Abandoned: The Last Remnants of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center (Photos)


Previously: North Brother Island.

In upstate New York, there’s a town called Dover. Within Dover is a hamlet known as Wingdale, and in Wingdale lies the ruins of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center. Originally meant to be a correctional facility, the Wingdale Prison, complaints from the local population caused the under-construction buildings to be repurposed as a state hospital. It opened its doors in 1924; at its height in the mid-1950s, its 800 acres held 80 buildings, 5,000 employees, and more than 5,000 patients.

With its scenic surroundings and brick buildings, the facility was strangely picturesque; it had its own baseball field and grandstand, a bakery, a bowling alley, a golf course, one of New York State’s largest dairy farms, and even an ice cream shop. But there’s also a darker side to the story, reflective of the state of mental health care at the time: In the 1930s, Harlem Valley became the first asylum in the United States to use insulin shock therapy; it also played a large role in the introduction of electroshock therapy in the ‘40s, as well as of the pre-frontal lobotomy thought to have originated at Danvers State Hospital.

Like so many of the U.S.’s state hospitals, Harlem Valley’s population was waning by the ‘60s. Overcrowding and underfunding led to the mistreatment of patients; furthermore, laws passed in the 1970s eliminated the need for large institutions, preferring instead to treat patients in smaller and less expensive facilities. The Harlem Valley State Psychiatric Center ceased operations in 1994, and ever since, its deserted buildings have dotted the landscape, a reminder of a time otherwise forgotten.

But even these ghostly remains will soon be gone. Although plans to turn the grounds into a retirement village in 2004 fell through, the property has been purchased again, this time by an evangelical university. Olivet University intends to turn the hospital into a college campus, potentially using the old buildings themselves — an idea which may or may not be a good one. Said David Allee, a former urban planner who has frequently photographed the site, “It’s become a hazardous waste. The buildings were so full of asbestos and mold that I’m shocked anybody thinks they could rehab them.” Still, though, the town is excited about the arrival of the school; it will open up countless jobs for the population, and in spite of the controversy surrounding Olivet University founder David Jang, the university might rejuvenate the town.

Only time will tell.

13 thoughts on “Abandoned: The Last Remnants of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center (Photos)

  1. Interesting! My father, Albert Hammerseth died at the hospital in January 1934 and to this day I am trying to determine where he is buried as according to records from Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center, received March 1980 he is buried in the hospital cemetery. Here I am at 87 years trying to search the location of his body Can you help or know of a way to get information?

    1. Wow, that’s quite a history! Unfortunately I’m not sure exactly who to contact — although it might be worth checking with Olivet Management, who are heading up the rebuilding process. There website can be found here: http://olivetmanagement.com/

      Maybe they can point you in the right direction. Best of luck!

    2. Thelma, I don’t know if this message will reach you, but I have a little experience with Harlem Valley Hospital, and I would like to share with you. Please contact me if you are interested.

  2. In talking with my daughter she had investigated the Olivet website and made contact with the company only to be advised they had no information to offer regarding the burial grounds.

  3. I understand the cemetery was up on the hill.. When the med/surg building was constructed they had to move
    Some of the graves.

  4. Things got really bad here in later years. My grandfather’s brother checked himself in for treatment at around age 25 (social anxiety leading to occasional violent outbursts), and he never came out. Shock treatment destroyed his mind, we know of at least one occasion when the staff roughed him up (broken arm and black eye), and he stayed here until the place shut down and he was moved to a place down in the Bronx where he wasted away until he died. He was a real sweetheart who would give people the shirt off his back and a hell of a talented artist, tragic waste of life and a stark case study of the horrifically unethical treatment of mental patients in the 50s through the turn of the century.

  5. My Father worked at the facility as well as my mother and sister until it closing I know exactly where “the Gates of Heaven” are were they buried the clients with no family who passed there, however you will need permission from the current owners to enter property security is rather tight there even though it seems not to be and you need the ID# of the client you are looking for due to there are only small number markers there no named stones with a lot of sinking sites which after 20 years might be a little dangerous to tread. The cemetery is marked or was by a iron gate with “Gate To Heaven” spelled in the iron work in an arch over it and it is past the farm and the golf course in the opposite direction of Building 85 which was what you are calling the hospital building on the hill.

  6. It’s actually “Gate Of Heaven”, and there isn’t a gate, exactly… it’s two brick columns with an ironwork arch that spells out those words. There are only 5 headstones there now, and no other markers at all in that cemetery. I was told there’s a second cemetery at the other end of the Olivet property, and that one may have more markers. Problem is, even with proof of relationship, NYS won’t give you an exact location of where someone is buried. I suspect they have lost track.

  7. Why is the security so tight there? Hasn’t this place been abandoned for years? Do the police visit this area often? I couldn’t imagine there would be a security guard or police who make rounds.

    1. The property was unused, but not abandoned. NY State owned it, but now it is owned by a private company, and they are refurbishing the buildings to be used for a college campus. The property is patrolled by guards, and gates in and out are locked unless you have permission from the property management department.

  8. I am trying to find out what happened to my Grandmother’s sister Ida who died here at the age of 40 in 1959. Does anyone know where records are? And if there is a way to access them?

  9. According to a sign posted in front of the cemetery, if you wish to visit the site, you should contact the Bureau of Consumer Affairs at the NYS Office of Mental Health at 518-473-6579. There are currently only four headstones there.

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