The Kings Park Psychiatric Center is now a large facility of vacant buildings in a sprawling state park, however it used to be a thriving hospital treating the mentally ill. Much like any city the center had its own fire department, power plant, dining facilities and housing areas. Upon closure at the end of 1996 it became the ghost town it is today. With its labyrinth of tunnels and mysterious boarded up edifices it became a stomping ground for urban adventurers. It is hard to imagine that here on heavily developed Long Island we could have a large ghost town; on the north shore waterfront no less.
The Kings Park Psychiatric Center was featured on our podcast. Click to listen!
Be sure to check out The Forgotten Wards, the Kings Park Story. It is a documentary with video footage of inside all the buildings in their current abandoned state, and a narrated guide through the history. Also, Asylums Revealed: Kings Park, a book with 140 maps and blueprints of the gigantic center.
Some Notable Structures:
A group is a set of patient buildings with a kitchen-dining hall attached by corridors. Group 4, the forth such group built is empty for the most part. Climbing through a hole in a sealed up doorway does reveal a room with piles of the belongs of former patients, most likely left behind because they are deceased. In an adjacent wing is a room where the headstones for the cemetery were made, one still left in it’s mold. Another room holds patient artwork left behind and several other basement rooms bear murals.
Building 93 is a goliath brick building (by Long Island Standards) listed as 11 stories, but that is not including the basement, sub-basement, and 2-story attic. In a basement recreation room there is a mural that spans three walls, depicting patient activities. It is believed that Percy Cosby himself painted this mural. Percy was a famous cartoonist who attempted suicide. He is most famous for the cartoon “Skippy” appearing in “life”.
Building 7 was originally built as the hospitals last medical surgical unit. As the hospital downsized it was later used as the administration and business offices.
The hospital has an extensive network of steam tunnels. These were used to deliver heat generated in the power/steam plant to all the buildings. This made more logistical sense and offered economic advantages over the individual heating of each building.
The train spur that used to deliver coal, visitors and patients to the center has been ripped out and converted into a town hiking and biking trail as part of the rails to trails initiative. If you look closely there are still signs of this trails former use. You can see rails embedded under a crossing, the pillars by the power plant that once formed a trestle, and an occasional rail spike.
RR Spur before becoming a bike path.
RR ties being removed to make the bike path.
RR spur after becoming a bike path.
Rails can still be seen at this crossing.
The power plant with the trestle pillars in the foreground.
The hospitals administration building, built with the veterans expansion, has been restored and now serves as the Nissequogue River State Park headquarters.
Lets hope that as the fate of this garden of abandoned buildings is settled a creative reuse of these historic structures becomes a reality.
1829 Kings County, now borough of Brooklyn, first established a “Lunatic Asylum” with 7 patients living in a temporary building. In 1832 a larger permanent building was opened. In the insuring 50 years the population increased rapidly to 800 patients, housed in buildings initially designed for 600.
1866 Reverend William Muhlenberg, a founder of Saint Luke’s Hospital, sets up an orphanage and poor farm in what is today Kings Park. The large number of homeless in New York City appalled Muhlenberg. The homeless would farm their food and teach the orphans. This facility was knows as Saint Johnland and still exists today as nursing home.
In 1879 John C Shaw becomes medical superintendent and is appalled by overcrowding, the use of restraints and a dark damp basement ward for females. He advocated that patients should live in a rural village setting.
1885 BIRTH OF THE CENTER Kings County purchased 875.8 acres of farmland near Muhlenberg’s poorhouse and orphanage. The area and train station were called Saint Johnland at this time. The new facility was aptly named Saint Johnland Branch Asylum. Farm buildings were refurbished and 33 male and 23 female patients were moved into them. Conditions were primitive and several patients ran away. An assistant physician was sent to run the facility.
1887 Three temporary buildings were constructed and 200 patients were moved into them from the Kings County Asylum.
1889 With an ever-increasing appetite for more space many cottages of various sizes were built.
1891 Townspeople objected to their neighborhood and train station sharing a name with an asylum. The name of the station was changed to Kings park and the Asylum to the Kings County Branch Asylum.
1896 Due to corruption and graft during building at the facility the state bought the grounds and buildings for $1. The facility in Kings County became the Long Island State Hospital. A telephone system was first installed as well as a Western Union telegraph line to the administration building. A fire alarm system with gongs was also installed.
1897 It was decided that the facility needed its own director. A house for the director was built and Oliver Dewing, general superintendent, moved in. Some patients were being directly admitted to the branch though this was not the norm. The hospital was short staffed. Employees had no recreational facilities except for neighborhood gin mills and lived in patient areas. Dewing advocated for separate employee buildings to attract more workers and to increase the amount of space for patients. A school for nurses was opened.
1898 First training school class graduates. Ward employees at this time worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. Men received $30/month and woman $25. During the day there were 8 patients for every attendant and at night 43. Therapy consisted of keeping patients busy with work in all the trade shops and maintaining the facility.
1900 The facility was separated form the Long Island State Hospital in Kings County and became the Long Island State Hospital at Kings Park. Woman began working in male wards. It was found this led to less violence, profanity, and the environment was more home like and cheerful.
1903 Electricity became more widespread at the hospital. The tailor shops sewing machines and the laundry buildings flatirons were converted to electric.
A new home for 300 employees was finally completed and named in honor of Dewing. The water at this time was heavily polluted and not fit for consumption; it deteriorated pipes and boilers.
1905 The hospital’s name was changed to Kings Park State Hospital.
1906 The original laundry building was completely destroyed in a fire along with all the machinery and linens. A new gasoline powered fire truck was purchased. A memo distributed to all employees asked them not to hitch rides up the boulevard, as the truck cannot make the grade with too much weight.
1910 The population increases to 3,291 and the Director, now Dr. Macy asks for more construction. He is told to move patients to upstate facilities. He argues this wouldn’t be therapeutic, as it would uproot patients, taking them away from visiting relatives. Maintenance of the grounds came to a stand still because oxen used to pull stumps and perform other heavy labor died from tuberculosis.
1912 The hospital purchased a “moving picture machine” and starts showing movies to patients regularly.
1913 A formal training program is designed for ward attendants. Classes meet 1 hour per week. The census shows patient population at 4,000, just slightly above capacity.
1916 Many new buildings constructed.
1917 Many physicians and other staff were depleted due to the onslaught of the Great War (WWI). Outpatient services were started in Kings and Nassau Counties for discharged patients.
1918 Dr Macy who led through the era of rapid growth died. The 1918 flu pandemic hit and 537 patients and 151 employees catch it, 58 patients and 4 employees die as a result.
1920 Salaries are increased 13%, which was no easy task with loss of the state’s alcohol revenue due to prohibition. Females begin receiving equal pay to their male counterparts.
1922 The first occupational therapist was hired to bring an “extension of the work cure throughout the hospital, especially on wards for deteriorated patients (lower functioning).” The population was now 5,332 patients and rated for only 3,600.
1923 The federal government broke ground and construction commenced of a new group of buildings for veterans.
1927 The federal government finished 17 new fireproof buildings constructed at a cost of a million dollars. This group of buildings would be used to house war veterans in need of long-term psychiatric care.
1928 The facility did a thriving business of manufacturing wicker furniture and baskets. A grove of willow trees was planted for this purpose.
1931 Overcrowding was becoming more of a problem as the population increased to 5,775 and was only rated for 3,712. Six hundred patients were transferred to upstate hospitals as a result.
1932 Pilgrim State Hospital opens in Brentwood to alleviate overcrowded conditions at Kings Park and Central Islip.
1934 Building ‘L’, or The Veteran’s Group, becomes the first stand-alone medical-surgical center for patients and employees. Prior to this the medical unit was located in a patient building.
Building 'L', the first stand-alone medical building.
1936 Patients begin to arrive by bus instead of by special hospital train cars. Two wards were set aside for insulin shock therapy of schizophrenics.
1948 the population was up to 8,538. Shock therapy was commenced and was located on the third floor of building 93. 668 patients were shocked, 439 by electricity, 118 by insulin and 111 by both.
1949 A fire destroys all the industrial shops. Nobody was injured.
1951 Patient population bulges to 10,246. Female patients begin receiving prefrontal lobotomies at the rate of two per week. Out patient clinics are now opened at 4 locations for discharged patients.
1954 The hospital starts Thorazine as an experimental medicinal treatment of mental illness.
1955 Five percent of patients are on psychotropic drugs. Restraint use is down by half and the use of psychosurgery is declining.
1965 The hospital sells 100 acres and is now 767 acres total.
1996 The last patients are moved to Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, with the exception of 3 small group homes.
2000 The former Veterans Group becomes Nissequogue River State Park.
2006 the remainder of the former hospital, with the exception of the three group homes, becomes part of Nissequogue River State Park.