Central Islip’s former State Hospital grounds are an amazing place to find hidden ruins. In spite of the facility shutting its doors in 1996, undergoing heavy redevelopment and major demolition, there are still a lot of historic holdouts to be found by the eye of the eager historian. I have spent the past 7 years searching for these remains and will now give you a tour.
In 1889 New York City opened an institution for the mentally disturbed, on what was then rural Long Island. Kings County’s rendition was just to the north and probably influenced New York City’s decision. Two groups of buildings were built for patients, and each group consisted of 3 cottages with solariums and a kitchen building. This old map shows them as well as some maintenance and utility buildings that were constructed. Now located in the Pilgrim State Hospital Museum this original plaque shows the hospital was called “New York City Farm for the Insane.” They didn’t make any pretence of political correctness when naming these places in the nineteenth century.
Once considered the largest facility in the world, its population began to fall victim to trends in deinstitutionalization in the late nineteenth century. In the 1980's a portion of the grounds, buildings included was sold to the New York Institute of Technology, a private college, while other portions were transferred to The Town of Islip.
The oldest patient buildings still in existence are on Clayton Street and now used by the town. One is used as a senior citizens center and the other is used for youth services. These are the last remaining structures of three early groups of buildings in this part of the former facility.
The college reused many of the old structures as dormitories, lecture halls, and administrative buildings. The main area used by NYIT was the former James group and a group of four nurse’s dormitories. The James group consisted of 6 two-story brick cottages, a kitchen/dining hall and the hospitals first medical building.
Many of the buildings still serve a similar purpose. Four former nurses dormitories and the patient cottages have become dorm rooms for students. Looking at the porches of the cottages you can still see where the bars were attached to keep the patients inside.
The James kitchen/dining hall now serves as a culinary school and restaurant. This building has a corridor that connects it to the hospitals former medical surgical building, number 66. This was no doubt for delivering food to the patients. NYIT still calls the medical building number sixty-six, though it now serves as a post for campus security and classrooms. It is said that the old morgue still exists under the culinary school, though I have not been able to locate it.
The main entrance roadway into the campus is called Admissions Drive, but it predates the students use of it on their way to the Admissions Office. Across from building #66 on this roadway is an abandoned building that served as a reception building to admit new patients aptly called the Admissions Building. Patients were placed there until being discharged or placed in one of the many cottages. Some of its wards still have psychiatric center furnishings and evidence of long gone patients.
The Admissions Building is connected to the James group by a set of tunnels designed to transport employees and patients. Leaving the building via the James group tunnel reveals a gurney next to a doorway. The doorway bears writing indicating it lead to the medical clinic AKA building #66. This is quite an interesting find since this building wasn’t a clinic for many decades.
A more modern medical/surgical building was constructed by Central Islip State Hospital, and today it has been gutted and refitted to serve as an office building. The south wall still has a sign with the number ‘126’. As you may have guessed, this was the buildings number. Behind #126 is a parking-lot that once contained a building, #95.
Building #95A was an almost mirror image of #95 and still exists today as an assisted living center. On the north side of it one can see a partially buried tunnel that used to connect #95A to the Admissions Building. The tunnel still enters Admissions but is cut off before it enters the reconstructed #95A, making it a phantom to nowhere. You can still see where it entered #95A because of the inconsistency of the bricks.
Besides pedestrian tunnels there were also steam tunnels. These were used to house pipes and wires that would feed all the buildings heat and electricity from the power plant, and many of these still exist under the soil. Admissions Drive has a wide grassy space along its center whic has a main steam tunnel under it that is connected by a doorway to the pedestrian tunnel. The town golf course was originally part of the hospitals farm and later used as an employee gold course. It still has steam tunnels crossing beneath it, unbeknownst to many a golfer.
At the edge of the golf course are two structures that were once used for patient recreation. The grandstand sits in ruins as golfers pass by and Robbins Hall which was once used to show movies, plays, and religious services. It was recently restored, but for over a decade it sat abandoned containing a commissary, peerless movie projector, bowling alley, libraries, and of course the auditorium.
The Park Row condominium development sits on the former Smith and McGregor groups. Although most were torn down the dining hall in the center of the McGregor group still stands, adapted for use as a clubhouse for the condos.
Some patient’s mental ailments were accompanied by long term chronic illnesses, such as Tuberculosis, and therefore the hospital had its own center for tubercular patients. A slew of buildings arranged in a half circle and connected by a curved corridor served as the tubercular wards. Each building has a caged in porch, as it was thought exposure to the outdoors was a good treatment for Tuberculosis. In the middle of this self-contained set of buildings were a kitchen, dining hall, and even a medical facility. This was so that the infectious patients would never be near the non-infected patients. NYIT renovated half the building and used it for its library, school of architecture, and administrative offices. The former kitchen served as the library and had a decent set of archives from the state hospital days. There was a storage area that led to the abandoned half of the complex. Walking through that doorway was like stepping through the looking glass. They called the entire set of connected buildings the Sunburst Building. NYIT has severely downsized its Central Islip campus and today the Sunburst Building is fully abandoned. Interestingly, because only half of Sunburst was renovated half of the buildings still contain their original caged porches, complete with chairs.
The latest hospital power plant was torn down in 2005. There was however an older power plant that was used to heat the South Colony of the hospital which today is used by the town highway department. It still boasts many signs of its original use, including electrical equipment, tunnels, an electrical panel wich is now used as storage shelves, and a closet that is the bottom part of the former smoke stack. Dotted around it are also two abandoned sewage buildings. These are the only standing remnants of the South Colony. At one point its buildings stretched nearly a mile all connected with corridors and a tunnels.
Coal and passengers were brought in via train spurs from the LIRR Central Line. Just north of a NYIT parking lot, along Carlton Avenue, we see a curb that doesn’t appear to serve any purpose. This was in fact the passenger platform on the spur that terminated at the South Colony. Don’t wait too long for the train if you visit.
The massive state hospital was administered from a building that looks like a large brick house. Inside are a post office, records room, and offices. The roof was once used as a WWII lookout for German airplanes.
Between the Administration Building and Sunburst is a rather odd structure, a house sheathed in aluminum panels. This was in fact an early example of pre-fabricated house construction. It was built in 1931 for display at the Allied Arts Exposition in New York City, and at one point this metal house graced a Huntington estate, serving as a guesthouse.
Many of the patients lived their entire lives at the facility. The cemetery where they were buried still remains next to the parkway and the federal courthouse. Many of the numbered concrete markers are overgrown but some are still visible. An obelisk sits in the cemeteries center, commemorating the interred.
Today the Long Island Ducks baseball team plays on the former grounds of the hospital. So, the next time you are munching on a hotdog at Citibank Park remember, echoes of the past are staring you right in the face.