Utica Psychiatric Center

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Utica State Hospital, Main Building
UticaStateHospital center December2007.jpg
Location 1213 Court Street, Utica, New York
Built 1843
Architect Capt. William Clarke, Andrew Jackson Downing
Architectural style Greek Revival
NRHP Reference # 71000548
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 26, 1971[1]
Designated NHL July 30, 1989[2]

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The Utica Psychiatric Center, also known as Utica State Hospital, which opened in Utica in 1843, was New York's first state-run facility designed to care for the mentally ill and was one of the first such institutions in the United States, predating and perhaps influencing the Kirkbride Plan which called for similar institutions nationwide. It was originally called the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica. The Greek Revival structure was designed by Captain William Clarke and was funded through a combination of money provided by the state and contributions raised by Utica residents.

The building stands over fifty feet high, five hundred and fifty feet long, and nearly fifty feet in depth. The six Greek style columns that decorate the front of "Old Main" stand at forty-eight feet tall and each has an eight-foot diameter. As for capacity, recorded in 1850, "a listing of accommodations noted: 380 single rooms for patients, 24 for their attendants, 20 dormitories each accommodating from 5 to 12 persons, 16 parlors or day rooms, 12 dining rooms, 24 bathing rooms, 24 closets and 24 water closets" [3]


In 1852 Old Main's first floor stairway caught fire. Patients and staff were safely evacuated, but a firefighter and doctor were killed while trying to salvage items from the building. The entire center portion of the building was destroyed.Four days after the fire at Old Main, a barn on the asylum grounds caught fire. William Spiers, a convicted arsonists, former patient and sporadic employee, was arrested and admitted to setting both fires because he was angry with his supervisor. The first fair, held in 1843 or 1844, raised $200, which went toward an addition to the library, musical instruments and a greenhouse.[4]

American Journal of Insanity

A significant contribution was made to the treatment of mental illness by Dr. Arariah Brigham, the first director of The Utica State Hospital. He believed there were various treatments for the mentally ill. In 1844, Brigham published the American Journal of Insanity in the Utica State Hospital printing shop. In 1894, the American Medico-Psychological Association bought the journal for $994.50. The book was later renamed the American Psychiatric Journal.Some of the asylum inmates also produced a journal, called The Opal. In the American Journal of Insanity, Dr. Arariah Brigham published “He believed Insanity could be treated by putting patients to work on the hospital’s farms, grounds, and other useful projects” [5]

Plaque on gateway pillar on Court Street

Utica Crib

The asylum was also the site of the invention of "The Utica Crib". The Utica Crib was named after the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica where it was heavily used in the 19th century to confine patients. The crib was based on a French design, then modified to incorporated slats that gave it an appearance similar to a child's crib. While use of the Utica Crib was widely criticized and infamous among patients, some found it to have important therapeutic value. A patient who slept in the Utica crib for several days commented that he had rested better and found it useful for "all crazy fellows as I, whose spirit is willing, but whose flesh is weak." (Journal of Insanity, October 1864.)[1] The Utica Crib is an ordinary bed for all intents and purposes. The bed was made of smoothly finished and varnished wood with a woven wire bottom and slatted side. The crib was constructed to look like a child’s crib. The Utica Crib consisted of a thick hospital mattress, which was intended for comfort. The bed consisted of barred sides and ends with a furnished lid of bar or slates on hinges, with a fastening spring or lock. It was eighteen inches deep, six feet long and three feet wide. The Utica Crib was used for the treatment of the mentally ill. Psychiatrists used the Utica Crib to control and calm patients who may have been out of control or frantic.[6]

In The Edinburgh Medical Journal published in February 1878, Dr. Lindsay and other physicians at the Murray Royal Institution at Perth recommended the Utica Crib. Dr. Lindsay stated that “The bed was practical and safe to patients.” However, Dr. Hammond and Dr. Mycert of the Utica State Hospital were attacking the Utica Crib. Dr. Mycert stated “The crib is a most barbarous and unscientific because there is already a tendency to determine the blood to the brain in excited forms of insanity which is released by the horizontal position in the crib and struggles the patient”. Dr. Mycert also compared the Utica Crib to that of a coffin. Dr. Hammond, in his interview with a New York Herald reporter stated that sometimes patients died from being in the Utica Crib.[7] Many died because they just couldn’t sit still and began to panic and go into shock. Also some died in the Utica Crib due to the fact that attendants would place them in there because they thought they were out of control. But in reality many times it was because they were having a heart attack, a stroke, or some other type of serous health problem. Mycert also states that the Utica Crib is useless and inefficient, and that a regular bed could just have restraints. On January 18, 1887, with the help of Dr. George Alder Blumber, that all Utica Cribs were removed from the Utica State Hospital.[8]

Postcard dated 1912 of "Entrance to State Hospital, Utica, NY"

In an opposing view, Daniel Hack Tuke, a noted British alienist (an early term for a psychology expert) writes that, "it inevitably suggests, when occupied, that you are looking at an animal in a cage. At the celebrated Utica Asylum... where a suicidal woman was preserved from harm by this wooden enclosure... Dr. Baker of the New York Retreat allowed himself to be shut up in one of these beds, but preferred not remaining there." [2]

The Center is now an unoccupied, run-down building, while other more modern buildings on the large property are in use for psychiatric and other medical care. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1989.[2][9]



  1. Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Utica State Hospital, Main Building". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Edmonson, Brad. http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~asylums/utica_ny/index.html. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.uticaod.com/photogallery/NY/20140212/PHOTOGALLERY/304269833/PH/1?refresh=true. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Boudner, Karen, Christensen, Marvin, Daniels, Jill, Engall, Barbara, Harris, Nancy, Kotwal, Manek, M.D., Montague, Carolyn. “Utica State Hospital: 135 Years of Excellence.” Utica: Mohawk Valley Psychriatric Center, 1993. Print.
  6. [Harf, Mark. “Utica State Hospital” “New York Times”, New York Times , 14 October 1986. Web. 6 November 2014, Web.]
  7. Hammond, W. A. , M.D. “1980: The Treatment of the Mentally Insane.” Utica Morning Herald and Daily Gazette. 25 November 1879. Print. Copyright 1879.
  8. Stevens, Joshua. “Utica Crib Controversy” New York Times. New York Times. 19 September 1889, Print.
  9. Carolyn Pitts (1989-02-14). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Utica State Hospital Main Building" (PDF). National Park Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> and Accompanying photos, exterior and interior, from 1988, and renderings, from various dates PDF (5.04 MB)

External links