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Stroll Around the Grounds

Map of Bloomingdale campus, 1891

Detail of the Bromley Atlas of New York City from 1891, showing the grounds of the Bloomingdale Asylum, with added numbers for buildings and features, roughly in the historical order of their addition to the grounds.

Image of the Bloomingdale Asylum (1835)

Illustration of the main building of the Bloomingdale Asylum from 1835.

Bloomingdale entry drive with trees

Photograph of the Entrance drive of the Bloomingdale, on the way from the Gatehouse to the Main Building, with a glimpse of the grounds.

Floor Plan of Men's Lodge at Bloomingdale Asylum

Drawing of the floor plan of the Men's Lodge at Bloomingdale, where violent and "noisy" patients were kept, drawn by New York Tribune reporter Julius Chambers in with a pin on a sheet of paper and stored in his shoe.

Superintendent's House at the Bloomingdale

Photograph of the Superintendent's House, constructed in 1852.  In the background one has a glimpse of the Porter's Lodge on the right near the road and the barn or stables on the left.

Bloomingdale Chapel

Photograph of the Bloomingdale chapel, from a montage of Bloomingdale images in King's Handbook of New York (Boston, 1893).

Bloomingdale Asylum Gatehouse

Photograph of the Gatehouse, or Porter's Lodge, built in 1879 at the entrance to the asylum grounds on Broadway (then known as the Boulevard) close to today's 115th Street.

John C. Green Memorial Hall

One of the last buildings constructed on the Bloomingdale campus (1879-80), Green Hall was designed to provide approprate accommodations for women patients from well-to-do families or refined backgrounds.

Macy Villa

Macy Villa, the last building constructed on the Bloomingdale campus (1884) and the only one remaining today (now called Buell Hall), moved from its original position and shorn of the wooden porches that once surrounded it.

The cornerstone was laid for the first hospital building on May 7, 1818, and it was ready for opening on June 1, 1821.  During the years that followed, as the hospital population increased and the program of therapy grew more complex much additional building followed. The map on this page, from 1891, shows the fullest layout achieved by those structures. They fit neatly inside Columbia's main Morningside campus quadrangle today,  between 120th and 114th Streets and Broadway and Amsterdam.  None of those streets existed when the hospital came here, and its property extended well beyond those boundaries. There were no fences around the complex in the earliest days of the institution either, although there were some smaller fences adjacent to buildings to provide for supervised exercise areas. A comprehensive fence system around the entire five-block area would come only a few decades later.  In the meantime, the boundaries imposed were more anticipatory, based on the city's grid plan and the expectation that it would someday be necessary to comply with it.  The Hospital's Board of Governors also took care, a couple of decades after opening to obtain a waiver against the opening of the projected grid plan streets across its property, ensuring that an unbroken enclosure for its program could be preserved.

The numbers on the map represent the rough chronological order in which each of the major structures on the grounds were built, and each is discussed briefly below[1].

1. The Main Building, finished in 1821, was a Federal-style three story brownstone building 210 feet in length and 60 feet wide.  When some of the hospital governors objected to the cost of the building, with brownstone facades on all four sides, Thomas Taylor, who supervised the construction reminded them that, given the mission of this new type of hospital, "this building ought to have the appearance of a Palace, rather than a  Goal [i.e., jail]."[2]  It would remain the centerpiece of the institutional complex and the iconographic symbol of the asylum throughout its existence.  It was situated just a little to the left of center in what would have been the block between Broadway and Amsterdam, but most importantly, in the commanding position at the crest of the hill, where views of the river sound and the island to south and north were the best.

In the first days, the whole program of the asylum was centered here, with dormitory, examination and treatment rooms, dining halls, parlors, staff residences, meeting rooms, and more.  The quality of patients' rooms varied, although director Dr. James McDonald argued that they compared favorably to what could be found in a decent hotel, very much in keeping with the calm, home environment sought by "moral treatment." Women were initially housed in the east wing and men in the west, although this would later be switched in the late 1870s.

Before long, however, the building was filled to capacity, so northward pointing west and east wings were added

2. The Grounds. As the  images on this page indicate, the Bloomingdale's grounds, particularly in the early days were covered with trees, and the high hill provided spectacular views of the surrounding region. A staff of gardeners and landscapers sought to shape the natural setting further into an environment of quiet beauty designed to create a sense of serenity and inner piece.  Curving walks and pathways were laid out where healthier patients could stroll, and lawns, flowerbeds, and specially selected varieties of trees were planted.  The southern parts of the campus included vegetable gardens where food for the hospital was raised, and where patients could also participate in the cultivation of plants.  Later, stables and playing fields were added to provide opportunities for recreation. 

3-4. The Men's and Women's Lodges.  Not all the patients of the Bloomingdale lent themselves easily to the calm and sedate environment presumed by "moral treatment."  Their loud and violent behavior was as disruptive in the new Bloomingdale as it had been on the grounds of the old New York Hospital.  For a time, some were kept in cellars of the new building, in conditions reminscent of the old cellars downtown.  (The visiting committee of governors complained about the dark and gloomy atmosphere there and noted the presence of rats.) 

A better solution was required, and it was found in the Lodges positioned out of sight behind the main building, one for men (constructed in 1829) and another for women (constructed in 1835-37).  As in the case of the main building, men were originally on the east and women on the west, but this was changed in the 1870s. 

These two buildings, symbolizing the limits of "moral treatment," were not the pride of Bloomingdale, and few images of them exist.  The floor plan on this page was drawn by a reporter who smuggled himself into the building in 1872.  While he can hardly be characterized as a disinterested observer, and while renovations were made at various points in the lodges' history, it is still hard to simply dismiss his grim but real-sounding picture of the place: narrow cell-like rooms, equipped with nothing but a straw cot; the complete absence of any the books, newspapers, games, comfortable seating, decorative furnishings and more that contributed to the hotel-like environment of the main building; men slouching or pacing most of the day in the corridors with no comfortable seating; unappealing fare in a bare and unclean mess hall; indifferent or even brutal attendants, and potentially dangerous fellow inmates. 

The noise was particularly disturbing, and the lodges were arguably still too close to the main building.  Dr. Nichols complained in 1851 that the noise of disturbed patients in the lodge could be heard throughout the institution, particularly during the summer, so that many nights no one was able to sleep peacefully.

5. The Director's House.  Initially, the chief physician lived off-site, with assistants in residence.  Starting wiith James McDonald in 1829, however, this pattern changed.  The older arrangement for a resident physician had made living quarters in the main building acceptable, but with a senior physician and his family in residence, something more substantial was required.  A house was constructed for this purpose in 1852.  It remained for a number of years on the Columbia campus, serving as the faculty club, and was pulled down to build the Business School (now Dodge Hall) in 1923-24, but only after the faculty had been placated by the construction of a new faculty house on Morningside Drive.[3]

6. The Chapel.  Bible reading and religious services had been a part of the program of Bloomingdale from the outset, but a separate chapel building was not constructed until around 1864.  It stood directly behind the main building in the courtyard formed by that building's added east and west wings  Not too surprisingingly, given the profile of the Board of Governors, it was an Episcopalian chapel, with two rectors of St. Michael's Church (today at the corner of 96th and Amsterdam) and its affiliated church of St. Mary's in Manhattanville, William Richmond and Thomas McClure Peters, serving as chaplains during the period of the Bloomingdale's residence on the Heights.  It is perhaps worth noting that their rectory in Manhattanville is still standing on West 126th Street, next to a newer St. Mary's, rebuilt after a fire in 1900.[4]

7. The Conservatory.  In 1875, the asylum built a large greenhouse on the west side of its campus, approximately where the University Chapel stands today.  It housed a collection of exotic plants, which supplemented the cultural collections designed to support the Bloomingdale's program of "moral treatment."  On more than one occasion, the medical staff had to impress upon economically-minded governors the importance of this collection and the need to continue funding it.  The conservatory replaced an earlier structure, which housed a plant collection that had come to the grounds in 1819, even before the main building.  The core of that early collection came from Columbia University's botanical garden, which had been located farther downtown on land that later became the University's second home in Manhattan.  Some of those plants survived until the time of the asylum's move to White Plains in 1894.  The conservatory remained for a few years after the University came to the grounds and can be seen in  early photographs of the campus.

8. The Porter's Lodge. In the early days, when the Bloomingdale stood on largely undeveloped land, entry to the grounds was from the southern end of the campus, by way of an access lane branching off of the Bloomingdale road.  Since that lane is sometimes referred to as "Depeyster Lane," it seems likely that it predates the asylum and originally served to provide access to the Depeyster farms standing in this area.  Its slanting line can still be seen in the walls of the stores located at 2869 and 2871 Broadway.  In any case, when Broadway was opened up in the 1860s, sharpening the boundary line on the west side of the asylum, a new entrance gate was created there, and in 1879, a porter's lodge constructed to serve as a kind of gatehouse.  This structure was one of the longest remaining remnants of the Bloomingdale on Columbia's campus. It was not demolished until 1957, when space needed to be created for Ferris Booth Hall (which has since been replaced by Lerner Hall).  In its final years, it housed the University's electronic music lab.

9. Green Memorial Hall, constructed in 1879-80 thanks to a gift from the widow of Hospital Board chairman John C. Green, who had taken a lively interest in the operations of the asylum, this large and impressive structure, connected to the west wing of the main building, was designed, as an article in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper reported "to provide for the women patients those comforts to which they may have been accustomed, and to remove entirely those evidences of an asylum or prison that too frequently characterize institutions for the insane."  The primary clientele were clearly to be patients from at least moderately well-to-do families, but Mrs. Green had also created an endowment for women who had taught school or music but had lost, as a result of their insanity, the means to pay for their treatment.  The article noted that otherwise, such women would have found themselves forced to go to Blackwell's Island, where conditions were significantly worse.  This relatively modern, well-constructed brownstone structure served as a classroom building for Columbia students during the university's very first years on campus.  It was torn down in 1902 to provide space for Earl Hall.[5]

10. The Macy Villa, erected in 1885, was the last building to be erected on the Bloomingdale campus, and is the only one that has survived to the present day.  A bequest of William H. Macy, a former president of the NY Hospital Board of Governors and active particpant for many years on the asylum committee.   It was a residence for male patients, and like Green Hall, was designed for well-to-do individuals who could afford to pay for accommodations more reminiscent of a home than a hospital.  The two buildings highlight the increasing accommodation of wealthier patients that helped to fuel so much popular discontent toward the Bloomingdale in its latter years.  It originally stood much closer to Amsterdam Avenue and almost on the very edge of what would become 116th Street, but was late moved to is current location, minus its extensive wooden porches.

 



[1] For chronology, see Andrew Dolkart, Morningside Heights : A History of Its Architecture & Development, New York: Columbia University Press, c1998, p.16-17.

[2]  Russell, p 128.

[3] Dolkart, p. 187.

[4] Norval White,  AIA Guide to New York City. New York: Crown Publ., c2000, p.478.

[5] "The New Wing of the Bloomingdale Asylum," Frank Leslie's  Illustrated Newspaper, April 3, 1880, p. 75-76.

Stroll Around the Grounds