Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Located in Thiells, NY
- Also Known As:Letchworth Village Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptics, Letchworth Village Developmental Center, LVDC, Hudson Valley DDSO, Eastern New York State Custodial Asylum, Secor Colony, Disbrow Colony
- Location Genre:State School / Developmental Center
- Age:106 years
- Demo / Renovated:N/A
- Decaying for:18 years
- Last Known Status:Abandoned
In 1907, appropriations were made to construct the Eastern New York State Custodial Asylum in rural Theills N.Y. as a response to a growing need to house the "feeble-minded and epileptic." 2,000 acres of sprawling farm country were purchased for $188,575 in 1907; one year later, the hospital was renamed Letchworth Village Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptics after William Pryor Letchworth, a noted humanitarian and philanthopist who was familiar with institutional conditions. The hospital was touted as the model institution for the disabled since its opening. Several principles were laid out and adhered to during the construction of the hospital to ensure the utmost quality in care, many of which were obtained from William Pryor Letchworth via personal interview:
- The separation of sexes by dividing the campus into two halves, cut by a stream that meanders through the grounds.
- The buildings were not to be more than two stories tall, have a maximum capacity of 70 inmates, and basements were not to be used for any purpose other than storage; all to prevent overcrowding and "warehousing" patients, a problem that was becoming quite apparent in the mental hospitals at the time.
- The dormitories should be at least 200 feet apart to provide ample open space for playgrounds for each building.
- Buildings were seperated into groups that were divided by mental capacity, and these groups should not come into contact with each other. Each group was isolated enough to almost seem like a separate institution.
- The location of each building should take the natural beauty of the site into consideration.
These rules might remind one of the well-known plan for mental hospitals devised by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride - it was in fact his son, Franklin Kirkbride, who wrote passionately about the care and well being of the institutionalized, and was instrumental in founding Letchworth Village. These plans led to six groups of buildings laid out in a U-shape pattern. In the center of each horseshoe shaped group was a kitchen and dining room, and a hall that was to be used as a gym, theater, and Sunday school. Not far from each group was an attendant's home and doctor's residence. There were three groups based on mental capacity for each sex; one for the young and improvable, one for the middle-aged and industrious, and one for the infirm and helpless. Other buildings consisted of administrative offices, laboratory, fire house, boiler house, laundry, refrigeration plant, bakery, store house, workshops and a tuberculosis hospital.
The ideals of the facility included a high level of care in a home-like setting of flagstone cottages in an idyllic setting. It was hoped that this institution would provide a model for others in that the patients could be taught and improved enough to return to society, rather than locked away and receiving custodial care at best - a trend that was occuring at most of the similar hospitals across the country. Although the care at Letchworth was considered as one of the best one could recieve in the country, it too was plagued with overcrowding and staff detriments as reported by Albert Deutsch in his Shame of the States (1949).
Letchworth Village was closed in 1996. The large campus now lies in the crux of the three towns of Haverstraw, Theills, and Stony Point. Much of the open land has been repurposed into a golf course, and one of the groups of buildings has been renovated into the Fieldstone Secondary School, which has retained the look and feel of the original cottages. Many of the buildings are abandoned however, and some have fallen victim to arson, such as Kirkbride Hall and the laboratory.
In 1996, Spectrum Communities have planned to develop the property into a mixed use community called Encore Haverstraw, however plans have stalled due to lack of funding.