top of page


Vanillapen Project 10.png
paranormal, lit, stay lit

Build, Fail, Repeat: New York's Asylum Secret

I would like to tell you a deeply shameful story of American history. New York State history, to be more precise. It takes place over the course of 2 and a half centuries and is chilling in it's overarching lesson, albeit begins with the endeavor to help and rehabilitate the indigent, mentally disabled and those otherwise unable to care for themselves due to various circumstances of the time they lived.

The idea of religious orders sheltering the poor has been in existence since around 1000 CE. In it's earliest conception, what was known as an almshouse was a place of community care, built on the foundation of charity for those who could not sustain normal, self-sufficient lives in society. "Alms", being Christian in origin as payment to the poor and needy. As these places made their way through history to 18th and 19th Century America, they changed to reflect the needs of the time. In the early to mid 1800's, the people who frequently lived at almshouses ranged from the poor, the elderly, unmarried women (often with children), and orphans, to the mentally and physically disabled, and those with debilitating mental illness. These houses, mostly reflected in early English style and operation, were typically the last and only option for many people in the 1800's.

Albany Almshouse

Every county in the state had an almshouse, or poorhouse as they would come to be known. These places, however, did not provide the living conditions or treatment one would expect from any sort of charity. People were mistreated and abused at alarming consistency in these places. As the poor population increased in the 19th Century, the various groups of people confined to these houses became extremely overcrowded. While the original intention was entirely for helping and caring for people, ultimately the fees to support such places and provide adequately for everyone became unbearable and impossible. The advocation for almshouses to be dissolved of their duties in favor of separating groups of people into hospital or institution style settings was underway by the last half of the 19th Century.

2002 memorial for the Albany Almshouse