A few weeks ago, James, Helena, Bennett, and myself headed out north of Poughkeepsie to visit the abandoned Hudson River State Hospital, a former psychiatric hospital designed by Frederick Clarke Withers in 1867. The facility, overlooking the Hudson River, was closed down in 2001 and since then has fallen into a state of disrepair. This site is one of the largest I had ever set foot in. We decided to stay away from its most hazardous corners and explored a fraction of what the 160+ acres campus had to offer. I came back thoroughly spent but impressed by the sheer scope of this old asylum and its sense of grandeur. Better yet, we didn’t get kicked out by its notorious security crew.
The whole set of photos can be found on Flickr and, per usual, is better experienced as a full-screen slideshow.
The map above should carry a certain sense of scale (click to zoom). The grounds are enormous. We first explored the Snow Rehab Center, the white-ish, triangular structure top center, then spent the better part of the day
getting lost walking the many floors and wings of the Clarence O. Cheney Memorial Building to its right. Back in the woods to the left, we sneaked into a second set of buildings (bottom center) but didn’t push through to the main building, for the risk of losing a battle against a pile of bricks was a bit too high.
The main building was designated a National Historic Landmark due to its exemplary High Victorian Gothic architecture, the first use of that style for an American institutional structure — here it is, in photos taken by daimonpaul, pictures by Rob Yasinsac, and in a video by Kirkbrides HD. It was seriously damaged in an impressive 2007 fire caused by lightning, captured in a video and uploaded by retom7, below.
The entire facility was built over the last three decades of the 19th century, at great cost. The main building was completed and opened, with 40 patients admitted, in October 1871. The capacity of the institution was increased from 800 beds in 1890 to 1400 in 1893. Construction continued until 1895, when further money could not be found. The hospital’s original plan was still not complete, and never would be. Buildings continued to be opened and reopened in the 20th century, and as late as 1952 the institution was treating as many as 6,000 patients. By the late 1970s the hospital administration had decided to shut down the two main wings, as few patients were residing in them and due to neglect some of the floors had collapsed (source: Wikipedia and Asylum Projects).
As psychiatry moved away from inpatient treatments, the hospital began to decline in use until its closure at century’s end. The property was closed in 2001 and sold in 2005 to Hudson Heritage LLC for $2.75 million. Hudson Heritage planned to renovate the Main Building into a combination hotel/apartment complex as the centerpiece of a residential/commercial campus. These plans hit two setbacks when the Town of Poughkeepsie imposed a moratorium on new construction in 2005 and when the aforementioned lightning struck the south wing in 2007, causing one of the most serious fires in Dutchess County’s history. The property has remained closed to the public (source: Wikipedia and Asylum Projects).
The Herman B. Snow Rehab Center
The Rehab Center opened in 1971 and was designed in a much more contemporary style than the rest of the campus, a style that I can only describe as singularly angular. We started our exploration there not much by choice but by necessity, since it was the closest to the woods where we had left our car. In a valiant effort at mimicking a geriatric Seal Team 6, we dashed to the front door and assembled our gear quietly — very lethal tripods and $23 headlamps.
The main courtyard, pictured in disarray at the top of this post, was bathed in a relaxing light filtering from vast bay windows above us. Farther down the halls, a gym, which I decided to skip as I routinely do, a bowling alley, and every urban explorer’s favorite, an abandoned swimming pool and its lonely wheelchair. I checked the basement leading to the loading docks, took a few exterior shots, and re-joined the others as we speed-walked to the Cheney building, stealthily like a pack of overloaded mules.
The Clarence O. Cheney Memorial Building
The Cheney Building shares at least one attribute with the eponymous Vice President of the United States, it tries hard to blast you in the face, only with its baffling, ominous, ten-story presence. What a piece of work. We scouted the courtyard in a hurry, looking as much for a way in as for a way out of this feeling of entrapment. A few contortions later we were making our way through a mess of a basement.
Built back in 1952, the symmetrical layout became quite disorienting after my first 25 identical rooms or so, and I quickly lost Bennett on my way up. Chances are he was settling some score with his arch-enemy, The Pigeon. We spent hours in this gigantic building, checking its offices, kitchens, and patient rooms. One of them had hundreds of X-rays littering the ground in an homage to doctor-patient confidentiality. We walked through the building’s library by stepping on thousands of books, covering the floor wall-to-wall — a pity, really, for some of the volumes looked like pricy medical compendiums, discarded in a hurry.
In a small media room, a bitter employee or fellow explorer had left a message for his grandma. We found a few padded cells, a reminder of the nature of past inhabitants. The last few floors, smaller in size, provided a welcome intake of fresh air and a sprawling view on the rest of the campus.
At the very top we found evidence of people sleeping there, as is sometimes the case in the warmer parts of an abandoned vessel. I’m not referring to the dead pigeon waiting for us on a plate, likely placed here as a “joke” by previous visitors, but the sight of a tent planted in the smallest, darkest corner of the 10th floor.
The Kirkbride Building
After a few too many hours spent in the Cheney building, we decided to find a way to the main building. Frederick Clarke Withers had planned the main building 1,500 feet in length and over 500,000 square feet in area , designed according to the Kirkbride Plan, then a popular theory for mental institutions. There is a great deal to read about the legacy of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. “Once state-of-the-art mental healthcare facilities, Kirkbride buildings have long been relics of an obsolete therapeutic method known as Moral Treatment. In the latter half of the 19th century, these massive structures were conceived as ideal sanctuaries for the mentally ill and as an active participant in their recovery”, can be read in introduction to Ethan McElroy’s reference website. By 1900 the notion of “building-as-cure” was largely discredited, and in the following decades these large facilities became too expensive to maintain.
Paul, a student residing at HRPC 1970’s, contacted me recently and added: “It was eerie and beautiful at the same time. The grounds were spectacular with a 9 hole golf course and yacht club on the river. At times it was like living on a Gothic horror movie set, especially at night. I’ll always remember hearing a patient on the locked ward screaming as the sun went down and again as it went up. It was a warehouse of failed therapies for the mentally ill, some having lived there their entire adult lives”.
With help our friend Darren, who had been on-site in the past, we had devised a map of the routes most likely to be monitored by the security team. Team Goonies! Surprisingly enough, we didn’t see any of the usual suspects that day. This didn’t stop us from running for cover a few times, like headless, camera-carrying chickens scared by their own footsteps. Our options were limited though, and we had no intention of taking shortcuts through some of the most hazardous buildings. Back in the woods, we circumvented the worst and used a dead tree to cross back over the fence.
We had been in the open for only a few minutes when we bumped into another team of amateur photographers. Dead rabbits, tobacco, and booze were exchanged (in my head). They mentioned that the Kirkbride was in a terrible shape and quite a risk, before taking off. We wandered in the campus for a bit more, made a quick stop at the chapel, didn’t get hit by lightning, tried our luck to the main building through yet another creepy basement, but the energy and the will just weren’t there anymore. We backtracked to the fence and started our journey through the woods, back to the car. Another time, maybe.
Thanks to Helena for driving, and James for rounding up the troops. The adventure continued at Kavos Gyros in Poughkeepsie, with nowhere to wash our hands, and an expired bottle of Purell. Dun dun dunnn!
My usual partner in crime, Bennett has posted his photos on Flickr:
This is a very popular place. Darren didn’t join but helped prepare this trip, he has photos of the collapsing mess that was the Kirkbride two years ago. Flickr user stevenbley has more than 175 photos from a trip back in December 2009. Flickr user milfodd has more than 200 photos from a trip back in February and March 2009. Flickr user Sebastian T. has a lot of pictures, if you are into HDR. Here are some good photos of the main building by daimonpaul on NYFalls.com and multiple photo sets by Rob Yasinsac.
Urban Explorations in Print
Are you looking for more? I have assembled a hundred photos from 10 abandoned locations in my first photo book, “The Unnoticed”, available online and at different branches of the Albany Public Library. Find more about this 136-page volume, available in hard cover, soft cover, and eBook format for iPad/iPhone, in the book section.
More abandoned buildings are listed under the “Urban Exploration” category.