poor taste earlier in the building's history, but it adorned the halls of a modern day care facility.

A Peanuts mural from the 90s or early 00s would have been in poor taste several decades earlier.

All of these developments can be traced through the hospital’s extensive collection of murals.  They vary greatly in quality and subject matter, but all represent a concerted effort by founders and staff to brighten up the institutional halls over the years. The finest of them is a series of thoughtfully designed and obviously professional works depicting scenes from the tales of Washington Irving.  These and a similar set depicting the four seasons were painted in the 1940s by the Works Progress Administration muralist Victor Pedrotti Trent.  Much of the work is well-preserved, but some areas have suffered irreparable water damage. Years ago a study estimated that moving and restoring the paintings would cost $100,000, a prohibitive figure.  Since then, there’s been little interest in preserving them.

In one section of the mural depicting classic tales by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle awakes from his long slumber.

In one section of the mural depicting classic stories by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle awakes from a long slumber.

Ichabod Crane flees from the headless horseman in this scene from

Ichabod Crane flees from the Headless Horseman in this scene from “Sleepy Hollow.” Note the creepy face in the hollowed out tree.

Some sections of the mural are irreparably damaged by water and temperature fluctuations.

Some sections of the mural are heavily damaged by water and temperature fluctuations.

Beer bottle middens pile up in the auditorium.

Through the painted vestibule, beer bottle middens pile up in a relatively plain auditorium.

The building is the oldest of several structures on the campus that catered to children with psychiatric disorders.  A modern children’s center is still in operation at Rockland Psych, and another built in the 1960s is currently being leased as a filming location for the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black,” standing in for the women’s prison depicted in the series.  The 1929 hospital was slated for demolition years ago, but that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.

Though much of the building is crowded with modern-day kid stuff, some wings of the structure–namely the former boy’s ward–appear to have been walled off during the 80s and 90s.  Those halls are largely empty, and the few artifacts left behind are far older and institutional in nature.  I wonder if the youngsters at Kid’s Corner realized there was a children’s asylum ward preserved like a mosquito in amber just on the other side of their playroom…


A mural with patriotic themes characterizes the boy’s wing of the structure.

Though not as impressive as the Pedretti murals, it offers a charming timeline of the development of New York City.

Though not as impressive as the Trent murals, it offers a charming timeline of the development of New York City…

The Half Moon, a dutch vessel, founds New Netherland.

…beginning with the voyage of The Half Moon, a Dutch East India Company vessel.

This section of the hospital appears to have not been used for several decades.

A few relics from the state hospital era lie scattered around the halls, likely moved here for an urbex photo op.

Paper stars suspended over a doorway in the former boy's ward, painted blue.

Paper stars wither like autumn leaves over a doorway in the former boy’s ward.

IN OTHER NEWS…  I’ve had a few spots open up on a tour of Dead Horse Bay I’ll be leading this weekend.  It will take place Sunday, November 8th and we’ll be meeting at 10AM.  It’s short notice, but I’d be happy to have a few more folks join in!  Tickets available at this link.


ALSO… I’m excited to announce Abandoned NYC just went into its second printing!  Thanks to all who helped me reach this milestone by ordering a book, showing up to events, and supporting the blog.  To those who haven’t gotten their hands on a copy, get your signed first edition while supplies last!


16 thoughts on “Time Traveling in the Children’s Ward: Rockland Psychiatric Center

  1. You never cease to amaze. What an interesting story on those paintings. Can we put this place on the list for Next Time? Hope you’re well. And congrats on the second printing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by LouAnne Brickhouse | 11-4-15., 4:51 pm
  2. Congratulations on the second printing!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Robert Ellis | 11-4-15., 6:12 pm
  3. Will, you did it again! I honestly don’t know which I enjoy more – your images or your words. Love them both, and they evoke visions of bygone times in their own ways. That chair, the one with the easy to miss head restraint, is pretty insane. No pun intended.

    If any of you are on the fence about the Dead Horse Bay tour, GO! It’s great!! Make sure to bring your camera!!

    Oh, almost forgot. CONGRATS on the 2nd printing. That’s awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Melinda Moses | 11-4-15., 7:32 pm

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by bronxthruexp | 11-4-15., 7:36 pm
  5. I absolutely love your work. Keep preserving our history!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Gene D. | 11-4-15., 8:29 pm
  6. Amazing how fast a building can deteriorate if left to the elements. It’s sad that the WPA era murals haven’t been saved.


    Posted by BJ in Cincy | 11-4-15., 8:48 pm
    • I know! I was surprised to find out some parts of the building have only been abandoned for 7 years. Doesn’t take much time at all.


      Posted by Will Ellis | 11-5-15., 5:50 pm
      • I usually enjoy a bittersweet feeling of the transience of things when I read here, but the picture of that ruined room that was last used to help out people working hard just to stay afloat just made me angry. Prices keep rising faster than wages, people are punished for leaving their children home alone when they have no choice, and meanwhile this beautiful playroom and everything in it were just left to rot! Look how fresh the little paper plate faces on the wall are. What happened to the children who made them, as austerity measures squeezed their families even tighter?


        Posted by Jenny Islander | 11-12-15., 2:04 am
  7. Hey Will, great post as always…photos are fantastic…congratulations on the second printing of you book….that is great news.


    Posted by Frank Brennan | 11-4-15., 9:53 pm
  8. Great collection… what a place!


    Posted by denisebushphoto | 11-5-15., 1:01 pm
  9. I really enjoyed this post. Keep up the great work.


    Posted by The Random Compass | 12-17-15., 10:27 am
  10. i have a stupid question, in the third photo, what is the thing with all the chairs called? a child transporter thingy? :S was it used for fun? or serious ways of transportation? is there any old photographs of children in them?


    Posted by Mackenzie | 11-13-16., 10:09 pm
  11. These are really haunting pictures. I run the New Deal Art Registry, and we’re seeing if there isn’t a way to save the Washington Irving murals. Wouldn’t even have known about them if not for you.


    Posted by Barbara Bernstein | 5-2-17., 2:29 pm

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