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abandoned places

Mental Hospital

This tag is associated with 3 posts

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…

The

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.

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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!

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.



Found in Essex County Hospital

Clothing left behind in a group dormitory.

Clothing left behind in a group dormitory.

I outlined New Jersey’s Essex County Hospital in a previous post, but a few months back I made it out a second time to explore a little further. I ended up in the tunnels underneath the wards, where I found a file room stuffed with material dating from the 1930s to the 1980s, near the last years of Essex County Hospital’s operation.  The records are scattered in cardboard boxes with no apparent system of organization, many of them overtaken with mold and rot.

Much of what’s been left here is mundane, day-to-day operational notes on staff, time sheets, and maintenance, but some of it is rather enlightening.  There are decades’ worth of doctor’s notes, admission records, and log books detailing the daily activities of individual residents, some describe a patient’s entire life story in a single paragraph. The scale of it is truly overwhelming when you start flipping through the files page by page.

As I’ve mentioned before, many of the patterns of neglect well-documented in the age of institutions have shifted to the criminal justice system today. In New York City, the mentally ill now account for 40% of the prison population. To make matters worse, an epidemic of violence against mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island came to light this summer, causing an uproar. Now, the de Blasio administration is pushing for a major $130 million initiative that strikes at the heart of the problem, aiming to keep repeat low-level offenders out of prison and get them into treatment programs. From the Times article: “The changes include tripling the size of both pretrial diversion programs and the amount of resources devoted to easing the transition from jail back into society. This would represent a significantly different approach to criminal justice in the city, experts said. But they cautioned that nothing of such scale had been tried by a municipality before, and that putting the plan into effect would be difficult.”

As we look forward, it’s worth taking a moment to look back.  What follows is a tiny sampling of the massive amount of records, artifacts, and ephemera left behind in the wards of Essex County Hospital and that moldy file room in the basement. You can read for yourself, just click to enlarge.

Files scattered underground in Essex County Hospital.

Files scattered underground in Essex County Hospital.

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Patient's belongings were left behind in bags, most meticulously arranged by a previous visitor.

Belongings left in a storage room (most likely meticulously arranged by a previous visitor to the abandoned building.)

 

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Murals depict the wide world outside the institution.

Wallpaper commonly depicts majestic scenes of the world outside asylum walls.

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This room doubled as church and synagogue, catering to the resident's religious needs.

This room doubled as church and synagogue, catering to the patients’ religious needs.

 

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The file room contained 6 or 7 aisles of shelving piled high with records.

One of six or seven rows of shelving in the file room, stuffed with 50 years’ worth of records.

 

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