Letchworth Village

Letchworth Village

It had been a while since I creeped around an abandoned building, so on Saturday I proposed that we spend the day exploring Letchworth Village. Letchworth Village is a complex located in Rockland County in upstate New York—at one time comprising 130 buildings—built to house and care for the mentally and physically disabled. Letchworth was conceived as a self-sustaining village, with residences, medical facilities and a working farm. The first patients were admitted in 1911 and the 2,000-acre complex was designed to care for 3,000 patients, although by the 1950s it had more than 5,000.

Almost from the beginning, Letchworth was plagued by accusations of overcrowding, abuse and neglect. It was even mentioned in a famous 1972 investigative documentary about similarly horrific conditions at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island (the piece won Geraldo Rivera a Peabody Award) and after years of slowly being emptied of patients, Letchworth closed for good in 1996.

The area is now a park in the same vain as the Kings Park Psychiatric complex—you can park your car and walk your dog but entering the boarded-up, crumbling buildings is "not allowed." I didn't really have high expectations for the day, but knew that at the very least we'd be able to walk past the buildings and explore the grounds. I've mentioned it before, but I'm learning to lower my expectations when it comes to exploring abandoned places—the less I expect, the better the outcome usually, and that was definitely true of Saturday.

We ended up slipping into one of the buildings very easily, and spent quite a bit of time going from room to room. The lower floor was very dark, but I was immediately surprised at how much stuff was still inside. One of the very first things we came across was an old, rusty letterpress, surrounded by a huge pile made up of thousands of tiny, metal, moveable type letters. I'm not sure if the Letchworth residents ran a printing press for outside clients or just for themselves (one tray was labeled "Certificates"), but the graphic designer in me was going nuts. Personally this is one of the coolest things I could have come across, and I couldn't resist taking three tiny A's and one ampersand home with me.

We next explored some structures that seemed to be dedicated more to the inner workings of the village than to patient care—a huge power plant and some other buildings that were probably storage or for maintenance staff. These buildings were more open and thus more covered in graffiti, but most it was far better than the quick dicks and profanity that you usually find covering abandoned spots. Despite the signs warning that the premises was constantly under police surveillance, people have clearly spent time inside of these buildings. We did see a cop car sitting near the entrance when we were leaving, but it seems as if you could spend days lost in the wooded grounds without ever being spotted.

Like almost every abandoned spot I've explored, I started dreaming about my return to Letchworth before we even left. The complex is so much larger than I anticipated, and we only explored a small fraction of the buildings. I've seen photos of the area in the fall—when the ivy covering the buildings turns brilliant shades of red and orange—and I can't think of a better time to return to (what is allegedly) one of New York State's most haunted spots.

Project 365: Days 190-196

Project 365: Days 190-196

Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery

Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery