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February 15, 2014

Experiment to treat inebriates began 150 years ago


Conversion completed, patients from asylums in Utica, Poughkeepsie and Middletown were transferred to Binghamton, as the hospital re-opened in October 1881. It was renamed Binghamton State Hospital in 1890. A farm was developed on the grounds and flourished for decades, employing many patients.

To put it gently, treatment methods could be considered frightening and inhumane by today’s standards during several decades into the 20th century. A visit to, run by Roger Luther, to a page called “voices” can narrate many examples. Electric shock treatment and prefrontal lobotomies began during the 1940s, and drug therapy began in the 1950s.

The Binghamton State Hospital expanded markedly with the opening of a new medical-surgical building, known as the Garvin Building in 1953. During the 1960s the number of patients began to decline, and by 1974 the hospital was again renamed, the Binghamton Psychiatric Center. By the early 1990s, as was the case around the nation, patients were deinstitutionalized. The old “Castle” was being only used for office space in 1993, when pieces of concrete tumbled from its façade in May, closing the building completely and its future became uncertain.

Not wanting to lose such an attractive landmark, the Preservation Association of the Southern Tier and other groups got together to save the grand old building. In 1996 it was included on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, and the next year it was named a National Historic Landmark.

In the early years of the 21st century, the building’s restorations began and an effort is underway to turn the castle into a medical school campus for the SUNY Upstate Medical University.

On Monday: An Oneonta neighborhood aimed for historic status nearly 35 years ago.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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