Preservation Effort: Historical

Beginning in 1979 the supervisors of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center (HRPC) began compiling and sending requests to the Office of Mental Health (OMH) to review and consider their request for the complete demolition of the recently closed patient wards; located in Building 51. The wards were deemed an “attractive nuisance”, and a risk to both patients and staff. HRPC would struggle for 11 years to have the North and South Wings torn down until the efforts of few landed Building 51 a place on the National Historic Registry, securing it as a National Landmark.

Below is a multi-media timeline of photographs, documents, letters, and news clippings – outlining the proposed demolition of both North and South Wings of Building 51 and the actions of those who fought to have the building preserved.

** Please note; this timeline is a work in progress and was last updated 01.01.07 **


April 14, 1980

To: John Egan – Executive Deputy Director OMH
From: Ann Webster Smith – Deputy Commission for Historic Preservation

Dear Commissioner Egan,

Since our conversation on 9 April and my letter of 8 April, this office, as the State Historic Preservation Office, has received documents in support of a proposal to nominate the Old Hudson River State Hospital to the National Register of Historic Places. The proposal was made by the Historical Society at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center, which began work on the nomination project over a year ago following a meeting with the Dutchess Country Landmark Association and staff from the Office of Parks and Recreation’s Historic Preservation Field Services Bureau.

The sponsor of the nomination now tells us and recent newspaper reports confirm, that one or more structures at the center are proposed for demolition and that OGS is currently considering bids for demolition. This is a matter of serious concern to us since the main building, its wings and a number of other structures on the grounds of the Hospital are considered distinguished examples of nineteenth century architecture. Indeed, the oldest portions of the Hospital exhibit some of the finest High Victorian Gothic style architecture which survives in this country. The main building complex is documented as an example of the work of Frederick Withers, a leading proponent of that style during the second half of the nineteenth century.

This case points up the need for us to meet at your earliest convenience to discuss steps which might lead to the protection of properties of historic, architectural or cultural significance which are administrated by the State. The Hudson River Psychiatric Center was listed as a category II property in the attachment to my 8 April letter, and it would seem that many, if not all, of New York’s major nineteenth century state hospitals may have uncertain futures. Some difficult decision must be made in the next few years about the disposition of some of these buildings, a number of which are of exceptional quality, as is the Old Hudson River State Hospital. I believe that there structures and complexes deserve careful consideration before final and irreversible decision concerning their disposition are made. Such building are irreplaceable and, when there were constructed, many of them represented the finest designs, materials and workmanship available, considerations which should be reflected as part of any discussion about their ultimate disposition, even though they may no longer meet the changing needs of one agency or one program.

A you know, we look forward to working with you and your staff, and are confident that we can develop the means for the preservation, protection, us and reuse of the important historic architectural and cultural resources which are under the State’s stewardship.


Ann Webster Smith
Deputy Commission for Historic Preservation


December 21, 1981

To: George A. Roberts – Director, Bureau of Land Management OMH
From: Stephen J. Raiche – Director, Historic Preservation Field Services

Dear Mr. Roberts:

Thank you for consulting with the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation concerning future plans for the Hudson River Psychiatric Center. It is our understanding that the Office of Mental Health is currently discussing with the Office of General Services plans for demolition at this facility. Relative to this matter, we are providing comments in accordance with Section 14.09 of the New York State Historic Preservation Act of 1980.

I am enclosing for your reference a copy of an April 15, 1980 letter addressed to Commissioner Egan of the Office of General Services. In that letter, we indicated that there is local support for nominating the Hudson River Psychiatric Center to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. At the present time, we wish to advise you that it is the option of the Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that the main building and related structures at the facility meet the criteria of the State Register of Historic Places. This complex is noted for its distinguished examples of nineteenth century institutional architecture, representative of the work of Frederick Withers and of some of the finest examples of High Victorian Gothic style architecture surviving in this country.

Based upon your recent telephone conversation with Lenore Kuwik of my staff, we understand that the plans for demolition were NOT grandfathered in accordance with the state preservation law. Therefore, proposed demolition is subject to review. Demolition at this facility would constitute an adverse effect.

We would like to open discussion with your agency and the Office of General Services concerning alternatives to demolition. We have been advised recently by the Dutchess Country Department of Planning that the facility may have reuse potential, and we are anticipating a development proposal in the near future. We are anxious to explore with you ways in which the adverse effect of demolition can be avoided.

If you should have any questions, please call me at 518-474-XXXX, or Lenore Kuwik at 518-474-XXXX.


Stephen J. Raiche
Director, Historic Preservation Field Services


July 21, 1987

To: Robert Bentley – Chief Project Manager OMH
From: Robert D. Coffey – Plant Superintendent


Dear Bob:

In February of this year, I sent you a letter describing the collapse of a section of flooring in South Wing. On a subsequent visit you were able to personally view the area. More recently, New York Telephone Company personnel refused to work in the South Wing and we were required to reroute some ducts outside to accommodate their lines.

Attached is a single line diagram of our steam distribution system and the area circled shows where the system passes through the South Wing. In this area, there are three 6″ steam supply lines, one 4″ and two 3″ return lines all suspended from the floor joists where they pass through the building (approximately 280 feet). If we were to suffer a similar collapse in this area, it would eliminate supply of steam to buildings #69 and 55 through tunnel #8 and to buildings #11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 23, 61, 59, and 98. This group includes the Regional Offices, Cheney Building, and Ryon Hall, as well as the Rehab Center.

Rerouting of these lines has been requested as part of the capital budget request for demolition of North and South Wings. It does not appear that this project will be funded any time in the near future and I cannot over-emphasize the need for some type of project to correct this very hazardous existing condition.

In addition to the steam supply and return lines, there are two live transformers within the South Wing, one which feeds the Regional Offices and the second feeding approximately 119 streetlights. Collapse in any of these areas would destroy these electrical services and, of course, there would be a very serious possibility of fire.

The type of corrective action needed is well beyond the capabilities of our maintenance forces. It will require both engineering design and construction. In the meantime, you may want to consider some form of emergency shoring up or temporary support in these areas. At the very least, I think a plan must be in place to provide for the supply of utilities to these buildings in the event of further building collapse.

I feel very strongly that our ability to provide services to the bulk of our patient population is seriously at risk. Please give this matter your immediate attention and advise me how to proceed.

Sincerely yours,

Robert D. Coffey
Plant Superintendent


February 12, 1988

To: Robert Bentley – Chief Project Manager OMH
From: Robert D. Coffey – Plant Superintendent


Dear Bob:

Over this past weekend, a section of flooring in the South Wing collapsed into the basement, breaking a 10″ low pressure steam main. As the attached pictures show, the building floor joists have seriously deteriorated and there will be further instances of this nature.

We are taking precautions to prevent injury to patients or staff as a result of this condition, but the hazard is growing. In view of this situation, you may wish to review, again, the capital budget for the demolition of the North and South Wings.

Very truly yours,

Robert D. Coffey
Plant Superintendent


March 17, 1989

To: Skip Hormel
From: Bob Bently – Bureau of Capital Operations

HRPC – Response to U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service – Regarding Bldg 51

The U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park System Advisory Board is considering Building 51 for designation as a National Historic Landmark. We have 60 days to submit our views in writing regarding this declaration. I offer the following for background in preparing such a response:

Building 51’s existing condition is poor. Interior floors have collapsed creating a dangerous condition for facility staff who need to access the building for maintenance purposes.

On September 14, 1988 OGS was requested to investigate the condition of Building 51 and to prepare the scope of work estimate for mothballing this building. On February 15, 1989 we received OGS’s report and estimate for mothballing this building. (A copy of the OGS Report is attached) Because the North and South Wings have been vacant for 10 years and since the services for these areas has been disconnected, “serious roofing leaks have caused widespread interior damage in many areas from the attic to basement and in OGS’s opinion creates a very dangerous situation”.

OGS recommends these wings be enclosed and secured to prevent unauthorized entrance. Extensive work is required to accomplish this at an estimate of $2,534,000 for construction and $383,667 for design and construction supervision. This totals $2,917,667 just to mothball the wings of this building. Due to the extensive work and cost to rehabilitate these wings it is not cost effective to consider them for future use by OMH. In conjunction with this is the future plans to concentrate patient and administrative functions in Cheney Building 98, Ryon Hall Building 13-14-15 and the Rehabilitation Building 55, Building 51 would not be utilized by the facility and would be vacant in the future anyway.

Other State Agencies have been offered space in Building 51 and every time the offer was turned down due to the excessive size of the building and the related costs of rehabilitation. If this building is designated a National Historic Landmark a considerable amount of funds would have to be earmarked for stabilization and continued maintenance. These funds could be more appropriately used for patient occupied buildings in benefiting their welfare.

Building 51 is a beautiful old building built in the 1860s, 1870s and 1890s and it would be an appropriate National Historic Landmark only if it can be maintained. Unfortunately, the funds required for such a purpose would be extensive. If the U.S. Department of the Interior is going to provide the required funds for this plan, it would be far more palatable.

If I may be of any further assistance let me know.

June 27, 1989

To: David Palmquist
From: Buckhurst Fish Hutton Katz Inc.

Dear Mr. Palmquist:

Attached is out completed Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) for the demolition of Building 51 on the Hudson River Psychiatric Center (HRPC) campus. The EAF reflects data gathered by OMH’s environmental and planning consultants Buckhurst Fish Hutton Katz Inc. (BFHK) The data was obtained during a field visit to the facility on June 13th, and through subsequent interviews with facility personnel.

There are two significant adverse impacts associated with the demolition of Building 51 – both relate to historic and aesthetic resources. One is the impact on the historic integrity of the HRPC campus; the second is the loss of a potential landmark with noted historical significance.

Because the SHPO has deemed Building 51 eligible for landmark status, we conclude that a positive declaration is warranted for the proposed action. Further work in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQE) process is necessary. In particular, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be undertaken to fully explore the historic issues and reuse potential for Building 51.

Please not that the responsible OMH official should sign the form on page 1. If you send us the signed pages we can insert them into the text and make 20 copies for distribution.


Frank Fish


February 1, 1990


Place: Hudson River Psychiatric Center


William MacGregor, Plant Supervisor
Dave McElrath, Head Maintenance Supervisor
Steven Katz, BFHK
Rachel Belsky, BFHK

On January 31st, Mr. Katz and Ms. Belsky made a preliminary inspection of Building 51 at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center. Before touring the buildings, Mr. Katz and Ms. Belsky met with William MacGregor to obtain floor plans of Building 51 and a site plan of the Center, both at a small scale on 11×14 paper. The demolition of Building 51 was briefly discussed, and the Center’s plans to renovate Building 98 (Cheney Memorial Building) and put in a new circulation road around the building was also mentioned.

Mr. Katz requested large scale architectural drawings of Building 51, a large scale site plan map for the Psychiatric Center campus, and copies of the site plan for the proposed Cheney renovation. Mr. MacGregor did not have larger maps or site plan copies available, but suggested that FDC might be able to provide the necessary maps.

On the tour of Building 51, lead by Dave McElrath, Mr. Katz and Ms. Belsky noted general building conditions including areas of deterioration and water damage. The consultants also noted that some sections of the building are relatively stable. Mr. Katz and Ms. Belsky toured all sections of the north and south wings from the ground floor to the attic, and documented conditions with interior and exterior photographs.

March 3, 1990

David Williams

Poughkeepsie Journal

Hospital plan pits safety, history
Group planning bid to save historic Psychiatric Center wings

Local and state historic preservation groups are gathering up to try to convince state officials not to demolish the historic north and south wings of the administration building at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center.

The state Office of Mental Health has proposed leaving only the central core of the huge structure, built during the 1870s. While the central portion of the building continues to serve as administrative offices, the wings have now housed patients in about 15 years.

Dutchess County Historical Society Director Neil Larson was surprised when he learned of the states intentions.

“The building was just designated a national historic landmark, and it’s rather shocking to have that followed by a proposal to demolish two wings of it,” he said.

Hospital spokesman Joseph Towers said the wings have not been maintained since being closed because of the expense of upkeep. Just heating the huge wings would cost the state about $250,000 annually, he said.

Fifteen years of neglect have taken a toll on the building. Paint is peeling off the walls, floors are sagging and portions of the roof no longer are structurally sound.

“In the last windstorm we had in October, we lost a whole section of roof that we had to throw a patchwork job on,” Towers said.

The deteriorated condition of the wings poses a potential legal liability for the state, Towers said. “If somebody falls through (the floor), that’s a significant liability.”

Karen Nicholson, the agency’s historic preservation officer, said the state does not have the kind of money it would have taken to keep the wings in good condition.

“All of our money goes to patient operations,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of spending money on vacant buildings.”

But preservationists say that tearing down the two wings would rob the community and the state of an important link with the history of mental health care in New York.

“It is an excellent and intact example of a 19th century mental health facility,” said Tania Werbizky, director of technical services for the non-profit Preservation League of New York State.

“Intact” is the most operative word. The hospital most similar in design to the Poughkeepsie facility, located in upstate Willard (Seneca County) was demolished several years ago, Werbizky said.

Both facilities were designed according to the Kirkbride Plan, said historian Brad Edmondson, who recently completed a book on mental health care in New York State in the 19th century. Thomas Kirkbride was an asylum superintendent in Philadelphia who wrote a book during the mid-1800s that influenced the construction of more than 100 asylums across the country.

“Asylums built according to the Kirkbride Plan had the administration building in the center of the facility and the wards extending outward from the administration building like spokes from a wheel,” Edmondson said.

The key to the concept was to keep the most disturbed patients as far away from the central offices as possible, Edmondson said. Limited to the far end of each wing, it would be more difficult for such patients to escape and less likely that they would annoy either staff or patients closer to recovery, he said.

Because of that design, Edmondson said demolishing the wings of the hospitals built under the Kirkbride Plan would ruin their historic integrity.

“You would be in a sense losing an important part of the story,” he said. Frank Kowsky, an art history professor at the State University College of New York at Buffalo, called Hudson River Psychiatric Center one of the two most important mental hospitals in the state in terms of architectural history.

The building was designed by renowned Gothic revival architect Frederick Clarke Withers, a protégé of Andrew Jackson Downing of Newburgh. The hospital grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the landscape architects also responsible for New York City’s Central Park.

And the hospital also is connected to the Roosevelt family. The site preceded the present Roosevelt home in Hyde Park as the family estate. FDR’s father James sold the land to the state after a fire there destroyed the family mansion.

Nicholson said state mental health officials will consider the concerns of the preservation groups as they review the proposal to demolish the two wings of the hospital. She said other alternatives include stabilizing the building for potential future use or allowing other some other government agency or non-profit organization to renovate the wings for its use.

“I think there are a lot of people who would love to see the building restored,” said Wint Aldrich, the town historian in Red Hook, who late year toured the wings with Werbizky. The two wings contain large rooms that could be used for group meetings and smaller rooms that would be suitable for offices, Aldrich said.

But Towers warned that any organization willing to restore the building had better have very deep pockets.

“To even begin to run appropriate electrical services, you’d be dealing with two-foot-thick brick walls,” he said. “For the same amount of space, it would probably cost you three to four times as much to rehabilitate this space as to build anew.”

Preservationists say such concerns will be a major part of the upcoming review of the agency proposal. If it does nothing else to aid their cause, Larson said the review process at least will get both sides thinking about what would be done with the building.

“It’s as hard to see it languish and deteriorate as it would be to tear it down,” he said. “Maybe this will be a catalyst.”

Date Unknown, 1990

David Williams

Poughkeepsie Journal

Save psych building, historic groups ask

The state should stabilize the deteriorating wings of the historic Hudson River Psychiatric Center administration building and save the structure for potential future re-use, representatives of local historic preservation groups told state and hospital officials Wednesdays.

Their comments came at a public meeting on a state Office of Mental Health proposal to demolish the wings, which were abandon in 1975. The meeting was conducted by planning consultants hired by the agency to conduct a state-mandated study of the project, including alternatives to destroying the approximately 500,000 square feet of space.

“Before that drastic step can be taken every other possible avenue must be explored,” said Margaret Partridge of the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt national historic sites, representing the National Park Service. Last year, the administration building and a portion of the surrounding grounds were designated a national historic landmark.

Frank Fish of Buckhurst Fish Hutton Katz Inc. assured those who attended the meeting that examining alternatives to tearing down the wings will be an important element in the upcoming study. But he warned that money will be a key consideration in deciding whether to stabilize the building.

“Stabilization is not just preventing leaks,” Fish said. “It’s keeping it heated to the dew point. Stabilization is an ongoing expense. The question is who is going to pay for it.”

Hospital officials said they first suggested demolishing the wings nearly 10 years ago because the structures had become too expensive to maintain and posed a safety hazard. Two patients lost their way inside the cavernous building over the years before steps were taken to secure the first floor.

When the wings first closed, the hospital continued to heat them, said Warren Briggs, the center’s director of administration.

“We’ve attempted to maintain it as best as we can,” Briggs said. “(But) eventually the cost of doing that became exorbitant.”

And the expense of even minimal maintenance now being done on the wings continues to mount. For example, the hospital spent $45,000 last fall to repair a roof damaged during a windstorm.

Whether the state agency chooses to tear down the wings or stabilize them for future re-use, hospital officials say they can not afford inaction.

“It is anywhere from moderate to a sizeable drain on our resources,” said John Dominguez, hospital director. “We would be the first to say that no action is not a viable action.”

If a funding source can be found to pay for stabilizing the building for future re-use, the historic preservationists suggested a number of potential development options for the wings: use by another state or local government agency, affordable housing, office space, or even a hotel.

“This building is bigger than the Mohonk Mountain House and similar in layout,” said Timothy Allred, a member of the Dutchess County Historical Society.

But Fish cautioned that the cost of renovating such a large structure would make it difficult to attract private investment.

“The cost of re-use will be higher then the cost of new construction,” he said.

Those interested in saving the wings will have another chance to share their concerns with mental health agency officials and their consultants when the firm completes a drafts version of the study now underway. Although a written public comment period will be provided when the draft is released, agency facilities planner Robert Bentley would not guarantee that a formal public hearing will be held.

March 28, 1990

To: Robert Bentley – Chief Project Manager OMH
From: William C. MacGregor – Plant Superintendent


Dear Bob:

This will confirm our conversation regarding boarding up the windows in the North and South Wings of Building #51.

It is my suggestion that the 1,254 windows be covered with 3/8’s CDX. At the present time, approximately 50% of these windows have metal grates covering them, which would have to be removed prior to covering them with the plywood. To ensure the preservation of the plywood, it will be primed and painted prior to its being installed on the wooden frame of the building.

The cost of providing the materials and labor is approximately $60,000. This includes materials and labor for HRPC staff to do this on an overtime basis. If you fell that this project could possibly be funded as a special item, please advise and a detailed estimate of the cost will be provided.

With this in mind, the community would be aware that OMH is making every effort to stabilize the building until a decision is made on its eventual future.

Your prompt attention to this matter would be appreciated. Please advise if future information is necessary.

Very truly yours,

William C. MacGregor Plant Superintendent

April 9, 1990

To: Robert Bentley – Chief Project Manager OMH
From: William C. MacGregor – Plant Superintendent


Dear Bob:

I am requesting that the attached be included with our special funds request to board up the windows in the North and South Wings of Building #51, at Hudson River Psychiatric Center.

Very truly yours,

William C. MacGregor
Plant Superintendent

June 28, 1990

To: Stephen M. Saland – Assemblyman & Jay P. Rolinson, Jr. – Senator
From: Richard C. Surles, Ph. D. Commissioner OMH

Dear Assemblyman Saland & Senator Rolinson

I would like to respond to your letter of May 31, 1990 concerning the potential demolition of the wings of Building 51 at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center.

The wings of the building have been vacant and without heat for over 10 years. They constitute a potential safety and fire hazard for both patients and vagrants. In addition, the first floor has collapsed into the basement onto the main steam lines servicing the rest of the campus. Accordingly, the Office of Mental Health is seeking to demolish the wings.

Apparently, there was a misunderstanding between your staff and the Office of Mental Health Director of Capital Operations regarding the status of this project. The environmental review now in process has a good chance of approval because there does not seem to be a viable short or long term use for the building. In addition, the Office of Mental Health has never requested funds from the Division of the Budget to rehabilitate the building because we do not have a potential use. Our relationship with DOB is very positive and the pressure tactics you mentioned would not be used to secure funding at the taxpayers’ expense.

As a policy, OMH will do anything reasonable and cost-effective to reuse historic structures. As examples, the conversion of one of the Richardson buildings to admin/support use at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center is in construction and use of the “Old Main” building at Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center for central patient records is planned.

An environmental impact assessment is necessary for the majority of demolition projects and is being done as a matter of course for this one. It will document the implications and allow public input.

OMH’s primary concern in this matter is the safety and welfare of its patients and staff


Richard C. Surles, Ph. D.

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