This post is written by local historian Jim Mackin based on his presentation for the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History group on November 16, 2015. The topic covers two of our themes: the medical history of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, and another building that (almost) is no longer in existence.
Jim Mackin is a member of the BNHG’s Planning Committee, presenting popular presentations on behalf of the group, as well as leading monthly neighborhood history walking tours.
It all began in 1769. Two students were graduating with medical degrees from King’s College. 28-year old Dr Samuel Bard gave the commencement speech that so moved city leaders that enough funds were pledged to establish a hospital. In 1776, New York Hospital became the 3rd oldest hospital when it opened just in time to treat some rag-tag colonials wounded by shot from British men-of-war ships moving up the Hudson.
Mentally ill patients were treated from the very beginning of the hospital along with all other patients. But the number of mentally ill patients was rising greatly. In 1802 a committee was formed to consider an addition to the building, and any other planning, to accommodate the increase of what were the called “lunatics.” But more radical action was taken by the establishment of a separate and new department in the hospital to accommodate mentally ill patients, and the construction of a separate and new asylum building in 1808. This asylum of 80 beds was the only one of its kind in New York State.
New approaches to treatment of the mentally ill by Dr Pinel in Paris and William Tuke who established the Retreat for the Insane in York, England. Patients were to be no longer kept in seclusion, let alone in chains. Treatment was becoming understood as “moral” instead of “medical”. The changes had sweeping implications: patients were “visited” and physical activity for patients was encouraged.
A committee consisting of Thomas Eddy, John R Murray, John Aspinwall, Thomas Buckley, Cadwallader Colden, and Peter A Jay decided on a site in Bloomingdale for a new and separate institution for the treatment of the mentally ill. They purchased land from Gerald DePeyster on what is now where Columbia University resides in Morningside Heights. The cornerstone for the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was laid on May 7th, 1818 and the building was officially opened on June 1st, 1821. This is how it appeared on the early Randel Farm Maps (1818-1820):