During the 1800s in America, the mentally ill were not treated kindly. For the most part, if unable to afford expensive private care they were forced into poorhouses. While these poorhouses were designed to provide the mentally ill and disabled with care and support, often times they were mistreated, increasing the number of problems these patients had.

In 1843, the first asylum designed to treat the mentally ill was opened in Utica as the Utica State Hospital. This institution was designed for the ‘acutely ill’, those who were deemed to have short term needs. They would stay in Utica for a year or two, and if they weren't cured by that time, they were returned to the poorhouse they originated from.

It was at this time that Dorothea Dix started conducting her history changing investigations into poorhouse conditions, and advocating for more support for the mentally ill. Nothing much was done with her research until 1864, when Dr. Sylvester Willard was given permission to investigate her findings, and learn if there was an alternate form of care. Dr. Willard came to the conclusion that poorhouses weren't able to provide appropriate long-term care for the chronically mentally ill, and that there were over 1000 patients throughout New York who needed more.

In 1869, the Willard Asylum For The Chronic Insane was opened, named after Dr. Willard, who passed away from cholera two weeks prior to the legislation being passed that authorized the opening of a chronic care facility. The first patient was named Mary Rote. She had spent the last 10 years of her life chained up in a room. Within a year of her admission, her condition had greatly improved.

By 1890, Willard Asylum had over 2000 patients, and had become a mostly self-sufficient location. They grew their own food, provided their own medical care, and even had their own bowling alley. The Asylum also had an on-grounds morgue and cemetery.

In 1995, the Asylum closed due to the push for de-institutionalization. During this process, hundreds of suitcases were found abandoned in the attic, each suitcase a snapshot of a patient’s life. An exhibit was created, and has been touring throughout the country.

The closing of the Willard Asylum was not the end of the story, however. Since its closing, the Asylum has become known as a haunted location. Paranormal State investigated the location, as did Destination Fear. There have been reports of hearing screams and voices echo throughout the building. Visitors have also reported seeing the apparition of a red-haired woman. She is believed to be a former nurse who later became a patient of Willard Asylum.

Willard Asylum is not completely still however, each year the Willard Asylum opens its doors for a rare public tour. This year the Willard Historic Tours will be held on May 16th beginning at 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM. Tickets are available at the door only at the Camp Edgemere entrance and once the tours begin no more tickets will be sold.

[Contributed By NY Shadow Chasers]


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