1866: Organizational establishment; board of managers assembled.
1867: 296-acre tract in Poughkeepsie secured as build site in the Hudson Valley. Dr. J. M. Cleaveland selected as first medical superintendent of HRSH. Board of managers selects Frederick Clarke Withers as architect. Calvert Vaux & Frederick Law Olmstead selected to design the grounds and landscape. Main building construction started. Dock and wharf constructed.
1871: Main building, laundry & tailor shop completed. HRSH opens its doors; first 7 patients admitted.
1873: Public concern & criticism over HRSH build costs.
1876: Fourth hospital building completed.
1880: Main building group completed.
1886: HRSH School of Nursing founded.
1889: Central Group (Blocks A, B, C, D) and Edgewood buildings opened.
1891: HRSH initiates uniform policy for attendants.
1892: Eight patient cottages built. Campus now referred to as “hospital” and not “asylum.”
1893: Carpenter Shop built. Investigation into HRSH financial affairs by State Commission in Lunacy finds institution “grossly mismanaged.” Dr. Cleaveland resigns; Dr. Pilgrim becomes second superintendent of HRSH.
1894: HRSH begins annual “Field Day” event.
1895: HRSH gets electric lighting.
1896: HRSH mortuary & laboratory completed.
1897: Greenhouses & Staff cottages added to HRSH.
1898: North wing opened.
1899: Railroad line from Poughkeepsie to HRSH opened.
1900: Tenant homes constructed. HRSH’s Dr. Pilgrim achieves national acclaim for “Hour of Death” study.
1904: Superintendent house & Staff House #13 built. HRSH employees form a union.
1905: Amusement Hall built.
1906: Ziegler house remodeled as HRSH staff house. HRSH kitchen gets first “chemical refrigerator.” Sunrooms added to cottages 4 & 5. Blacksmith & garages built. Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Chapel opened.
1908: New $100,000 80-bed acute hospital (“psychopathic building”) under construction. Inwood Hall opened. Dr. Pilgrim’s tub therapy (“Live for weeks in the bathtub”) makes national headlines.
1910: HRSH patient library opened.
1914: Farming operations begin at HRSH. Scarlet fever sweeps the hospital, which shifts to use of pasteurized milk.
1916: Dr. Charles W. Pilgrim leaves HRSH to become chairman of state hospital commission
1917: Dr. Walter G. Ryon becomes 3rd superintendent of HRSH.
1918: HRSH 25% overcrowded and serves as Medical Advisory Board draft examination point for World War I.
1920: 105 acres added to HRSH bringing total size to 894 acres. Patient shelter pavilion opened.
1923: HRSH opens new $75,000 tuberculosis hospital.
1924: Cottage 4 renovated and re-opened as Cleaveland Home.
1926: Dr. Clarence O. Cheney becomes 4th superintendent of HRSH. Avery Protestant Chapel & another staff residence with garage built.
1929: Brookside infirmary & Avery Home opened. Staff apartments #2 and #3 and staff cottage #2 opened. Power house and machine shop built. HRSH 20% overcrowded.
1930: Auto repair shop opens at HRSH.
1932: Ryon Hall opened. Pilgrim Home & Poucher Homes opened. 5-family staff building #4 opened. Dr. Ralph P. Folsom becomes 5th superintendent of HRSH.
1938: HRSH begins practicing insulin therapy.
1941: Dr. John R. Ross becomes 6th superintendent of HRSH.
1945: Dr. Ross fires four attendants after “Ryon Hall Incident,” sparked to attention by Eleanor Roosevelt column.
1948: HRSH opens new food service training school. Refrigerating plant opened. Dr. Ross resigns; Dr. Wirt C. Groom becomes 7th superintendent of HRSH.
1950: Dr. O. Arnold Kilpatrick becomes 8th superintendent of HRSH.
1952: HRSH opens the $8M+, 960-bed Dr. Clarence O. Cheney Memorial Building. Unions clash with HRSH management over patients performing maintenance & road upgrades.
1954: HRSH opens Ross pavilion to serve psychiatric patients with tuberculosis. HRSH kicks off NBC’s “March of Medicine” mini-series, which featured tours of mental institutions.
1955: HRSH reaches peak patient population of 6,000.
1956: HRSH opens day hospital treatment center for outpatients.
1957: Dr. Robert C. Hunt becomes 9th superintendent of HRSH. Lobotomies & insulin therapies discontinued.
1958: HRSH opens third intensive treatment unit for geriatric patients. “Search for Sanity” film which features care & treatments at HRSH airs to the public.
1959: HRSH begins experimenting with outpatient pre-hospital care & treating psychoses without hospitalization.
1960: 90% of HRSH wards “unlocked.” Farm operations at HRSH terminated.
1961: HRSH opened Hillcrest Academy children’s school on upper campus in newly-renovated older building.
1962: Dr. Herman B. Snow becomes 10th superintendent of HRSH. Hospital loses accreditation due to use of foreign doctors. Food services training school re-opened with $200k Federal grant.
1965: HRSH receives accreditation again.
1969: $2.9M contract awarded to build new rehabilitation center at HRSH. Local communities push back against outpatient HRSH halfway home program.
1971: 67,000 square-foot Rehabilitation Center opened (later re-dedicated as Herman B. Snow Building).
1972: Civil Service Employees strike and walk off their jobs. HRSH re-opens Kingston Halfway House. HRSH offers vocational training program through Dutchess College. HRSH now entitled to accept Medicare benefits after being approved by Social Security Administration as a medical-surgical hospital.
1973: HRSH deeds 33 acres, currently used by the hospital as a landfill, back to Dutchess County.
1974: HRSH School of Nursing accepts final incoming class. HRSH begins organizational metamorphosis into HRPC.
1975: North and South wings of Main building (Building 51) empty.
1977: HRPC accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. School of Nursing closes after 91 years; final graduating class: 1,062.
1978: Hillcrest School closed.
1979: North and South wings of Main building officially closed. HRPC supervisors begin sending requests to OMH to consider demolition of Building 51.
1982: HRSH Historical Museum established in former patient library.
1987: Historic Preservation and OMH clash over plan to demolish Building 51 North & South wings. Flooring in the South Wing collapses. Contractors refuse to work in the buildings.
1988: Another section of flooring in South Wing collapses, this time shearing a steam main. Following the 1987 death of Dr. Snow, the 1971 Rehabilitation Center is re-dedicated as the Herman B. Snow Rehabilitation Center. 250 visitors gathered and planted a time capsule. OGS investigates costs to mothball Building 51.
1989: OGS returns estimate of $2.9M to stabilize Building 51. Central admin section of main Kirkbride building (Building 51) added to National Historic Landmark registry. Roof ripped off section of Building 51, HRPC spends $45,000 to repair.
1990: Environmental impact consultants inspect Building 51 and prepare a report. Plant superintendent asks for $60,000 to board up windows of Building 51 with plywood.
1994: Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center consolidated into HRSH/HRPC.
1997: State of N.Y. begins quietly marketing HRSH/HRPC property.
1998: Developers look at Cheney Memorial Building as a potential rental apartment complex. Hudson Heritage, LLC, is formed for the purpose of purchasing & redeveloping the lower campus.
2000: Hudson Heritage signs contract with state of NY to acquire the land for $1.9 million. Cheney Memorial Building is abandoned.
2001: HRSH/HRPC lower campus closes, remaining patients moved to Ross Pavilion at upper campus.
2002: Alliance House crisis residence opened. Last of admin functions vacated from main building.
2004: HRSH Historical Museum re-located to 2nd floor of Cleaveland Home.
2005: Sale of lower campus finally closes – 156 acres of HRSH/HRPC sold to Hudson Heritage, LLC, for $2.75M. HH applies for re-zoning licenses. Town of Poughkeepsie installs building moratorium.
2007: Major fire burns most of South wing. Entire roof is destroyed, exposing wards.
2008: Floors of exposed South wing are completely collapsed. HH sells its interest in the property to Community Preservation Corporation (CPC).
2011: $10 billion budget deficit forces OMH to finally close HRPC.
2012: HRPC officially closes. The last 150 patients from HRPC are moved to Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg. HRSH Historical Museum also closes and looks for a new home. CPC’s plans to redevelop the campus grind to halt, property re-listed for sale by CPC for $14M. Main Kirkbride (Building 51) National Historic Landmark designation plaque stolen.
2013: HRSH/HRPC property sold to partnership of EnviroFinance Group (EFG) and Diversified Realty Advisors (DRA) for $14 million.
2014: The Alliance, Clearwater, Highview, and Hillcrest Homes continue to serve Hudson Valley as crisis and halfway homes.
2015: EFG & DRA announce $200M plan to develop site, $14 million bill for demolition of 59 structures. Fire destroys Brookside Infirmary’s roof; exposed floors begin to collapse.
In September of 1936 a fire destroyed a patient ward and caused $10,000 in damage while displacing 43 patients. Six months later, another fire broke out, this time in the women employees’ quarters on the fourth floor of the main building. That forced the evacuation of 250 patients, and after three hours of burning it caused $15,000 in damages.
In February of 1966 a fire ravaged a family care home operated by the HRSH, killing four patients. A major fire destroyed a hospital wing in the 1960’s and threatened to spread to the administration building, but was halted in a connecting hallway. The section was rebuilt, although some large beams roof beams still showed evidence of the earlier fire.
In June of 1967 a fire swept through a corridor and into a ward of the Administration Building. One hundred firemen from four departments battled the flames and assisted in moving hospital patients to safety. Dr. Snow estimated the damage to be around $250,000 (pictured at above right).
Fireman saved the chapel on the HRSH grounds in October of 1969. Fire was discovered in the basement of the church, fire units from multiple companies were dispatched to the scene (pictured at left).
On May 31, 2007, lightning struck the south wing and the ensuing fire destroyed the roof. The former male bedding ward was critically damaged beyond repair (video courtesy retom7 below).
In April of 2010 Firefighters responded to two separate fires at HRPC. On April 23rd a blaze consumed a portion of Ryon Hall. Nine hours later a bigger fire destroyed one of the former staff-houses. Both fires were suspicious; authorities believe they were deliberately set.
On July 17th, 2015, the Brookside Building caught fire. The roof was destroyed, exposing its wards to the elements and hastening its pace toward a fate like that of Building 51. In October of 2015 the Hillcrest House kitchen caught fire when cooking food was left unattended.
Hudson River State Hospital Record of Deviance & Misfortune
Hudson River State Hospital (HRSH) was known for its adventurous, erratic, and sometimes unruly employees and patients. While there are instances of employees and patients of HRSH doing good things (such as in September of 1919 when a HRSH patient saved a Poughkeepsie citizen from drowning in the Hudson River), on most occasions there was mischief.
On some occasions the infractions were harmless or humorous, such as the time a HRSH patient posed as a consulting engineer and sent plans for an elaborate high-pressure water system to the Poughkeepsie City Mayor. The plans were actually presented at a Board of Public Works meeting. Another case: Unbeknownst to HRSH officials, one insane patient escaped the hospital every morning to work a day job as a bartender, only to return to his room at the hospital every night.
Yet another patient, posing as an attractive and wealthy female, submitted a faux romantic ad to the newspapers. For several weeks letters from all over the country flooded the local post office. When the hoax was uncovered, the man admitted he submitted the ad and “laughed heartily” as his romantic ad was read aloud by doctors (pictured below).
Reasons for admissions were sometimes fantastically absurd. There were many escapes without incidents, but there were far more escapes with them. Even routine discharges ended as anything but; often there was collateral damage.
In August of 1915 a male attendant and female nurse from HRSH mysteriously went missing together. In November of 1915 a patient wrote to President Wilson telling him there were German spies near the HRSH. In December of 1915 a 27 year-old patient spent 14 hours hiding in the flue of a furnace before her moans for help were heard.
One patient who was released as “cured” in 1929 was missing less than a decade later. Between 1932 and 1933 a HRSH nurse contracted tuberculosis while nursing tubercular patients. In March of 1937 a former patient fatally shot his father and assaulted his mother before engaging in a gunfight with state troopers.
An ex-patient was arrested in April of 1956 for attacking two women. In May of 1957 a 23 year-old HRSH escapee stole a car. In October of the following year a 27 year-old escapee did the same before leading police on a wild chase. In January of 1959 a 40 year-old HRSH patient escaped twice in a span of several weeks. Months later a 51 year-old ex-patient of HRSH, who claimed he escaped from the hospital, was charged with 20 counts of arson.
In the summer a 20 year-old HRSH escapee stole a car and crashed into three other vehicles before being apprehended. The HRSH suffered another black eye in 1965 when a police raid on the hospital resulted in the arrest of three men for illegal possession of narcotics. Four others were charged with possession of a dangerous weapon, and an eighth was charged for possession of obscene literature.
In 1973 a HRSH attendant was arrested and charged with “custodial interference” for taking an 80-year-old patient from the hospital to a remote area in town and leaving him there. In July of 1975 two HRPC residents escaped and stole a loaded propane gas truck before flipping it on the highway a short time later. In October of 1976 an argument became heated when five inmates barricaded themselves in HRPC before setting sheets on fire.
And they liked to break glass. ‘‘I can’t keep up with [the patients] anymore,they put out so much glass,” said a janitor while covering a window’s cracks with duct tape. ‘‘It happens quite frequently around here.”
Hudson River State Hospital Record of Employee & Patient Deaths
Deathsat HudsonRiverStateHospitalwere notuncommon, which is not surprising because it was a hospital. Our sample size is comparatively small, but we know the annual patient mortality rate during HRSH’s early years fluctuated between 7% and 19%. A conservative 5% mortality estimate of HRSH’s 6,000 patients in 1955 would equal 300 patient deaths in that year alone.
From 1871 until 1881 the HRSH admitted 1,671 patients, of whom 267 died. That’s a death-rate of sixteen percent across the hospital’s first ten years. Data culled from annual reports and news stories confirms a similar average in ensuing years.
Hospital deaths are not inherently suspicious, however sometimes the circumstances surrounding deaths at HRSH were mysterious, questionable, or suicide. And sometimes the patient did the killing.
Listed below are the deaths that stood out due to their circumstances or unusual reporting: