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The Old Main, or Utica Lunatic Asylum, NY

The Old Main is the local name for the original New York State Lunatic Asylum of Utica. It has had many names over its 150-year history: Utica Lunatic Asylum, Utica State Hospital, Utica Psychiatric Center. I didn’t travel out to the Old Main in Utica– not this time. I’ve been past the building a few times, and have walked the grounds when we visited an acquaintance of my husband’s, who was attending an alcohol treatment program there. That was fifteen years ago. I thought I had taken photographs then, as I was awestruck by the building’s architecture, but either I am wrong or I lost the photos. This is a “virtual visit.” Roger Luther has graciously granted permission to post his photos of the Old Main. For a multitude of awesome photos and a good summary of the Old Main’s history, check out Luther’s NYSAsylum.com. The photos are spectacular.

Old Main

doric

ceiling

floor

The building was open for patients in 1842, but is in terrible disrepair now. It is famous around the world for its architecture, and was home to many of the “firsts” in mental health in the nation. It was the first institute for the treatment of the mentally ill (previously, people had merely been confined). Remember the movie Jane Eyre? Orson Welles’ character kept his insane wife locked up in a tower. It wasn’t too uncommon for mentally ill and insane people to be locked up and the key thrown away. I personally think that a lot of mental illness came from the ingestion and absorption of lead, which was abundant in pipes, lining cisterns, in paints, etc.

The Old Main was the birthplace of the American Journal of Insanity by Dr. Amariah Brigham (this publication would later spawn the American Psychiatric Journal). Dr. Brigham changed the way mental illness was treated. He believed that most mental illness was caused by environmental problems (contaminated food or water, side effects of diseases) or mental strain (depression, stressful lifestyle). Unlike today’s physicians and Big Pharma, who are endlessly shoving pills down throats, Dr. Brigham believed that strenuous exercise, clean foods, and good hard work would cure most of the mentally ill. He was right, for most cases.

The architecture of the building is truly stunning. This from www.rootsweb.com/%7Easylums/utica_ny:

[It] is internationally recognized as a monumental example of the Greek Revival architecture tradition… The huge size of the stone structure is perhaps its most significant feature; being 550 feet long and averaging 50 feet in depth. The projecting central portico is 120 feet long and is dominated by six limestone columns 48 feet high and eight feet in diameter at the base. “No European public edifice has a grander Greek Doric portico than that which dominates the tremendous four story front block….” architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock wrote in his definitive Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

The Utica building’s Greek Revival, doric columns (six of them) are eight feet in diameter at the base and 48 feet high. They are at the main entrance which also has a gray facade made of upstate New York limestone. Two four story main wings extend laterally from the entrance. Later construction added wings to either end, greatly increasing its capacity (parts of these additions have since been demolished). One estimate compared the asylum’s original square footage to that of a 26 story sky scraper. In the attic, visitors may still see murals and the stage of a patient’s theater; sunlight still floods the vacant day rooms downstairs.

In 1850, a listing of accommodations noted: 380 single rooms for patients, 24 for their attendants, 20 dormitories each accommodating from 5 to 12 persons, 16 parlors or day rooms, 12 dining rooms, 24 bathing rooms, 24 closets and 24 water closets. The mechanical systems of the original building incorporated the latest improvements. Hot air woodburning furnaces in the basement provided heat for the building. Ventilators opening from the rooms to flues in the walls allowed air to circulate constantly. Hot and cold running water was supplied to each floor, the cold water coming from the roof while the warm water was pumped by a steam engine from basement storage tanks.

Don’t these old romantic pictures make you feel like you are putting your loved one in a tender, safe place?

asylum

asylum2

Those old Elm trees in the Utica area were so beautiful, weren’t they? Back then, even the asylums were built and kept up to be beautiful. But the truth is, the things that went on inside weren’t always beautiful. The Utica Crib was invented here. It was a combination cage and bed, to restrain the uncontrollable patients. The crib was sometimes suspended with chains and would rock the patient, to soothe him.

utica crib

Critics called it savage even though some patients preferred it. It was removed from use in 1887.

There’s more history that runs down the Main’s halls. Famed abolitionist, U.S. Congressman, and Hamilton College alumni Gerrit Smith was admitted to the Old Main for over two months. The story is filled with speculation and intrigue! Smith (whose homestead we Mecombers hope to visit this spring when we go on our Heritage Freedom Trail trip) was a “Free-Soil” advocate, and an outspoken supporter of violent abolitionist John Brown. (We hope to visit John Brown’s historic site, also!) “They” say it was John Brown who started the Civil War.

To be associated with such a “vigilante” as John Brown was political suicide. After Brown’s failed raid on an arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and his hanging a few weeks later, Gerrit Smith was fingered for aiding and abetting Brown’s violent raid. Smith was promptly admitted to the Utica Lunatic Asylum (by his family). Some historians have speculated Smith was admitted to avoid his critics and investigations. Others, exposing more details of Smith’s illnesses (including a long bout of typhoid that contributed to his chronic health conditions), said Smith was genuinely distressed, having been depressed for a long time. They say it was the Harper’s Ferry incident that “broke the camel’s back.”

One source at www.wvculture.org/history/jb9.html claimed:

“Gerrit Smith shows continued marks of insanity,” a New York journal reported later that month. “No one is allowed to see him, but it is understood that he refers in his ravings to the Harper’s Ferry matter, and supposes himself arrested.”

And another source has a longer and extremely interesting report of the history. You can find that atThe “Black Dream” of Gerrit Smith, New York Abolitionist” at www.nyhistory.com/gerritsmith/dream.htm. I found the information and story there riveting. Here’s a portion:

The New York Herald dispatched a special reporter to visit Smith at Peterboro in late October to obtain more information concerning the abolitionist’s ties to Brown and the Harpers Ferry raid. The only statement the reporter could get from Smith was this remark: “I am going to be indicted, sir, indicted! You must not talk to me about it. . . . If any man in the Union is taken, it will be me.” This reporter had covered Smith’s gubernatorial campaign the previous fall and made some very interesting comments upon the changes in Smith since that time.

Concerning the controversy which followed the raid, the reporter observed:

[It] has not only impaired his health, but is likely to seriously affect his excitable and illy-balanced mind. . . . His calm, dignified, impressive bearing has given place to a hasty, nervous agitation, as though some great fear was constantly before his imagination.

The Herald reporter concluded from his visit with Smith:

He is in evident alarm and agitation, inconsistent with the idea that his complicity with the plot is simply to the extent already made public. I believe that Brown’s visit to his house last spring was immediately connected with the insurrection, and that it is the knowledge that at any moment, either by the discovery of papers or the confession of accomplices, his connection with the affair may become exposed, that keeps Mr. Smith in constant excitement and fear.

The Herald account was only one of several reports of Smith’s increasing state of agitation in late October and early November. The Rochester Daily Express reported that Smith had been “constantly wringing his hands and bemoaning the fate of poor Brown” and that the abolitionist’s friends were “apprehensive that his reason would give way under the load of grief and anxiety. . . .” The Albany Argus related that a visitor to Smith’s home shortly after the time of the raid reported that “his eye was wild and his appearance haggard, and his motion spasmodic and uncertain, but unceasingly restless”. Smith’s sleep and eating habits became increasingly erratic. He was despondent and his family feared he might attempt suicide. He even talked of going to Virginia to share John Brown’s fate. Finally, on 7 November, friends and family members were able to persuade Smith to accompany them to the state asylum at Utica by assuring him that he was on his way to Virginia.

Back to the Old Main. After years of dwindling financial support and the construction of better buildings, it was closed in 1978. The Old Main is in great disrepair now.

hallway

interior

staircase

Some of its old wings have been demolished. You can see that there are huge gashes in the walls, allowing moisture and critters to invade.

utica_back

utica_badshape

When I attended Utica’s Genesis Group meetings years ago, there was some discussion about what should be done with the Old Main. There were some who wanted a museum of mental illness (which I didn’t think would be a very attractive draw), others wanted a Revolutionary War museum housed there, since central New York is so rich in history of that era. And others suggested that the City of Utica move its main offices there. There was talk about trying to get some rich investor to pour his billions into the place, but I don’t think anything came of that.

Part of the building was renovated a few years ago, and these rooms house the Records Archive and Repository for the NYS Office of Mental Health. But I think restoring the entire building could never be accomplished by the city (or the state) alone.

interiorOldMain1

interiorOldMain2

interiorOldMain3

Sometimes, these beautiful old buildings are too difficult to restore, and they outgrow their usefulness; although I’m not ruling out any miracles. For now, the Old Main still stands.

Photos courtesy Roger Luther at nysasylum.com. (Thanks, Roger!)

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (80)

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  1. OSoNY says:

    You do make a person want to go traveling with your awesome photos.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I get antsy after reading them- I want to go out traveling again!

    Thanks for visiting.

  3. Laurie says:

    Thanks for the link. What a stunning building it was. New York State, and especially OMH (where I now work) are scarily rich in gorgeous abandoned buildings.

  4. [...] The Old Main, or Utica Lunatic Asylum, in Utica, NY. The building is on the National Registry of Historic Houses. What a beautiful old building, now in great disrepair. It served as the nation’s first treatment center for mental illness, then later became a place for alcohol and drug rehabilitation. The place is brimming with architectural and local history. [...]

  5. Peggy says:

    Wonderful,rich with history,I’m from Geneva NY,I plan on visiting soon.It’s sad the Old Man needs TLC soon.love the site.. Peggy

  6. Hey, Peggy, thanks for visiting! I recently visited Geneva and blogged about that beautiful city here. I’m glad you like this post on the Old Main. It is such a grand old place.

  7. Peggy says:

    Just love your site!!!,I bet your the mom with ALL the neighborhood children at your house.The pics make me want to jump on a plane and head to the finger lakes.Thanks

  8. [...] were built for such mundane or totally pragmatic functions. I’d recently seen photos of the Utica Psychiatric Building, which is the greatest example of Greek Revival architecture, but was built as a mental hospital [...]

  9. Karen says:

    That place is huge. If walls could talk! I enjoyed your fascinating article. It is fun to see all the different elements of architecture. Things are so plain these days.

  10. Thanks for visiting, Karen!

    Yes, things are so plain today. :( I have a big beef with modern architecture. The really great thing about visiting old places in New York State is that the architecture is soooo rich. I love it!

  11. HoundsGood says:

    Funny – when you said “Old Main” – there was a building at the university I attended that was called “Old Main” and I sort of chuckled to myself that it would be a good example of an asylum. On a more serious note – architecture of this time period is seldom beat. I am glad the building still survives.

  12. Carol Bruner says:

    I think a museum of the history of psychiatry/psychology could be a draw, partly because of its uniqueness. It could also be a converted to a conference center for mental health and other organizations to hold meetings. Maybe a wealthy philanthropist would lend the money at a low interest rate to support the renovation…worth a try! In my mind, even if it costs more to renovate than build anew, it’s worth it to save historical and architectually beautiful buildings.

  13. [...] interested in the life and work of Gerrit Smith for many years. I did a short piece on him when I blogged about the Utica Lunatic Asylum here. The children and I hope to go on New York’s “Freedom Trail” from Utica to [...]

  14. [...] called the “Old Main” and I did a huge post on it’s history, that of it’s most famous patient, and some stunning interior photos, [...]

  15. c scott says:

    These are beautiful pictures associated with a not so beautiful subject. You’re right the architecture is astounding, especially the ceilings and floors.
    C. Scott

  16. Joanne says:

    What wonderful pictures! My Grandfather lived there from 1931 until his death in 1959. There is not much information that I have been able to obtain about him during this time. The pictures have helped “bring to life” a bit of what his life must have been like. I do know that he worked in the gardens growing vegetables and selling them. From what family members have told me he always had a lot of money in his pocket. Thank You!

  17. Hi Houndsgood– very funny!!!

    Yes, Carol, we are still waiting for a wealthy philanthropist.

    C Scott- isn’t it amazing that such grand places were made like this?

    Hello Joanne. You have quite a treasure-trove of memories! I love recalling time spent with my grandparents, too. It was like a different world back then. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos.

  18. Linda(Holland)West says:

    OH MY! It breaks my heart to see this fabulous place in ruin! I have very fond memories of what was in my earliest memory, Utica State and later memories Utica Psychiatric Center. It sounds kind of weird I know to have fond memories of a place that harbored so much pain! I remember when I was as young as ten I could appreciate it’s beauty!
    My friends and I used to walk,”very fast” past the at least two blocks of wrought Iron fence that surrounded the property because it was said to be haunted! :)
    I was inside only once as an adult when I worked for Kunckle Ambulance. We had a transport from the Nursing wing to a Doctor’s office. I think I must have walked the very halls of the picture you’ve posted. I recall that particular shade of green and remember seeing that exact shade at some Airforce bases I have visited. I assumed it was an army surplus color??? Thanks so much for sharing these pictures!! They’re a treasure!!!

  19. TODD says:

    WHO DO I CONTACT ABOUT THE PLACE WOULD LOVE TO TALK TO HIM OR HER ABOUT THE PLACE PLEASE EMAIL ME AT TRASHER650@YAHOO.COM

  20. Robert says:

    great article with beautiful pictures. i always wondered what it looked like in there! thanks.

  21. amazing post! i’ve been researching & photographing this building for 18 years (i’m 33) and Utica does not make it easy to volunteer for their landmark society and ive had quite a hard time finding info over the years. i’ve done it all on my own, research at library and also online and purchasing books (including the very 1st copy of the Journal Of Insanity) to do the research on my own. i live in the old st.luke’s hospital, across the street from old main. it’s connected underground to old main. i’m so happy to be so close to my fav building in utica, ny. amazing post!

  22. Pat says:

    I have known this building all my life. What a shame to see this falling down. Are there any plans at all for it?
    I didn’t know about the tunnel!! I was born in St Lukes and lived in W. Utica for many years and I never knew that. Tell us more about that.
    Thank you

  23. andy morton says:

    Such beautiful photographs. I work in the mental health service in England and have been looking around at the experience of mental ill-health in other countries. I find these old buildings pretty terrifying, but at the same time quite beautiful. I love the long shot of the corridor. Thanks for posting these.

  24. D Riley says:

    I was a patient there in the late 60’s – before the state decided to throw all the old kept patients onto the streets. It was a very thriving and quite automonous community — even had its own store, graphic arts studio, music program. The grounds were lovely – and all the buildings kept up — I was mostly in the new building as the old buildings housed the chronic patients who had been there forever. It was NOT a romantic place to be — and in the days of lobotomies and electro shock torture it was quite horrific. The treatment of the mentally ill has been and still in many cases is very barbaric. I knew patients who had had their brains operated on and who were never able to function again – – and patients who were given shock treatments without any anesthetic and who suffered from horrific fear and nightmares the rest of their lives. Patients were also experimented on with experimental drugs and often had their nervous systems destroyed by this. It was not a fun place to be nor is its history something to be proud of. The majesty of the buildings belies the horrific events that occurred within.

    • Hi D Riley. Rest assured, I am not romanticizing the treatments that the mentally ill received here. And you are correct– the majesty of the building does belie the horror inside. :( I know that such campuses were created to give a pastoral effect for the patients, as well as making the relatives feel that their loved ones were in good hands. But the treatments are appalling and heart-wrenching. I admire the grand architecture of buildings like these, but it is a testament to the perversity of human nature the way some of these people were treated. Thanks for your comments.

  25. Serena says:

    Very informative, and the pictures are done very well. I’m wondering if there is a history of hauntings?

  26. Connie says:

    My grandmother was here for a short period of time. They thought she was insane; she had epileptic seizures. Found her admittance date, discharge date, parents’ names, diagnosis, and husband’s name. No other records exist. I appreciate the info I got and, now, the pics.

  27. Courtney Flagg says:

    Hi Connie,
    You’re post was very interesting to me. I research the history of mental illness and the Utica State Hospital. I collect volumes of The Journal Of Insanity that was printed at Utica State Hospital from 1844 until 1960’s I believe. I have epilepsy and found an article from volume 36 in 1879 with a very interesting article on epilepsy. Back then they considered epileptics “nocturnal maniacs”. Very interesting to read, but also sad they thought that way. If you dont mind, what type of epilepsy did your grandmother have? I have Petit Mal.
    ~ Courtney Flagg

  28. Sarah says:

    Hey there,
    I moved to Utica a few months ago and actually found about this asylum through the book, “Weird New York.” Says that the asylum is haunted. Is that true?

  29. Janet Hallak says:

    I attended USH Sch.of Nursing 1958–1961.Worked @ USH for many yrs,retiring in 1995.I worked in Old Main & was the nursing supervisor that helped in the closing of Old Main in 1978.There is a video that was made about 1975 or 1976.It featured a tour Old Main with WKTV reporter Jerry Fiore and myself walking through the bldg. discussing current threrapies of the time. The Education & Training Unit should have this video in their files; if not perhaps WKTV may still have a copy. I would be interested in obtaining a copy for myself. Please contact me if this is possible or for further ques.re:OLD MAIN

  30. Courtney Flagg says:

    Janet ~ There is a video tape at the Utica/midyork library about old main and has old videos of therapy and treatments on it. This may have the news clip you are talking about. Although, I think this vhs tape was made in the 80’s, but had a lot of older footage. I think it is called “150 years at the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center”, but when I attempt to look it up online, I do not find a thing. But I have rented it from the library and made a copy that is in storage at the moment. You should check it out and see if it has the footage you were on in the 70’s. By any chance do you know of a Barbara Engall? I have a few old newpaper articles and it states she took it upon herself to be the old main historian at the time and i would really like to speak w/her. I photograph and research the building and it’s very hard to find people who want to seriously talk about their past/the buildings. My great aunt, Mary Springer, used to pay me $5 to listen to stories about old main when i was a young child, she was a nurse there. I always found the stories and never wanted to take money for listening but she’d shove it in my back pocket anyways. If anyone would like to share any memories of old main or anything relating to it, please contact me at : courtneyramone@aol.com

  31. Katy says:

    Unfortunately this building is lost like so many others in the Utica or surrounding area. In these times it is a matter of politics that saves buildings of the past. Many beautiful old buildings are being lost each day due to lack of true interest of saving them unless you have the backing and pull required.
    I know because we own one, in a Historical district which means nothing in the City Of Utica. A restored house built in 1851 with all it’s original oak library panels and rochester floors. What does all this mean? Currently we are unable to sell it for even close to the beauty of this historic house. Realtors will not touch it because of where it is, with the comment being ‘if only it was somewhere else.’ So, we to have decided to try to sell it to investors who want nothing more than to chop it up in to multiple housing. Another bit of history will be lost.

  32. Brian says:

    It interesting because my father worked there. He was the boss of one of the teams that renovated the building. I always wanted to go inside but it would have been against the law. They had many security systems that they would actually use to keep vandals or intruders out, motion sensors, weight monitors. This is the first time i got to see inside it and its amazing. My father spoke of an attic or something where nobody was permited due to experiences. Also the basement. A man was woking on the electrical wiring when the work light went out. The man came up pure white saying he is never going near the basement again. He claimed he was touched. Awesome building

  33. Fawn says:

    Hi all!! I am a resident of West Utica, and actually live about a block away from “Old Main”. I live on Dewitt street which is right off of Whitesboro street. Anyway, since I was a kid, I remember us walking around the grounds of the building looking at it (espesically on halloween..lol) I does have a very creepy look to it, but I must say that i do find it odd that the state of NY just kicked these pt’s to the curb. Many of them still live on Whitesboro street and even hang out around the building (or at least close to) and many of them are now homeless, and do not even know to clean themsleves. I have worked at nice and easy (across the street)and have met a few of these people whom al seem to have horror stories, it is very sad. Also, I have heard many stories if not only the building but the grounds being haunted. My cousin once swore that she saw something when we were walking around the building at night, and she walked over and started crying, she said it was telling her to come in, and she was scared! She was really crying and this is not like her…IDK..Well, this is all I know about the building, and I also know about the crib and the psychiatry Journal which I find it VERY interesting that all this happened in Utica and not even Utica College offers more than a BA in psychology…I am trying to find a PhD or MA program in Utica and no such luck!!! Interesting right!!! Sucks for me I guess..Thanks for your time, Fawn Linen

  34. Chris says:

    Your photos are amazing. I did’t realize that a part has been restored. I had heard it closed and all the other photos I saw suggested it was closed and ready to get torn down. The hospital wasn’t used for just the insane. Sad to say but when I lived in Utica my ex BIL was a patient there only because there were no Veteran’s hospitals in the area. My ex MIL moved there from the Bronx and that’s where they put him. He use to hop the bus every once in a while and we’d get a call that he tried catching a bus back home to the Bronx. How sad to spend your whole life in an institution d/t a brain tumor. He has passed away since but I will always remember him associated with that place.

  35. Anita Baldovino Thomas says:

    Thank you for such interesting facts and pics about the Old Main. Many of my childhood memories are of the psych center grounds and all the buildings – I lived in staff housing(which were to the left of Old Main near York Street) and the cottages(behind old main near Churchill Ave) for the first four years of my life(1975-1979) as my father worked as a psychiatrist for MVPC until he retired. This place holds so many of my life’s memories- when we left the grounds for our own home, we only moved a quarter of a mile away in west utica. I have always wanted to explore the old main and always asked my father if he could “pull some strings” with no luck. As a teenager, we always wanted to try to sneak into the old main- in hopes of catching some ghosts- again with no luck. I myself have many photos of the wonderful architecture there. I was so sad to see so much of the old main demolished, other buildings boarded up and left to fall to disrepair. I had always thought of the grounds as somewhat picturesque -I miss the “old days”.

  36. urbex says:

    wow i want to do photography here so bad!!this place looks amazing! i cant believe it hasnt been destroyed with graffiti yet!

  37. cdacey says:

    It’s such a shame that all these wonderful historic buildings cannot be restored to their magnificent grandure. Architecture now is so cold and bare. I do appreciate all the photographers who take the time and some risks to share these photos after all someday thats all we will have to remember these grand old institutions. And shame on those who deface and destroy you have no respect.

  38. Joe says:

    A museum that traces the history of Psychiatric care in America would be a wonderful re-use for this Utica building and a nice compliment to the Archives now held there. It could be very well and approprately done. We have other social history museums at Alcatraz, a Holocaust Museum, a museum that tracks segregation at Woolworths and Little Rock High School…..New York State should take this opportunity to show its pioneer role in mental health care in America and Utica, inclusive of treatments that by today’s standards are not well but which were revolutionary for their day. The former Utica Asylum would indeed be the right location for such a museum and it could indeed be both a tribute to those whose lives were interrupted there and elsewhere in the state and as well a powerful educational tool for generations to come. I hope New York State decides to put such a museum in Utica….perhaps with help from the Federal government or the private sector.

  39. Sandy says:

    I enjoyed reading all of the comments. I would like to find out if it’s possible to get copies of medical records for a patient. My grandmother was put there approximetly 1931 and died there in 1969. My mother was about 10 yrs old when she went in. I have letters from her to her family and she sounds good to me. I felt sick when I read them. She wanted to go home so badly. All I can get out of my family is that she had a nervous breakdown. I mostly want to know because there are mental problems in my family, including me. I’m not crazy or anything like that its more like I’ve been told my brain doesn’t work the way it should. I have severe fibromyalgia amoung other problems. I just wonder if she had the problems that I had before my medication helped me. Well, thanks for listening. Any info would be appreciated.

  40. Sandy says:

    I enjoyed reading all of the comments. I would like to find out if it’s possible to get copies of medical records for a patient. My grandmother was put there approximetly 1931 and died there in 1969. My mother was about 10 yrs old when she went in. I have letters from her to her family and she sounds good to me. I felt sick when I read them. She wanted to go home so badly. All I can get out of my family is that she had a nervous breakdown. I mostly want to know because there are mental problems in my family, including me. I’m not crazy or anything like that its more like I’ve been told my brain doesn’t work the way it should. I have severe fibromyalgia amoung other problems. I just wonder if she had the problems that I had before my medication helped me. Well, thanks for listening. Any info would be appreciated.

    • Roberta says:

      I had an uncle that was there in 1935. they said he had mental issues and could not see his family. I belive he must have died there. I wish ther were records and would hope sometime to find out where he was buried the family was never notified as his parents were dead. Any information on finding info would be appreciated he was born 1n 1911.

  41. nancy Hill says:

    My brother spent many years of his life as a patient here. I am going to visit Utica in mid-June to do research for a novel in which my brother is a character. Can you tell me how I can get permission to tour the building?

    Thank you for any help you can give me.

    I am a published writer.

  42. Sandy says:

    This is to nancy hill. Any information that you can get would be so appreciated. My post is right above yours. I want so badly to find out where the medical records for the patients are. If you want you can e-mail me at NinaPeanut333@aol.com

  43. Gina says:

    I am trying to get more inforation on this hospital. If anyone out there has any info, please contact me at busystylist@yahoo.com. My great grandmother was a patient there in the early 1900’s and my gma who is 90 now is trying to find out what her mother was hospitalized for and why she past away. I would like to find out any information for her SOON so please send anything anyone has to my email! Thanks
    *For Sandy
    Did you find out if there are any medical records available? If so where can I find them???

  44. sarah says:

    wow. i used to live in Utica and i used to buy my cigarettes from the Nice N’ Easy gas station up the road. FREAKY

  45. Courtney Flagg says:

    To Nancy Hill, I live in an old hospital complex across the street from The Utica State Hospital, they are connected underground. The complex I live in used to be The St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital and some of the State Hospital’s lobotomies were done in this old hospital. I am very interested in the history of The Utica State Hospital and have been researching & photographing it since I was 17 years old, I am now 35 years old. You may want to check out the Landmark Society in Utica when you visit, but they’re wishy-washy to say the least. I have Petit Mal/Absense Seizure Epilepsy and I shake and have tremors and absence seizures can cause momentary lapses of consciousness, where I zone out for about 30 seconds but then can resume what I was doing prior to the seizure. Well the people at the Landmark Society think I’m odd because of my condition. I was laughed at and made fun of by a volunteer when I had a hand tremor and dropped a raffle ticket into the wrong bowl when at a tour of the State Hospital. All my info I’ve given them for volunteer work must have been thrown away, they never contact me. Once I did get ahold of someone working there he seemed a bit frustrated with me for wanting to do more research on the State Hospital and said it was HIS “pet project”. I’ve also been screamed at in their book store for for opening a book to look at the publication date, I guess your not allowed to open books, it was not a sealed book. They’re not friendly people to me at least, but maybe you could contact them. Also there is the Utica Historical Society and The Utica Public Library has info too. I make postcards of my photos of The State Hospital, if anyone on this page would like me to send you one, no charge, send me your address at : CourtneyRamone @aol.com. But to Nancy, if you would like to contact me while you are in Utica, I have info I could share with you. I even have some old Journals Of Insanity which were published at the State Hospital, and printed there. I have the 1st copy and it’s amazing. Reading all of them are pretty amazine. There is a chapter on The Utica Crib and also one on epilepsy. Back in those days I would have been considered “a nocturnal maniac” for having epilepsy, so glad the medical world has advanced since then. To anyone else I would be willing to do research for you on your relatives this summer, but I am very busy right now. Nancy, when will you be visiting Utica? I will be in Baltimore from the 4th -6th, but anytime after that I would love to get together with you and share some of my info.

  46. Courtney Flagg says:

    Nancy ~ I forgot to mention, they used to give tours of the State Hospital but now they store NY State’s mental health records in there so they no longer do tours. Although they may do one for you since you are a published author.

  47. Ralph Faga says:

    I lived on Churchill ave in Utica in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s and my family still lives there.The hospital was my front yard and the grounds were my play ground.The patients grew their own vegtables ran a store movie theater and everything it needed was done on the hospital grounds.Even above Noyes st farm land was visable all the way to where Utica college is now.The doctors lived on the property with maids and grounds keepers that were patients.My best friend growing up was a doctors son Richard Trepiecz ( not sure of the spelling of the last name) and he lived in the circle.If anyone knows of him or how to contact please let me know.The mother, father and sister were good people I would like to talk os see one or all of them again and so would alot of other old time friends. If anyone knowsanything my e-mail is rapidralphf@hotmail.com THANKS

  48. Lesa Hammond says:

    I use to live down the street a little from this masive beautiful buliding, I use to think if walls could talk, who would be in trouble. The building seems to be out of a scary movie, but I would love to see it re done and looking as it did back in the day, or I should say better. I injoyed your pictures, it is the first time I was able to see the inside of it. It is on beautiful grounds also, I wish it could be used for something, please don’t let this piece of history and beauty go to waste.

  49. john says:

    i use to live on a deadend street that ran alomg the side of the grounds. i lived on Cherry st. as kids we use to play hide and sek on the grounds.this was at the time when the chain linf fence with the barb wire on top was still standing. we always found a broken part of the fence to sneak in. sometimes we would get chased by security because we were not supposed to be near those buildings. in some of the other buildings you could still see the shakles and heavy chains hanging on the walls. i always felt a strange feeling when looking in thise windows. maybe it was just because of the stories i have heard. i have heard that you could hear screaming comming from those basements or you could hear the chains rattling. i have never experianced that myself but have heard it a lot. as a child going to school we would tour the one building that was still in use at the time. it was never the old main building or any of the other vaccant buildings. and we would only see 1 or 2 floors of the several floor building thatgave us the tour in. i would of loved to have seen the older buildings because i love history so much. the fence has been removed now. i have moved out of state 15 years ago. i would love to tour the grounds again. now as an adult i would appreciate it much more…

  50. E. Millham says:

    I spent many hours waiting on the grounds with elm trees as a child waiting from my father and older brother to return from visiting my mother who was a patient there from about 1948-1953. I felt lonely on those beautiful grounds and remember looking hopefully at a window, to see my mother. I was only allowed to see her on the ward she was last on in 1953.I also think that her father had been a patient in the 30’s. I would be interested in locating any records. How does one go about obtaining information about patients??

  51. Landmarks Society of Greater Utica wishy-washy?
    Truth be told, “Old Main” would not be standing right now if not for the efforts of the Landmarks Society. And it certainly would not be partially occupied and maintained by the State of NY. Landmarks, in cooperation with MV Psyicahtric Center, put on the “open houses” such as Utica Monday Nite this past June, with over 800 peoploe showing up. But, with the state controling the building, there are restrictions to where you can go and what you can do, and when.

    Courtney, I don’t know of any of our volunteers who would knowingly make fun of you or ANYONE with a disability, but if you feel this way, I do apologize.

    Michael Bosak, President,
    Landmarks Society of Greater Utica

    PS — Great website!

  52. Courtney Flagg says:

    I understand how much the Landmark Society has done for Old Main. Yes, a volunteer did make fun of me, my son witnessed it and so did a friend of mine. This same volunteer was very rude to us at other times also. There were MANY volunteers who were very nice to us on the tour, but there was one we encountered on the eariler tours, who was very rude to us. I later found out she thought I was someone else, that is no reason to make fun of and be rude to someone. I said “wishy-washy” because I had a friend come all the way to Utica from Brooklyn to do research on the Rutger St Mansions, she had previously done much research on the buildings and helped w/the auctions. She took time off from school to make the trip here. She got to Utica and the person from the Landmark Society that she was supposed to do the research with had gone on a trip someplace w/out notifying her in advance, prior to her making the trip to Utica. Also, I have tried to donate my postcards of Utica (including ones of Old Main) to the Landmark Society, never heard back about them. It would have been nice to at least get a reply, or “Thank you for your offer, but we cant use them”. I tried to donate them at the bookstore at the train station. I was very polite about it when I did so, the woman working said to me “I dont understand why you want to give these to me”, although I explained I wanted to donate them, a bulk amount because I care about the history of Utica. The woman who worked there a few years ago was very nice to me, and always spoke to me about history when I’d come in to buy books. This woman yelled at me for opening a book to look at the publication date. I just dont understand that attitude. The Historial Society took my donation of postcards and appreciated them. I love Utica, but there are too many strange politics here. I have friends in other states who also love to research local history where they live, and they dont encounter what I have in Utica. It’s not my fault that one of your volunteers was rude to me at the Old Main tours. It is not my fault that another one at the train station was also rude. You do have many wonderful volunteers. I just dont appreciate that kind of treatment. I’ve talked people into staying in Utica when they’ve wanted to move away. I’ve also talked several people into moving here from larger cities, because I feel Utica has so much to offer.

  53. Rollo Jenkins says:

    Courtney Flagg, after reading your posts here, I think it is safe to say that if it were 1911 instead of 2011, there would be a room waiting for you at the Utica Insane Asylum.

  54. Joanne says:

    I was born there in August of 1960. I was told my mother was only 15 or 16 years old at that time. My records state my father was 20 years old, and often seen there with her. My mother was 1 of 5 children, father was an only child. One of her older sisters voluntarily admitted herself there in 1959. If anyone has any info or Ideas that may help in my search, please E-mail me @ JoanneVoorhees@yahoo.com
    Thanks,
    Joanne

  55. Donna Kulla says:

    I can remember sitting in my sixth grade classroom and looking out the window at this grand building. I beleive it had a brick or stone wall around it. Then when I went on to take Latin; the only thing remembered was the arcitecture. This was fasinating to me. The only thing missing is the center court yard. The Roman buildings were built,around a court yard.

  56. Harvey Yando says:

    Went to work there in July 1952 and left in October to join the USAF. I worked on wards 2 and 3 but most in the hospital on ward 4. It was an education I will never forget. Most of the patients on those wards were Syphllis sufferers. It was a very sad sight to see. I don’t suppose there are many if any of those types around.

  57. Ralph Faga says:

    Still looking for info on one of the doctors who lived in the circle with his wife and two kids Richard Trepziac any thing we used to be friends at Kernan school

  58. [...] Utica.   The west side of our city is the home of one of Columbia Square on the old Erie Canal, Old Main at the former Utica State Hospital and great neighborhood destinations like Tony Sparanga’s [...]

  59. Darlene says:

    honestly they should blow the place up for all that was done there — -I know even the concentration camps are kept for the sake of rememberance — but really this place was a place of real horror and one that destroyed the hopes and dreams of all who entered there — and all here who are glorifying it should get a grip — this was not a positive this was evil in your midst — and if you were there and watched then shame on you all — and if you were not and now think its interesting — listen with full ears — this was a horrible travesty that destroyed people and it in turn should be destroyed — I hope one day it will be off the map new campus and old and that never again will the mentally ill be treated to such abuses.

    d riley

  60. Rachel says:

    Can you tell me anything about the 14th ward?? I am researching my family, and I had a great great grandmother there and she was listed as an inmate in 14th ward, nut I can’t find out what kind of patients were housed on that ward, I appreciate any help.

  61. Kristi says:

    I am trying to find information on my great grandma. She was a patient here in 1920 when my grandma was about 3 years old. I believe she may have also been in the 14th ward. If anyone can tell me how I could obtain patient information I would really appreciate it! My email is kristilee70@hotmail.com

  62. Gayle says:

    I was a patient there in 1969 as a teenager. At that time all new patients initially went to the 5th floor in the newer building. It was called “the bridal suite” & it was anything but. Only one person on that floor was actually allowed to roam the grounds. She was known as Matawan Mary. She was a throwback to the days when a family member could pay to keep someone locked up in one of these facilities. Rumor had it Mary had a cheating husband who wanted her out of the way. She told me I reminded her of her daughter & she protected me from a violent patient. I was 16 years old at the time. I was never so glad to have her looking out for me. I’ve often thought about her down through the years, wondering if she died in there.

  63. dennis says:

    Hello where do i go to ask permission to investigat this landmark?

  64. Beth says:

    First of all, I would like to thank this site for giving attention and respect to the magnificent architectural icon that Old Main is and represents. It is truly remarkable and its size cannot be adequately conveyed through the photographic lens.
    Secondly, I would like to extend my heartfelt empathy to those who know the mental health system via necessity. I would like to offer a bit of solace, as well as a plea, to recognize that the care of mental illness has run the gamut…from hushed stigma to outrageous therapies, from ignorant shame to informed hope. There is reason for optimism with today’s therapies and pharmacological advances. Nevertheless, as a society we will always bear the stain of inadequate care, even atrocities, put upon our most vulnerable citizens. Those most deserving of kindness and compassion were greeted with isolation and ill-informed guesswork in what passed for treatment. However, it is not accurate to believe that no good ever came to the afflicted inhabitants of Utica Pyschiatric Center. There are, indeed, countless stories of lives restored, workers whose dedication was a thriving example of professionalism, and people who were discharged with a fighting chance to gain re-entry to fulfilling and productive lives. Yes, there were valiant efforts with a righteous goal, but far more is waiting to be accomplished.
    This building is not a symbol of shame, just a stoic and cavernous shell that tells the story our culture’s tortured journey in the treatment of mental illness. The system failed then because it didn’t understand the disease. Now, despite all we know, we continue to risk failure seemingly because we do not learn from history. This was seen in the next “great” change in treatment: de-institutionalization, which was designed to succeed through the provision of the community support system of case management. It championed the rights of patients to be free from hospitalization and to live in the community to receive services and, in so doing, saving the state money and closing many facilities dedicated to inpatient care. As more time has passed, community support services have become all but defunct, woefully underfunded and understaffed, which translates to undervalued. Many who need assistance languish right under our noses, or are living a cloistered existence no less imprisoned by their illness than was seen in Old Main. The offering of essential services shut down or over-burdened. Proof that successful, minimally invasive interventions are given equal footing with the barbaric and ill-conceived.
    Perhaps this is the real majesty, and travesty, of Old Main: she stands alone in her decomposing grandeur. While many gape at her beauty and marvel at her storied past, most walk or drive by on a daily basis, barely noticing her as she stands in silence. Not unlike how we continue to see mental illness.

    Thank you for helping to preserve this building’s place through photos, words, and dialogue. You did far more than showcase an amazing architectural treasure, you sparked a discussion and self-reflection on an issue of great importance to every one of us.

  65. Mary Lou says:

    I’m doing some research on a Mowers relative. Census records show that Euretta “Retta” Mowers, born abt 1869, was a patient at the Utica Hospital in 1910 and 1920. Do you know if the hospital has a cemetery on the grounds? Also, do you know where the patient records are now kept?

  66. joe squid says:

    barbara engell was my instructor when i was employed at utica psychiatric center in the early 70 s. she was very knowledgable and a wonderful teacher. i am have been employed as an r.n. for over 30 years. 323-217-5539.

  67. joe squid says:

    i was employed at u.psych. center and by that time the chains and shackles had been removed for the very reason that people would think that they still used those shackles to this day.
    there were however pictures taken of the cells with the schakles attached to the walls to show those on tour what these cells used to look like. i was employed there from 1975 untill 1980. the bars were also removed from the cells for the same reason. barb engells was my instructor and i loved her as an instructor and as a person. she had one of the greatest influences on me and motivated me to go on to become an r.n. i have worked in intensive care nursing for the last 27 years. for 26 of those years , here in los angeles ,california. my e-mail is ; jszwed@sbcglobal.net.

  68. joe squid says:

    true, the state of new york closed down state institutions as well as in california to save money, and turn the financial burden back to the local community where the facility was located in. now as a result, we have homeless people that live out of shopping carts for possibly three generations now. and they are having families of their own. yes they have become institutionalized and didnt know how to even feed themselves with a spoon.the fact that these patients had become institutionalized was the rationale for closing down those state institutions.the belief was that we created this problem of patients not being able to fend for themselves by doing everything for them. the history behind our homeless dilemma is very interesting and there is much more to it. this is just a tip of the iceberg. and i hope that it was helpful for the younger generation that wonder how this all came about.

  69. Laurie Brown says:

    I have a cousin who is looking to obtain medical records of her Aunt who was a patient here , 70 years ago . Her Aunt had seizures but back then no one knew what a seizure was , so her Aunt was placed here as a “crazy person” and died at the age of 19.
    My cousin has seizures as well as her sister and grand daughter …. she would like to obtain as much info she can on her Aunt who lived here as to many help her medical situation out
    I do not know the Aunts 1st name but her last name was Kiselica
    If records are archived here , who do we contact ?
    Thank you , Laurie

  70. joe szwed says:

    re: laurie brown searching for medical records 70 years old. normally records are kept for seven years, but there may be an exception if they are archived. i know that this didnt help any. but i hope that someone out there can. sorry.

  71. Janis Wheeler says:

    I see others asking how to obtain inmate records but no responses which address that. My great-grandmother died there after a 20+ year stay, and I’m hoping to find a record of her death. Once committed there, no one mentioned her until she died which was probably around 1960-1962. Apparently death records of inmates are not in the same archives as those of free citizens. I’d appreciate any direction someone might be able to offer.

  72. catherine m says:

    I’m a 1974 graduate from the school of nursing and an interested in finding out where all the nursing class picture ended up? As students, we lived in Dixhurst , worked in Old Main during our psy rotation,attended classes in Brigham and wandered the grounds for 3 yrs.
    Its so right, that the buildings are/where outstanding but the inside history was heartbreaking for those who lived there.
    The pictures sure captured history. Thanks you!!!

  73. Nancy Breitbach says:

    My grandmother, Margaret U. Harrig, was an inmate from I believe 1920 until her death 6/12/1947. I really would be interested in getting her medical records as well. I have found the posts to be very interesting and agree that it is a shame renovation is not an option by the state. There seems to be so much tearing down of the past that our children will never know the beauty. Any information on how to obtain my grandmother’s records would be appreciated. I am now 70 and trying to leave as much information as I can to my family. Am hoping to find our her mother’s maiden name. Thanks to those who can help me.

  74. DOnnamarie AMato says:

    I had been searching for the hospital for sometime..My grandfather was a patient at that hospital for a very brief time in 1937 and died under very suspicous circumstances? on March 31,1937. The unverified story was so sad I had to find where he spent his last days. His daughter my mother was just an infant so sad.(my mom isnow78 and i have choosen to keep this from her)
    I must say the story you told was beautiful to bad it was a hospital from hell. One woman said her father or grandfather was there and very happy. I wish that could of been the case of my grandfather that I never had a chance to meet. There was no reason he had to die at such a young age and appearently under such horrific circumstances.
    I came to Troy to do some family background and found out things that just made me cry. And when taking the taxi back to the airport the taxi driver told me about the Hosptial and that it was finally closed. Thank god now the hospitals are diffrent, our patients are protected.
    It is just so sad to think that all those years ago how the patients suffered it breaks heart. <3
    As for the building s they are beautiful but what happen there over weights the beauty..

  75. ted says:

    to Debbie carpenter, who posted on here some time back… a bunch of us that were at cranehill school in marcy are having a 35 year re-union on saturday july 27th.. if you still read this sight please get in touch with my face book page.. just look for ted goodman from scranton…looking forward to hearing from you

  76. Teresa Melnick says:

    Does anyone know of a good book on the history of the Old Main? I am doing some research on a famous murder that happened in my neck of the woods: Onondaga County (Syracuse) area. The convicted man was sent to the Utica Asylum in 1855. I know he won’t be mentioned, but I would love to read the history of the hospital. Did anyone do one? Thanks.