Kings Park Psychiatric Center History
To relieve New York City's growing mentally ill population, Kings County (now Brooklyn) set forth to build an institution where patients could be treated far away from the hectic city life. The Kings Park Lunatic Asylum was established in 1885 as an extension of the Brooklyn County Hospital complex located on Clarkson Ave. The location for the new asylum would be far away in rural Suffolk County, and it initially consisted of a few wooden buildings where residents could be rehabilitated. As need for mentally ill facilities grew, the county "Lunatic Farm" (as it was called) was handed over to New York State in 1895 where it became Long Island State Hospital. Hearkening to its roots in Brooklyn, the institution was re-named Kings Park State Hospital in 1916 - and as the hospital grew in this once desolate woodland, it essentially created the town of Kings Park that we know today.
The entire hospital became a self-sufficient community; the patients and staff performed a wide variety of tasks including farming, construction, clothes-making, and food preparation. KPSH expanded to over 150 buildings, which included a power plant and a railroad spur to transport passengers, coal, and construction materials from the Long Island Rail Road. The campus included an area for TB patients, as well as a large section devoted to caring for war veterans. At the turn of the century, the hospital had already grown to 2,697 patients and 454 staff workers - making the hospital campus larger than the nearby town of Smithtown at the time! The hospital reached its peak population at 9,303 patients in 1954, and became quite overcrowded like so many other state run mental health centers at the time.
The cost to run such an enormous machine became too large of a burden for the state, and with the overall de-institutionalization policy being instated on the East Coast, the hospital began closing buildings in a slow but steady process in 1970. In 1975, the institution became known as the more familiar Kings Park Psychiatric Center, or "KPPC." Many patients were transferred to nearby Pilgrim State Hospital, nursing homes, private group homes, or were released. Finally, the entire facility closed in 1996 save for two buildings which still house patients to this day.
The big question has always been what to do with the land... hundreds of acres of property were up for grabs, but at a very expensive cleanup cost. In the year 2000, the grounds of the war veterans treatment area opened as the Nissequogue River State Park. But to develop the rest of the land, many buildings would have to be demolished or renovated, and the miles of asbestos piping would need to be carefully removed. In November 2010, the estimated cost of demolishing 57 buildings was $215 million. The only feasible way of making money from the cleanup would be to build a dense residential or commercial community, which has been a highly objectionable debate for many years.
Kings Park Psychiatric Center was one of four enormous mental health systems located in central Long Island; the others being Central Islip Psychiatric Center, Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, and Mason General / Edgewood State Hospital.