On July 12th 2015, the best abandoned building at Middletown Psychiatric Center burned down. (Top photo c/o Middletown Fire Dept.) Previously known as the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital (and State Homeopathic Asylum) the large brick building was the oldest and most historically significant structure on the campus. I’ve been holding onto my photos of Middletown for a future book, but it seems appropriate now to go ahead and publish them online.
Built in 1874, Middletown operated differently than other psychiatric facilities at the time, treating its patients with homeopathic methods. Homeopathy is the belief that “like treats like,” and relies on a number of natural remedies, most of which are dubious, but a few which are proven effective in minor ailments, like allergies and acne. But overall, homeopathy is largely considered an ineffective pseudoscience.
I’m saving my laborious research about homeopathy for print, but I’ll mention here that while homeopathy was not a good treatment for severe mental illnesses, the practices and philosophy of the homeopath lifestyle were much more helpful for less severe mental illnesses than the techniques most asylums were using around the turn of the century. (And that many psychiatric hospitals use today.)
The most useful technique was outdoor physical therapy, as opposed to having patients locked in the wards all day. As one form of physical therapy, Middletown had its patients play baseball. They even formed an official baseball team called The Asylums, comprised of patients and externally drafted semi-pro players. By 1890, the Asylums were playing against regional baseball teams, and winning the vast majority of their games. Some of the patients went on to play professionally after their release.
John Chesbro, a famous baseball player who played for The Asylums. Chesbro was not a patient, but he worked as an attendant at Middletown in order to be able to play for their baseball team.
In 1901, famous romanticist painter Ralph Albert Blakelock became a patient at Middletown, however he was unable to convince the hospital staff that he was a famous painter with works hanging in galleries. The staff viewed his claims as evidence of his insanity. In 1916, one of his landscape paintings sold for $20,000, breaking the record for a sold painting by a living American artist. A young reporter discovered Blakelock’s whereabouts, and revealed his identity to the hospital staff. Blakelock was consequently released into the care of socialite Sadie Filbert, aka Beatrice Van Rensselaer, who stole all his money. He died three years later.
Throughout the 20th century, some of Middletown’s grandest buildings were demolished and/or renovated. Very few remained in their original state, although the building that burned down was one of them. Others can be still be seen on the campus, even if only part of the building still exists.
In the mid to late 1900’s, attendance at Middletown dwindled, as it did in all American asylums at the time, due to deinstitutionalization and refinancing of state medical care. Middletown changed is focus to outpatient programs, but ultimately closed in 2006. Various social services and rehab facilities continued to operate on the campus, which was mostly abandoned.
There were two similar, large pavilions on the Middletown campus. I’m not entirely sure which one remained, or which was the one that burned, but it’s evident due to the architectural structure that one of the pavilions remained, minus the top floor. Look at the windows of the top right corner of the tall building above, compared to the corner of the building that burned, below)
the following fire photos are c/o the Middletown Fire Department’s Facebook page.
Below are more photos from the inside of the now destroyed building:
There are a few other abandoned structures on the property, most of which are completely unmemorable, except for this staircase and a few other amusing things.
Recently revealed grave markers in the patient graveyard near the campus. For decades, the markers were lost in the overgrown field, but are now being slowly uncovered and restored.
To see more photos, go to my Middletown Flickr set.
Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.