Wednesday, April 28, 2021

More About the Windows at 400 State Street

The Galvan Foundation, which owns 400 State Street, wants to replace all the windows in the building with new windows that have nine panes in the upper sash and nine panes in the lower sash. Walter Chatham, the architect now representing the Galvan Foundation, argued before the Historic Preservation Commission that the nine over nine configuration would have been the windows that were original to the building when it was constructed in 1818. To support his contention, he referred to the nine over nine windows in the Senate House in Cambridge, England, built in the 1720s; the 18th-century Damer House in County Tipperary, Ireland; and a house he happened upon in Harewood, West Virginia.   

Chatham chose to ignore the remarkable evidence that exists to show what 400 State Street looked like in its earliest years: this engraving which appeared in Rural Repository in March 1841, during the period the building was the Hudson Lunatic Asylum (1830-1850).

The engraving shows the building with windows that are twelve over twelve not nine over nine, making each individual pane in the windows a vertical rectangle rather than a square. Chatham maintained that the windows were changed in 1830--just twelve years after the building was constructed--to make the building more "prisonlike" and more appropriate to its use as a lunatic asylum. Understanding the history of the lunatic asylum puts that supposition in question.

In 1981, Dr. Norman Ames Posner, while doing a six-month sabbatical at the Albany Medical Center, was intrigued by seeing the name "Dr. Samuel White, Hudson, New York" carved on an elegant marble plaque that he frequently passed by. Curious to learn more about this doctor from Hudson, Posner devoted two decades of part-time research to learning about him. One of Posner's principal discoveries about Dr. White has that he had founded and operated the Hudson Lunatic Asylum. Over the years, Posner has shared his research in presentations and articles. One of the articles, "Who Was Dr. Samuel White? In Search of the Past," appeared in the Summer/Fall 2006 issue of History & Heritage, the magazine published by the Columbia County Historical Society.

The following excerpt is quoted from the article, with the permission of the Columbia County Historical Society and Dr. Posner:
. . . in 1829, [Dr. Samuel White] was elected as Mayor of Hudson. It was a time of insanity within his own family, by which "his domestic enjoyments were interrupted" and he was led to pay much attention to this disorder. It may have been his wife who was so afflicted. We know that this is understandable in cases of those wed to politicians. . . . Before the end of his first year as Mayor he abruptly resigned leaving the Common Council to choose his successor.
He quickly negotiated a rental for a building at 400 State Street. The building had been originally designed and erected for the City of Hudson under the supervision of Dr. John Talman, Judah Paddock, and Barnabas Waterman as an Alms House. It had been recently vacated when a County Alms House was opened in Ghent. The city found negotiations with Dr. White to be difficult but differences were soon resolved with the city "putting all necessary repairs for all ordinary purpose" and leasing the building "for the term of ten years from the First of May next for the rent of $175 per annum." The Doctor's obsession with "insanity" now appeared to be his major medical interest and the Hudson Lunatic Asylum was opened. Dr. White was to introduce new methods in the handling of his patients. Though often they were brought in chains and strait jackets, these were at once discarded as incompatible with successful treatment.
Upon entering his retreat for the afflicted, instead of shrieks of the maniac or the clanking of chains, which is usually associated with an asylum for the insane, one was greeted with notes of the piano, the cheerful conversation of the inmates engaged in backgammon, checkers, chess, and other amusements. Others were occupied with sewing, knitting, reading newspapers, periodicals, or books from a library which was devoted entirely to the institution. The building was surrounded by cultivated gardens and extensive grounds where the inmates could exercise and be diverted by games of ball and quoits while others were occupied in gardening.
At night each patient had a separate apartment--males in the eastern wing and females in the western. The rooms were airy, fitted with elastic bottomed bedsteads and had hair mattresses guarded with necessary appendages. The windows were rendered secure with iron sash painted white to give a cheerful appearance and, due to the building's high positioning, allow views of the mountains and the surrounding city. Male and female patients met in the parlor for evening worship and other events under the watchful eyes of the attendants. 

Reprinted courtesy of Columbia County Historical Society, New York, © 2006. All Rights Reserved.

When 400 State Street was the Hudson Lunatic Asylum, the building was still owned by the City of Hudson. It's hard to imagine that replacing all the windows was part of "all necessary repairs for all ordinary purpose" agreed to by the City, and security, which Chatham has argued was the reason replacing the windows, was achieved with "iron sash painted white." Also, given the humane principles of Dr. White's care, it seems unlikely he would have wanted windows that were, to use Chatham's terms, "prisonlike" or "frighteningly institutional."

During the public hearing on the proposal, which took place last Friday, Ronald Kopnicki observed, "What is being proposed will not restore the building to anything it was in the past." Although Chatham suggested it was a fantasy "to assume that an engraving is the last word on the building's appearance," HPC member John Schobel asserted the engraving "does represent documentation." Responding to the statement that nine over nine windows would be "nicer to look at and less grim," Schobel said, "This is not the Aesthetics Committee; it's the Historic Preservation Commission." In the end, though, Phil Forman, who chairs the HPC and had earlier in the meeting opined it was "unreasonable not to give some deference to what the applicant wants to do," moved that they give Chatham permission to proceed. The others concurred. 

At one point during the HPC meeting last Friday, Chatham challenged the HPC, "Show me your research to prove the lunatic asylum engraving is what was there originally." It seems Dr. Posner's research accomplishes that. 


  1. Somewhat off-topic, but if City offices do move there, a designating plaque communicating this moment of the building's historic purpose would make incredibly accurate signage.

  2. I believe the real reason for wanting nine over nine window sashes is that they are easily ordered in mass by manufacturers.

    Twelve over twelve window sashes - which are appropriate and tremendously handsome when spotted on buildings of that period - are not readily available by most manufacturers - so it becomes a question of cost in the end.

  3. Such an interesting look into Hudson’s rich history.

  4. hahaha, two of the reference buildings aren't even from the same continent or century as 400! being this building anchors one of our central axes you'd assume HPC c/would do its job. Alas, the architect as mere means.

    Yes Vince! 12 over 12 would scale to the aperture of the openings- square not rectangular! 501c3 'preservation' eh?

  5. The windows were rendered secure with iron sash painted white to give a cheerful appearance and, due to the building's high positioning, allow views of the mountains and the surrounding city. Male and female patients met in the parlor for evening worship and other events under the watchful eyes of the attendants.

  6. Its a long long way to Tipperary. I can just hear the patients say to each ,I LIKE THE VIEW FROM THE WINDOW.