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This is probably the most intimidating building in all of Rochester. The 16-story Terrence Building was once heralded as a “tower of hope” for the mentally ill (see this blog post ). Today the vacant structure looms over Elmwood Avenue and the Rochester Psychiatric Center campus like a nightmare. The Elmwood psych center campus was originally constructed as the Rochester State Hospital. This state-run mental hospital took over responsibilities from the Monroe County Insane Asylum in 1891. The Terrence Building was opened in 1959 and housed over 1,000 beds until 1995 when the last patients were moved to newer facilities elsewhere on the campus.
If you’ve ever wondered what’s inside, you’d not be alone. One RocSubway reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) found a way into the secured building. He submitted several photos, along with this written account of his expedition. Be sure to watch the related video at the end of this post to learn more about the Terrence Building…
“Ever since I first drove past the structure, I had wanted to know more about it. It had that presence that made it seem overly important and permanent. When I learned it was abandoned, my interest peaked. I started to look online for information about its history and anything about people getting inside. I hardly found anything.
With the ground floor sealed and patrolling security, I wrote it off for years as impossible to get in to and that I would never know what was within those tall walls. It was when I saw a recently posted picture online from the roof of the building that I knew I was wrong.
It was Sunday morning. The sun wasn’t up yet, but I was. Packed and ready to go for a trip that until a few days prior I thought I would never get a chance to do. I had heard about a possible opening into the building. With that seemingly figured out, I just had to get in without being seen.
I parked in a neighborhood across the street to keep my car off the property. I crossed Elmwood Avenue and, under the cover of darkness, approached the monolithic and imposing structure. Sure enough, my proposed entry point was unsealed. This was what I had been waiting for. I timed my entry and slithered in through the broken glass and plywood. It was now 5:15am and I was inside a building I had only seen in dreams. The Terrence Building.
I went to the lobby and the front stairs first. From there, looking back up at the building, it felt like I was going straight into the belly of the beast. In the bottom of a spaceship. 17 floors of unknown medical and surgical science loomed above me in the hazy pre-dawn mist. It was just me and this spectacular structure, alone at last.
I quickly found the nearest stairwell and took it to the 15th floor, where I then switched to an alternate staircase to gain entry to the top floors of mechanics, piping and the roof. There I witnessed a picturesque sunrise the likes of which I’ve never seen. From here it seemed as though I was on top of the world, but much was left to conquer below me.
At 6:00 am I headed down the roof hatch and started the descent. Room after room. Hallway after hallway. Large day rooms seemingly untouched since they closed the doors in the mid 1990s. Other areas looked as though they had been neglected for several decades.
As an architecture enthusiast, I was enthralled to learn how the structure of the building was laid out. It was divided into East and West with the elevators in the middle. Each wing was nearly identical on each side except 15 East, which was filled with surgical rooms, and the first and second floors, which included classrooms and offices.
At the end of all hallways except for those facing Elmwood Avenue, were large open areas. Each largely different from the others. Some were completely empty, some were half walled, some had small rooms, some were set up for recreational use, others for sleeping.
It was when I entered one on the 14th East floor that I felt something. I was hunkered down in the corner trying to get some photographs of the sterile and clean room when I felt completely at ease. It was an interesting feeling. I had figured that since I would be in an abandoned psychiatric tower by myself at the crack of dawn that every turn I took would be haunting and terrifying.
After entering and navigating the 15 flights of stairs in the darkness to do my roof climb, I was nervous and anxious, like I was invading on the building’s privacy. However, in that room I didn’t feel fear, uneasiness, or anything but a very welcoming, and frankly, overwhelming sense of being. I’m not one for paranormal experiences, but in several places in this building I felt a comfortable connection, as if the story of life in this vertical world was to be told.
Rooms were cramped and small. No more than 7′ by 10′, probably even smaller in some cases. There were communal showers and bathrooms at each hallway junction. They were cramped, crude, and some only had small partitions between toilets. The windows were sealed behind layers of glass and locks.
I had gone through a handful of floors now, and started to get a confined and claustrophobic view on how many spent their lives in the tower. I grew anxious, wanting to get closer to earth and the world I knew outside. It was as if I had stepped off into my unconscious; a bad dream. Hallway after hallway of unending rooms, repeated, over and over with no escape.
Every door had locks and deadbolts. West patients probably never saw the patients to the East and were confined to their tiny spit of tile overlooking a world they dreamed to return to.
At 7:30 am I had hit the fourth floor. This was the start of many additional wings and protrusions from the building. It included more dayrooms, exercise centers, classrooms, and public cafeterias…
Water leaking through the roof had deteriorated many of these spaces, creating a tense feeling as I went past the pitch black elevator lobbies to the rear of the building.
At last I reached the main floor.
The main lobby was small and impersonal. A large glass box was situated in the middle as the reception desk. What once was the main entrance to the building was cold, quiet, and neglected. Hanging plants by the front stairs sat silent and still. Broken glass had become the new floor covering. I retreated back into the building, this time to go one more floor down.
It might have been 9am but you would never know it down here. The bowels of the old psychiatric hospital were damp and dilapidated. I pressed through the veins out to each wing. Cold empty rooms greeted me at each corner. The elevators had come to rest down here, with doors half open filled with supplies and emergency equipment from the floors above. The main kitchen, at one time presumably fitted with the best appliances and resources was now a shell. Only the large commercial hood remained. I turned and went down a final hallway scattered with debris. A large printer sat idle in the corner.
I turned and hit the morgue. A small and unassuming room. A dainty autopsy table sat in the center with a chalkboard overlooking it. On it was different body parts written in white paint along with ‘Time’ and ‘Date’ of death written at the top. I turned around to find six empty body freezers facing me. One open and out as if the employees almost forgot something on their way out nearly two decades ago.
I had my fill. I crawled back out my entrance and cautiously walked down the main sidewalk to my car. I turned one more time to see the place I had gotten to know so well that day. I couldn’t help but think, I was only in there for part of one day… I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to be there any longer than that.’
After the Erie Canal was rerouted south of downtown Rochester, the Rochester
Industrial & Rapid Transit Railway (the subway) was built in
its place as a link between the five different railroads and interurban trolley
lines that served the Rochester area. As the industrial landscape of Rochester
changed, and highways replaced the railroads, the Rochester subway gradually
became a relic of a bygone era. In 1956 the subway was abandoned and much of
its route was converted into Interstate 490 built to connect Rochester
with the New York State Thruway (I-90). Read more about the history of the Rochester Subway.
RochesterSubway.com exists to help spark
public dialogue around how we can better connect the neighborhoods of Rochester
NY, surrounding communities, and their cultural offerings. Rochesters
future is written in her past. Let's rediscover it.