Saint Lawrence State Hospital

Located in Ogdensburg, NY US

  • Also Known As:Ogdensburg State Asylum for the Insane, Saint Lawrence Psychiatric Center, St. Lawrence State Asylum for the Insane
  • Location Genre:Psychiatric Hospital
  • Built:1887
  • Opened:1890
  • Age:127 years
  • Closed:N/A
  • Demo / Renovated:N/A
  • Decaying for:N/A
  • Last Known Status:Abandoned (parts of the campus are still in use)

In 1886, the need for an asylum in the far-reaches of northern New York state were realized. A 950-acre tract of farm land called Point Airy was purchased for $90,500 in 1887 to establish the Ogdensburg State Asylum for the Insane. The name of the institution was changed to the St. Lawrence State Asylum for the Insane after opening, however. In an age when massive asylums were commonly constructed in a single, sprawling building (such as the Kirkbride plan), the planners of St. Lawrence ultimately chose a detached, family-style institution called the Cottage Plan. Patients would be grouped according to their psychiatric disorder, and the buildings reflected these individual treatments in terms of size and layout. Several treatment building groups would be built: the Center Hospital Complex (1893), Letchworth Complex (1899), Flower Complex (1893), and Curtis Hall (1896), with sleeping quarters on the upper floors and day activities took place below. Other structures include the Administration Building (1891), Dynamo Room and Fire House (1896), Morgue (1893), Nursing School (1894) and other support buildings.

The hospital opened on December 9th, 1890 with Dr. Wise as superintendent. The theory of "moral treatment" was heavily applied here, using rest, recreation, and occupational therapy to dispel insanity. Recreation was implemented in various ways, including social parties, music and comedy events, camping on Lotus Island, and river excursions on the hospital's own steamboat, Dorothy. Dr. Wise's 1908 occupational therapy program was pioneered at St. Lawrence, with patients weaving, sewing and woodworking, which provided a therapeutic treatment as well as free labor for the hospital. The program would soon be adopted at asylums all over the country. Patient labor on the hospital farm supplied so much food and tobacco, the hospital rarely had to purchase goods; the program was ended in the 1960s when legislature put an end to patient labor. The institution also started the first state hospital beauty salon in 1928, which would also be repeated at other psychiatric facilities across the nation.

Overcrowding plagued the hospital, like most in the nation. In an effort to improve conditions at St. Lawrence, over one million dollars was allocated to the hospital in the late 1920s. One of the improvements made was the construction of the Southwood building to treat patients infected with Tuberculosis. Once the epidemic died out, the structure was re-purposed into providing geriatric care in 1954, and once again as a treatment center for adolescents before it closed in the early 1980s.

A steady decline in the patient population forced the hospital to slowly close the groups of buildings to consolidate money and space. The Flower Complex was purchased by N.Y. State Corrections Dept. in 1982, where it was converted into an 800-bed minimum security prison. Most of the other structures on the site have been left to decay.

For more information, check out the St. Lawrence State Hospital Preservation Society.

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