Looking back at hospitals and institutions that are now left abandoned not only show us how far the medical and mental health field has come but also why it has come so far. The majority of abandoned institutions are mental hospitals for the mentally ill and state schools for the mentally and physically disabled; both of which have an equally heartbreaking past. Their past, filled with public unawareness of overcrowding, neglect and abuse, should be known in order to prevent history like this from ever repeating itself.
Caring for the mentally ill, developmentally and physically disabled was done by family members up until the mid 1700s when families began putting their loved ones into almshouses. Between 1773 and 1800 small state hospitals were being constructed in hopes of creating a place for the mentally ill and disabled individuals to receive treatment and care as opposed to be thrown into jails since that had been the alternative for those who could not afford other care. Once state institutions and state schools were constructed and in operation, the association of superintendents would determine the main requirements while each institution made the rest of their decisions accordingly.
Image taken from the National Library of Medicine of ASMAII members
At the 1866 Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (ASMAII) annual meeting, the members allowed hospitals to house 600 patients in a single building instead of the 250 patients it had previously agreed on. The number of patients in an institution, and the number of staff members varied based on whether it was a linear or cottage plan asylum, a congregate asylum or a state school and hospital. Regardless of the design, this change in increased patient housing created the downward spiral of overcrowding and poor conditions for patients everywhere.
By the 19th century, these facilities were developing at a rapid rate with every state having one or more public institutions. Who was considered to be "mentally ill" was expanding as the mere existence of these hospitals inspired families to institutionalize their relatives. With the admittance of more and more individuals into these asylums for rather ridiculous reasons, social categories were created without a second thought. Women with postpartum depression were institutionalized, teenagers entering the years of rebellion and mood swings, children with epilepsy and autism, the elderly who faced alzheimer's or dementia and even people who couldn't speak english well enough.
More than questionable treatment practices such as electroshock therapy, insulin therapy, and lobotomies were no stranger to many of these state hospitals and schools but the ongoing abuse and neglect that went on in these places created with good intention ultimately led to their closure. Between the 1970s and 1990s states all over the country were closing their public institutions one by one in part because of the movement towards deinstitutionalization but also because of media exposés that went inside some of these well-known facilities. To read more about these individual asylums/hospitals, and state schools, visit the locations tab.
Image taken from the Library of Congress
Aldrich, C K. "Deinstitutionalization. University of Virginia Newsletter. 211985.
"Cultural History of Madness, Psychiatry and Mental Health." Mental Health Worldwide,
"MENTAL HOSPITALS: NEW YORK." Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 137, no. 4, 1948, p. 385.
Van Der Velde, Matt. Abandoned Asylums. Editions Jonglez, 2016.
Yanni, Carla. The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States. U of Minnesota P, 2007.
Kings Park Psychiatric Center is the hospital's most recent and most common name however it is also known as its former names of The Kings County Asylum, King Park Lunatic Asylum, Kings Park State Hospital, Long Island State Hospital and Northeast Nassau Psychiatric center.
"The Kings County Asylum" was established in 1885 as an extension of the Brooklyn County Hospital complex as an institution meant to relieve crowding from hospitals closer to New York City. Although it was called an asylum, the facility operated as a farm colony that was a self-sufficient community where farming, construction, clothing making, and food production were all on-site activities that both patients and staff participated in.
Building 94 was built in 1953 and used as a laundry building for the entire KPPC population
Opposite side of building 94 which faces the empty lot where building 44 once stood before demolition. This platform was the loading dock for trucks to deliver laundry to and from the building.
Electrical control panel in building 29 which was the power plant built in 1967
Row of computers in the control room
The hospital began using insulin therapy in 1937 and shock therapy in 1939. The use of electro-shock therapy continued and by 1948 the third floor of building 93 was the designated Shock Therapy Department floor. December 1951, Dr. Meyer Rosenberg began performing pre-frontal lobotomies on selected female patients until eventually performing them on more patients which there are limited reports of. Luckily, the introduction of Thorazine and other antipsychotics put an end to these invasive procedures in 1955.
The asylum soon became another institution in need of relief after an overwhelming increase in patient population. In 1895, ten years after its opening, the asylum was handed over to New York State and underwent a series of name changes throughout the following years.
1897 - New York State Hospital
1900 - Long Island State Hospital at Kings Park
1905 - Kings Park State Hospital
1974 - Kings Park Psychiatric Center
After the state took control of the hospital, the expansion took off. The property consisted of 150 buildings, one of which being the massive, thirteen story building 93, a power plant, and railroad station. The hospital's number of patients and staff members even outnumbered the population of the neighboring town, Smithtown before it reach it's peak population of 9,303 in 1954.
The back of building 29 where the majority of the industrial equipment is kept
The front of York Hall (building 80) was the hospital's auditorium and theater
The campus was originally comprised of small wooden cottages since the larger linear plan asylums were viewed as inhumane, but with the increase of patients, they had to resort to larger structures. By the late 1930s, building 93 was constructed and this enormous 13 story building was the epitome of what they wanted to avoid when establishing Kings Park. Building 93 was originally built to be used for patients with long term physical chronic illnesses. At first, the top floors with small dayrooms were used for bedridden patients while the lower floors with larger dayrooms were for more mobile patients. The hospital's central pharmacy was also located in the building and In the back of the building was the kitchen and employee dining hall.
Corridor connecting building 138 to building 139
Top floor of building 93 which has suffered severe damage to the floors
Industrial section of the power plant building
View from the roof on the back side of building 93 looking over buildings 94 and 29
In November of 2010, the property was evaluated and it was determined that it would cost somewhere around $215 million to demolish the remaining 57 buildings and safely remove the asbestos piping. A large portion of the property is now a designated part of the Nissequogue River State Park and construction efforts on the less decayed buildings are slowly but surely moving along.
A suspicious fire and roof collapse after snowstorms this winter left heavy machinery precariously leaning
Within the past few years, there have been countless arrests of trespassers on the property, multiple fires believed to be arson, a police rescue of three women trying to jump to their death off of building 93, and a rescue of teens stranded inside of a locked patient ward. Kings Park has recently stepped up security since the bodies of four teens were discovered at the nearby Pilgrim State Hospital in Brentwood. MS-13 gang members are believed to be using both Pilgrim State Hospital and Kings Park Psychiatric Center as meeting places and dumping grounds for their illegal activities and most recent murders.
Downes, Lawrence. "Erasing the Past at the Ghost Hospital." The New York Times, 4 Aug. 2012,
Ellis, Will. "Kings Park Psychiatric Center’s Building 93." AbandonedNYC, 14 June 2014, abandonednyc.com/2014/06/17/kings-park-psychiatric-centers-building-93/.
Frishberg, Hannah. "Long Island's Infamously Decrepit Kings Park Psychiatric Center in 53 Photos." Curbed, 6 Mar. 2015, www.curbed.com/2015/3/6/9984414/kings-park-psychiatric-center-photos-abandoned.
"Kings Park Psych." LI Oddities, 2013, lioddities.com/asylums/kings-park-psych.html.
"Kings Park Psychiatric Center -." Kings Park Psychiatric Center - A Documentation, s.albalux.com/webpage/main.html.
"Kings Park Residents Want More Police Around Psych Center." News 12 Long Island, 24 June 2016, longisland.news12.com/news/kings-park-residents-want-more-police-around-psych-center-1.11963657.
"MENTAL HOSPITALS: NEW YORK." Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 137, no. 4, 1948, p. 385.
Patient Living Conditions at Kings Park Psychiatric Center: New York State Commission on Quality of Care Unannounced Review in August, 1985. NYS Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled, 1986.
Gwen campbell & associates
Gwen Campbell & Associates provides Special Education advocacy services to parents of school age children with disabilities. They represents a student's best educational interest at school, IEP meetings, 504 Plan Meetings, Expulsion Meetings and Informal Dispute Resolution Meetings. In preparation for such meetings, they review student records and assessment reports, observe the student at school, and work closely with treating professionals and parents/legal guardians to gather information about the students range of educational needs. In this process these advocates formulate, IEP goals, accommodations, behavior plans and determine what special education supports and services to request from school representatives, such as Assistive Technology, Speech and Language Services, and Specializes Academic Instruction. Gwen Campbell & Associates works hard, utilizing knowledge and skill to educate parents about the educational and meeting process and to effectively, advocate and communicate with school representatives. Their goal is to help ensure that the student will benefit from their education as intended under federal and state mandates.
I had the pleasure of talking to Gwen Campbell after finding her site while researching Letchworth Village. Gwen told me that even as a child she knew what she wanted to do but her experience while at Letchworth on a Girl Scout trip really influenced her future career path.
After getting her degree in education from the University of Arizona she went on to study at California State University, Northridge, and received her master's degree from California Lutheran University. Gwen was a special education teacher and had her own therapy practice but when she realized her true calling was to be an advocate, she gave up her practice and became a dedicated special education advocate.
In October of 1969 when Gwen was no older than 9 years old, she participated in a project for her Brownies Girl Scout Troop that involved taking a trip to Letchworth Village to spend time with the children in the facility's custodial care. Before the trip, they didn't get much information about the other kids except for "they are different we are going there to play with them".
When they arrived, they were greeted by a staff member who described the kids as their highest functioning group. They spent a few hours playing games with the children and when Gwen asked to go to the bathroom she was given vague directions and left to find it on her own. She eventually found the bathroom but got lost on her way back and found herself in the auditorium with high-pitched ceilings that allowed the sounds of the kids inside to echo loudly.
What Gwen experienced in that auditorium resonated with her for the rest of her life from that moment going forward. Gwen described seeing nearly 18 children ranging from ages 3 to 7 that were left in the care of two young nurses. The smaller children were in cribs covered with nets while the larger kids, some even bigger than Gwen, were running around either nude or in diapers while being chased by the nurses.
Gwen called out to where one of the nurses had been standing and asked where the bathroom was but the nurse couldn't hear over the sounds of the children. The nurse responded by telling her she shouldn't be in there. Overwhelmed by what she saw and heard, Gwen began asking questions like "why are they in nets? Why? What are they being treated like this?". The nurse rushed her out and ordered that she isn't to tell anyone what she saw. This raised a red flag for Gwen because it made her realize that the adults clearly knew that what was happening was wrong.
When she got back to her Brownie troop, she went up to her leader and said "I have to tell you what I saw" which was when a staff member stepped in saying that not all of the patients are as high functioning as the children they were with that day. It seemed as though the woman knew what Gwen saw so she tried to quiet her and make excuses.
A few years later in 1972, Gwen saw the series of news segments done by Geraldo Rivera exposing the horrific conditions of Letchworth Village and Willowbrook State School. It was at that point that the public finally saw what Gwen saw that day. This was the start of the end for many state schools and psychiatric hospitals of that time.
What was once a military fort on a peninsula in Queens is now a canvas for anyone with a can of spray paint. Fort Tilden may have been first transformed into houses and buildings, but Hurricane Sandy turned them into sandboxes. It all seemed serene until I stepped foot inside and saw the scattered hypodermic needles buried below the surface.
Far Rockaway Queens
Fort Tilden 2013, my first visit
cars of the Cyclone wooden rollercoaster
The Little Dipper
The Kiddie Coaster
The Cyclone - the parks main attraction. The wooden coaster was 65 ft high at its highest drop and could reach up to 45 mph.
The Wildcat - opened in the 1980s and was the parks first and only steel rollercoaster. When the park closed the ride was relocated to Adventure Park in Maryland.
The Kiddie Coaster - brought to the park in 1992.
The Little Dipper - brought to the park in 1950 and removed in 1963
Dante's Inferno - dark fun house ride
Allotria - fun house walkthrough
The 2 waterslides of Williams Grove Amusement Park were the first waterslides in the area and installed in the 1980s. The waterslides have since been removed and the platforms are all that remains.
Other rides and entertainment include - Twister, Tilt-A-Whirl, The Octopus, The carousel, Kiddie train ride, bumper cars, laser tag, and the fun house.
Images taken from Pennhurstproject.com
Pennhurst Resident 1942-1970
At only thirteen years old, Mike and his twin brother were sent to Pennhurst. Once their father remarried, their new stepmother did not want the boys living with her. As of 2010, Mike, at eighty years old was living an active life in his Phoenixville apartment.
Both Rob and Bill came to Pennhurst as children with cerebral palsy and became fast friends during their time spent living together in Devon Hall. When interviewed for the project Rob reported no one talking to them during their time there and spending most of their time watching TV alone. At fifty-one years old it still upsets them to talk about their time spent there. In 1980 the two of them moved into a group home in Collegeville together.
Images taken from Pennhurstproject.com
Sign that has been stored in the basement since its closing
The Craig House was built to be a beautiful estate but after its 1915 transformation into a hospital for the affluent and famous, it soon became a house of tragedy.
Some of the Craig House's most well known patients were Rosemary Kennedy, Truman Capote, Zelda Fitzgerald, Frances Ford Seymour, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Gleason.
Rockland State Hospital
Orangeburg New York
Opened in 1931
Photos taken March 2017
After 4 years of construction, the Rockland State Hospital was completed in 1931. With its 6,000 beds, working farm, power plant, and industrial shops to be staffed by patients, the facility was open and ready to begin admitting patients. The first patients were 60 males transferring from Manhattan State Hospital.
Throughout the 10 years following the hospital's opening, Rockland county experienced a massive increase in population which inevitably led to overcrowding in the hospital. The hospital hit it's peak year of admittance in 1959 with more than 9,000 residents. Like many other institutions of the time, the hospital lost a great deal of their staff after being drafted in World War II. This desperate need to fill those positions resulted in the hiring of many unqualified workers to care for and treat the mentally ill.