Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane

On Saturday, January 15, an exhibition of photographs by China Jorrin is opening at the Hudson Opera House. The subject of the photographs: the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane in Poughkeepsie. The building was--and what remains of it today still is--awesome. Its construction began in 1868 and continued over three decades. 

The massive High Victorian Gothic building was designed by prominent architect Frederick Clarke Withers, following the recommendations of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a physician respected for treating the mentally ill and a researcher and pioneer in asylum design. The sprawling layout of the building--it was 1,500 feet in length--was  intended to allow as much natural light into the rooms as possible. Its location gave it commanding views of the Hudson River and the surrounding valley, and its extensive grounds, which included lavish gardens, fields, ponds, and a network of walkways, were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. 

At its height, the hospital served more than 4,ooo psychiatric patients, but beginning in the late 1970s the building was progressively abandoned. In 2005, it was sold for redevelopment as a hotel/apartment complex. Tragically, in 2007, the south wing was destroyed by fire. In 2009, in a lecture sponsored by Historic Hudson, J. Winthrop Aldrich, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation for New York State, who has for years advocated for the restoration and reuse of the Hudson River State Hospital, said that a third of the building is still standing, and there is talk of restoring it as a hotel.

There are fascinating historic images of the hospital and information about its history at

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