This Red Building Used To Be An Insane Asylum. 20 Years Later, You'll Find This Inside

The 440-acre grounds on Seneca Lake were first purchased in 1853 with the idea that it would become the Ovid Agricultural College where men returning from the Civil War could learn farming skills.

However, the program was unsuccessful and only a few months after opening, the campus was abandoned.

That year, Dr. Sylvester D. Willard, the surgeon general of New York, had condemned the deplorable conditions of county-run almshouses, where people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic addiction and epilepsy and birth defects were being housed.

New York had already opened the Utica State Hospital in 1843 in an attempt to improve living conditions, but Dr. Willard recommended the opening of a second asylum.

By the time President Lincoln signed the bill Dr. Willard proposed, Dr. Willard had died of typhoid fever. The asylum was named in Willard's honor.


The building was divided into two wings: the men's and the women's.

In 1866, a steamboat docked at Seneca Lake, and Mary Rote, a woman born with physical deformities, became Patient No.1 at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane.

She had spent the last decade chained to a wall in a Columbia County almshouse with little access to bedding or clothing.

Within months, Willard was filled to its 250 bed capacity. 

By 1869, several detached buildings had been built on Willard's campus. 

There were dormitories for patients and staff members, a nursing station, generator, gymnasium and a morgue.


By 1890, the facility had been renamed the Willard State Hospital and housed more than 2,000 patients.

The name change also reflected a shift in Willard Hospital's focus, as they started to accept patients with more acute care needs.

The hospital continued growing, adding Eliot Hall in 1931, where electric shock therapies and ice-bath treatments, once quite common, were administered. Yet even by this time, deinstitutionalization began across the United States.

By 1995, Willard closed its doors for good. Today, the Romulus Historical Society gives tours of the abandoned facility in the Finger Lakes.

Credit: Freaktography | Exploring Upstate

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