Binghamton, the first inebriate asylum

Day 1: Some asylum tourism

I can never say no when an opportunity arises to visit an archive or to do some asylum tourism — or even better — both!! So that’s how I have found myself on a quick spring trip through New York state and over to New Haven, Connecticut. I managed to convince my officemate, Jeremy Burman, to come along with me which has already made for great company on the long drive (and a helpful navigator for all my wrong turns!)

Today we met Craig Williams (one of the curators for the New York State Museum) in Binghamton, NY. Aside from being embarrassingly late (we circled Binghamton on various interstates for a good 45 minutes before finding our way) it was a fun stop: we got to tour part of the grounds of the Greater Binghamton Health Center which included the historic Asylum building (a portion of which is pictured top left).

The main building is absolutely beautiful – it reminded me very much of an old castle. Established in 1858, Binghamton was home to the first asylum for the treatment of inebriates – or alcoholics. But in 1879 the institution was deemed a failure and was converted into an asylum for the chronic insane.

A museum was open for a time on one of the upper floors within the main building but is currently closed. We did manage to see several historic photos and artifacts that are on display in the offices in one of the contemporary buildings. One item in particular caught my eye: it was a portion of the wooden post office kiosk which was presumably in one of the buildings on the property.

For more information about the history of the Binghamton Asylum: Roger Luther, with whom I am not acquainted personally, has a wonderful website which includes a series of great photographs of both the exterior and interior as well as several scanned archival documents available at: http://nysasylum.com/bia.htm

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9 Responses to Binghamton, the first inebriate asylum

  1. Dillon Utter says:

    I am a painter and photographer in New York City but my home town is in Binghamton. I was wondering how you went about getting permission and a tour into the main building? I have always been meaning to get inside for arts sake!
    Thank you!

    • I should be clear that I was not granted permission to ENTER the building at Binghamton (although I believe they are in possession of a museum collection that I hope to be able to see one day). I would suggest contacting the hospital’s administrators directly with a description of your intent. Sorry I can’t offer more specific help.

  2. Charis Smith says:

    How did you go about getting a tour? I have been wanting to get in this place for years. I actually have a great aunt who worked there.

    • I got lucky and was able to arrange the visit with a curator at the NY State Museum. Some hospitals offer public tours at various points during the year or during anniversaries – I’m not sure if this is possible in Binghamton’s case specifically.

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