The complex of the Rochester Psychiatric Center (a.k.a. Rochester State Hospital or Monroe County Insane Asylum) is legendary among urban explorers and history fanatics alike. Originally built in the early 1800s as the Monroe County Almshouse (or poorhouse), new buildings and facilities were gradually added to care for the mentally ill.
Although the hospital still operates to this day, a few buildings were closed in the mid-1990s and now sit in various states of decay. One notable example we’ve explored previously is the towering 16-story Terrence Building which looms over Elmwood Avenue. Another is the sprawling Walters Building (originally known as the Orleans Building) which we’ll be exploring today…
First, a word of caution for any would-be explorers. These buildings are extremely well protected. Both Terrence and Walters have been sealed off to the outside world for over 20 years. And since this complex is still operated as a hospital, security guards patrol the grounds 24/7.
UPDATE: This article previously stated that the State still owned the hospital, however, a commenter pointed out that Al Sigl Center purchased these buildings about 10 years ago.
The following photos were provided to RocSubway by Snoop Junkie – Rochester Urban Exploration Squad . In an email Snoop Junkie told us, “These photos were taken some time ago by an anonymous and mostly freelance member of the group when this building was less secure than it is now. I strongly discourage any and all from trying to gain access into this building. It’s extremely dangerous in many ways, but also can (and most likely will) land you in serious trouble with authorities. The building is currently completely sealed, NYS camera surveillance presence is strong, and the state will prosecute.”
Alrighty, let’s go inside…
The Monroe County Insane Asylum was founded in 1857. It was sold to New York State and became the Rochester State Hospital in 1891. And in 1974 it was renamed the Rochester Psychiatric Center. The Orleans (Walters) Building was constructed sometime around 1930 as an infirmary.
A newspaper article by Arthur P. Reed Jr. published in the D&C in 1934—right around the time the Howard and Orleans Buildings were first opened—heralds the facilities as being “completely equipped” to treat mental ills in “modern manner”.
“It is not an ‘insane asylum’ as that word is used in history; with its connotations of raving lunatics and mad Napoleons. Rather it is a hospital for the insane and those whose mental condition is warped to a degree that prevents their participation in the normal life of a civilized environment.”
While in the basement, our explorers came across a locked, steel door leading into a tunnel. The first time they passed by the tunnel was pitch dark, but on their way out they noticed a light coming from beyond the door. The glass in its little square window was broken out. A very long extension cord was running from somewhere within the tunnel, through the broken window to an outlet in Walters. “We had no idea what to make of it but figured that was a good time to get out of there.”
It turns out that the tunnel leads to another building in the complex—the Howard group of buildings—directly north of Walters. You can see the underground passageway on the plat map (above) from 1935. The Howard buildings—named for the state institution’s first superintendent, Dr. Eugene H. Howard—are still in use today.
These are giant sanitary tanks. Signs on the walls indicate this was part of a nuclear fallout shelter. Similar tanks also exist in the basement of Terrence tower.
“In appearance and atmosphere, the Rochester State Hospital, situated on an expansive tract at South and Elmwood avenues, where open fields begin to stretch away into the distance, resembles most an ordinary hospital and convalescent home.”
On July 17, 1894, Mrs. Gertrude Ehinger, a 77 year old patient of 5 years was knocked down on the floor of a lavatory by another patient, Mrs. Mary McClelland. Ehinger sustained injuries which resulted in her death later in the day.
The “accidental” death of a patient on Valentine’s Day, 1947, was reported on by several newspapers. Robert Grahan, 47, was found dead reportedly of natural causes, but with several broken ribs which his death certificate listed as “cause unknown”.
In a report later that year, the hospital referred to Grahan’s death, and stated that “theoretically, it might be possible to prevent all injuries if there were enough attendants.” But that “this is impossible and inadvisable.”
The report went on to say, “There are 3,100 mentally ill patients in the hospital, many of whom are disturbed and violent.” In connection with the report, the hospital board revealed that they had 158 vacancies on the payroll – primarily ward attendants.
Apparently it was not easy to find people who wanted to work at the hospital. Conscientious objectors (individuals who objected to serving in the armed forces) during the 1960s were often sent to work at the hospital by state draft boards.
A 1967 newspaper story from Watertown, NY tells of one member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, David Paul Ritton, 20, who was sentenced to a year in prison for refusing to go to work at the Rochester State Hospital. The Watertown draft board had assigned him to serve at the hospital for two years, but Ritton said it conflicted with his religious beliefs and refused to report for work.
Investigators actually witnessed several carloads of bad eggs and moldly, slimy meat being delivered to one hospital in Poughkeepsie. Some of the beef, investigators said, was decomposing in spots. It was later found that the State Hospital Commission would routinely purchase old eggs and bad meat for the institutions.
One legislator indicated that fires in the Rochester hospital were “altogether too frequent” and that he understood that in one case where a fire had occurred, it had been caused by rubbish being left in the cellar.
The article reported that this was the first state hospital in the United States to have physical exercises of this nature for the patients. “They were originated by Dr. Charles La Moore, who began with a small group of young patients” before expanding the program.
Tags: abandoned, abandoned places, David Paul Ritton, Dr. Charles La Moore, Dr. Eugene H. Howard, Dr. John L. VanDeMark, Elmwood Avenue, Howard Buildings, insane asylum, Joseph Goder trash incinerator, mentally ill, Monroe County Almshouse, Monroe County Insane Asylum, Mrs. Gertrude Ehinger, Mrs. Mary McClelland, Orleans Building, photography, Robert Grahan, Rochester, Rochester NY, rochester photos, Rochester Psychiatric Center, Rochester State Hospital, Snoop Junkie, Snoop Junkie Rochester Urban Exploration Squad, South Avenue, Terrence Building, Terrence Tower, urban decay, urban exploration, urban explorers, Walters Building
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 at 11:43 pm and is filed under Architecture, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Exploration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.