Letchworth Village and Cemetery, Theills, NY
One of Rockland County’s most notable locations is Letchworth Village. This location has been the source of many paranormal investigations and continues to attract many to it’s abandoned and crumbling structures. I must remind all who go that the area is patrolled by local police. You can walk around without problems but they will stop you if you attempt to enter the buildings. I don’t recommend any night visits unless you have permission. The area can be quite dangerous and unforgiving. Many of the manhole covers have been removed by vandals making walking in the darkness a hazardous task.
A little background:
Letchworth was described as, “an ideal center for the mentally challenged, praised by the state as a significant advance from the almshouses.” Rumors about mistreatment of patients and horrific experimenting were part of the reason for its demise and continue to circulate long after its closing. Built on thousands of acres of rolling fields and dense woods, Letchworth opened in 1911 to care for mentally handicapped individuals. The village consisted field stone buildings that were dormitories, a hospital, dining halls, and housing for the staff. It closed its doors in 1996 after many exposé revealed the atrocities that existed in these sort of facilities.
But words can not describe the feeling you get when you visit these crumbling, decaying remains. Even during the day the sight of these once grandiose buildings, now abandoned, burned and decaying will make your skin creep.
The cemetery lays half of a mile away from the institution and just makes you feel sad for how these souls were treated. The hill is lined with “T” shaped grave markers bearing only numbers given to the dead because families refused to allow their names to be known. There is only a handful of regular headstones among these anonymous markings. At the entrance is a small monument with the inscription “THOSE WHO SHALL NOT BE FORGOTTEN” and a list of names of the hundreds of nameless persons who died in Letchworth Village. In itself the area is peaceful, located down a winding path off Call Hallow road.
Did you know…
- Before Letchworth was called Letchworth Village it was referred to as The Eastern New York State Custodial Asylum
- The polio vaccine was tested first on the residents of Letchworth village. Hilary Koprowski tested his live-virus vaccine on a human male child for the first time in February 1950. At this point, Letchworth enjoyed a good reputation amongst health professionals (despite rumors of overcrowding and maltreatment). Letchworth’s Dr. Jervis begged Koprowski to test the vaccine at Letchworth over the alternatives. When the test was successfully administered to the first patient and was free of any side effects, 19 more tests were administered to patients. Koprowski viewed these experiments as a positive first step. (care of wikipedia)
- Thiells was not the only area considered for the asylum’s location
- Baldwin Place and Lake Oseola were in the running for the asylum’s home.
- The train service was going to be extended from Mohegan to Lake Oseola to make that location more desirable.
- Both Baldwin Place and Lake Oseola were very favorable, however the commission wanted a location that had railway access, good source for water supply and water access. Only Theills had all three.
- The downside of Theills was that the property being considered was owned by 13 families. Most accepted the states offer to buy but there were 3 that were aquired through the ‘condemnation’ law. This law allowed the state through the attorney general to to basically take the land for a minimal fee.
- Condemnation was used to aquire the land formally known as Doodletown as well.
- Most asylum building layouts and concepts were based on the format established by William Pryor Letchworth who served as Commissioner of the State Board of Charities in the Eighth Judicial Court for state of New York.
- William Letchworth initiated the concept of housing the girls on a separate reformatory site from the boys for the State Industrial School, formerly Western House of Refuge in Rochester, NY.
- Originally the Refuge was constructed based on a prison plan in which the girls area was surrounded by tall walls (22 feet high), massive iron gates secured with bars and gratings. “Within these cicumscribed limits they were confined through the weary years of their bondage, debarred from the refreshing and elevating influences of Nature, which are their natural privledge. (taken from the Reasons for establishing separate girls reformatory at State… instead of rebuilding… 1887)
- William P. Letchworth proposed the “cottage system” which divided the ‘inmates’ into small families, each with its presiding officer…