Iconic New York State Inebriate Asylum
Perched high on a hilltop in eastern Binghamton, New York, the New York State Inebriate Asylum is a testament to a bygone era. Its Gothic Revival façade is as imposing as it is inspiring, serving as a constant reminder of the building’s storied past.
Known also as the Binghamton State Hospital, this historic landmark is the first institution in the United States designed and constructed to treat alcoholism as a mental disorder.
This revolutionary approach in the mid-19th century marked a shift in societal attitudes toward addiction and mental health.
A Walk Down Memory Lane: The Asylum’s Early Years
The journey of the asylum began with its chartering in 1854. However, construction didn’t start until 1857 on the rural outskirts of Binghamton, with the first patients being admitted in 1864. The building, designed by renowned New York architect Isaac G. Perry, was constructed according to the principles of the Kirkbride Plan.
This innovative design concept was used for large institutions, optimizing natural light and ventilation. The original structure was T-shaped, with a central core housing administrative functions, wings on the sides for patients, and a service wing at the rear.
In its early years, the asylum served as a beacon of hope for individuals grappling with alcoholism, offering them treatment and a path toward recovery. However, this function shifted in 1879 when the facility became a mental hospital.
The Years of Change: Expansion and Demolition
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New York State Inebriate Asylum saw significant changes. Its function shifted from an institution treating alcoholism to a mental hospital in 1879. This change led to the construction of additional buildings to accommodate the institution’s growing needs.
In the 1880s, the institution embarked on a significant expansion. However, many of these new buildings were eventually demolished, leaving behind the original structure, a testament to the architectural prowess of Isaac G. Perry and the progressive ideals of the time.
After serving as a mental health institution for over a century, the building was closed in 1993 due to inadequate maintenance. It stood vacant, a silent witness to the changing attitudes and treatments of mental health over the years.
A New Era: The Takeover by SUNY Upstate Medical University
In 2008, the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University saw the potential in the neglected building. So it took over stewardship—initial plans involved stabilizing the building’s condition, with future visions of establishing a satellite campus.
However, the University could not develop the building beyond stabilization due to economic constraints. It wasn’t until 2015, when Binghamton University announced it had taken stewardship of the building, that plans for rehabilitation were publicized.
The transformation was set to turn the former asylum into a medical and health professional education center, continuing its community service legacy. In addition, the new campus would also provide badly needed medical education and clinical facilities for the Southern Tier region.
The renovation project was led by John G. Waite Associates, Architects, a leading consultant in historic preservation architecture. Their restoration work aimed to respect the building’s historical significance while adapting it to meet the needs of 21st-century medical education.
As of now, the renovation is still ongoing. Once completed, the former asylum will open a new chapter as a state-of-the-art medical education facility, honoring its past while looking toward the future.
The Asylum Reborn: Transformation into a Medical School Campus
Fast forward to 2023, the iconic asylum is set to undergo a monumental transformation. SUNY Upstate Medical University plans to repurpose the building into a medical and health professional education center.
John G. Waite Associates, Architects, a leading consultant in historic preservation architecture, has been selected to oversee the restoration project. The phase one restoration, which includes all exterior work, was funded by a $12.4 million state SUNY capital budget.
The transformation of the asylum into a medical school campus is a significant step towards preserving the building’s rich history while serving the community’s evolving needs.
This project brings new life into the building and adds further value to the additional med SUNY system, providing a robust platform for educating future medical and health professionals.
Celebrating the Past, Embracing the Future
The story of the New York State Inebriate Asylum stands as a reminder of the strides made in mental health treatment and symbolizes the rich history of Binghamton, NY. The planned restoration and adaptive reuse of this iconic building signal a dedication to safeguarding our heritage while preparing for a future filled with medical innovation and education.
The ongoing journey of the asylum, from its inception to its impending transformation into a modern medical education facility, serves as a testament to the power of preservation and evolution, honoring the past while embracing what lies ahead.