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The semi-abandoned Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, NY, formerly Rockland State Hospital, was one of the many asylums built during a particular time period in American history that sought, at least at first, to approach mental illness with spaciousness and tranquility. Opened in 1931, like most, it fell as treatment evolved from an agrarian philosophy to the use of more controversial methods. In addition, several unique cases of negligence and patient death marred its reputatio. Untapped Cities reader James Garcia, a filmmaker and paranormal investigator, shared his photos of the center’s abandoned complex with us.

In its current state, Rockland operates only a few of the newer buildings to accommodate its less than 600 patients. The rest of its campus exhibits various forms of decay. However, the reputation of its abandoned facilities as haunted doesn’t stop it’s operational facilities from being a relatively popular shooting locations. Some of its newer buildings, still inhabited, were used as outdoor shooting spaces for Orange is the New Black. It was also used as a stand-in for Indiana University in the 2004 film Kinsey, based on Indiana University professor and sexologist Alfred Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson.

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Construction on the state hospital’s 600-acre campus began in 1927. At its peak, the grounds contained a power plant, a farm, and various shops where patients, treated according to the popular agrarian method for mental illness, produced things like the hospital’s furniture. It was lauded as the best planned state hospital in history.

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Finds like this abandoned bowling alley may seem out of place in a modern psychiatric center but may have been built at Rockland as a form of entertainment for the patients, the care of whom during the 1910s and ’20s was centered around physical activity and occupational therapy rather than medical treatment. It was only until the ’30s that scientists began theorizing mental illness as a physical imbalance of chemicals within the body, which they believed they could rectify by physical means. Enter electroshock therapy, pre-frontal lobotomies, and other forms of treatment that remain controversial today and have contributed to many pop culture stereotypes about psychiatric hospitals in the ’40s through the ’60s.

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At the start, it contained over 5,000 beds, and by 1959 was treating over 9,000 patients with around 2,000 on staff. Even with 2,000 staffers, however, the hospital languished throughout the two World Wars when doctors and nurses kept getting drafted to the army. Reports showed 300 patients assigned to one psychiatrist, at one point. Most patients alive today, many of whom comment with their own stories on blog posts and web tours of the abandoned hospital, reference some forms of treatment that would be considered abusive today.

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One New Yorker with an interesting history with Rockland is Allen Ginsberg, a noted forerunner of the 50s Beat Generation, referenced Rockland in the final section of his epic poem, Howl, repeating “I’m with you in Rockland.” The line is believed to be a reference to his mother’s frequent admittances to several psychiatric hospitals, including Pilgrim State Hospital in New York and Greystone State Hospital in New Jersey. Naomi Ginsberg eventually died in 1956 at Pilgrim.

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The grounds also included cottages and housing for children, hence the classroom-settings and the drawings on the walls. The center no longer treats children, but the abandoned youth quarters and playrooms featured here are probably the most unsettling.

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Starting from the 1970s onward, Rockland operated on a much more limited scale, abandoning most of its buildings and facilities because they were no longer needed. Today, It sees only around 600 patients, and is recommended for patients with very severe schizophrenia and manic depression because of its excess space. Of the many state hospitals founded in New York in the 1910s and ’20s, Rockland remains one of the only ones that is still operational in some sense.

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In short, there is a reason why Ryan Murphy, creator of American Horror Story, set his show’s second season, ‘Asylum’ in a New York state psychiatric center: all of them are terrifying. Whatever tortured soul wrote “I’m Scared,” on that chalkboard is quite successful at approximating our feelings as well.

Next, see more of James’ photos of Orange is the New Black’s shooting locations and a full list of film locations for Orange is the New Black. Get in touch with the author @jinwoochong.

34 thoughts on “The Abandoned Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, NY is Now the Stuff of Nightmares

  1. Decades after being there I just found this site. I have a 2,000 word memory of my time at Rockland 1950-1952 between the ages of 7 and 9

    1. Dear Dave, I would very much appreciate hearing back from you about your time as a child at Rockland. I am a researcher dealing with the abuses of dr. Alfred Kinsey and his team. They were at Rockland doing research on children during the early fifties and maybe later. I don’t want to say anything that will bias your comments so I would appreciate hearing back from you.

  2. I was a patient there for two stays. One for 4 months in the younger children’s unit the other for 9 months with the teens because I ran away. I still have nightmares about Ms Goody and her many abuses. Disgusting place with practices that finally have become illegal but were always immoral.

  3. New York State sent kids there on PINS petitions..I was there in 1993? 94? Weird place to be at 13 years old.

  4. HI, MY NAME IS FRANCES, I JUST GOT MY TWIN SISTERS BIRTH AND DEALTH CERTIFICATE AND ALSO FOUND OUT NOW THAT WE WERE BORN AT LETCHWORTH VILLAGE HOSPITAL IN 1958, SHE LIVED FOR ABOUT 4 MONTHS, MY MOTHER LOUISE WAS A PATIENT THEIR. I FOUND OUT MY SISTER IS BURIED IN THE OLD GRACE SITE. MY MOTHER WONT TALK ABOUT HER LIFE THEIR, I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW DO THEY HAVE TOURS THAT GO THEIR, OR CAN I JUST GO ON MY OWN, ALSO WHO CAN I TALK TO ABOUT MOVING MY SISTER AND PUTTING HER NEXT TO OUR FATHER, I WAS ALSO A PATIENT FROM 6 TO 15 YEARS OLD AT ROCKLAND STATE HOSPITAL. THANK U

      1. I worked there at the Barsa Pavillion. It was three floors two sections met in the middle. I worked in most wards, including the Psychiatric Intensive Care Admissions, Ward 11> I was there from 1981 to 1988. I wasn’t as bad ad the decayed pictures show it. Sure there were some rough moments and some tough calls to be made to ensure our safety. It was commonly understaffed, sometimes with one male Therapy Aid for 35 male admission patients. Sometimes they gave us a female TA or a nurse but not enough to handle [in my best Terminator voice] “a crisis situation”. When I worked with a female I had her locked in the office and told her to call for someone if something went down.

        I feel for the cops in the city, under-staffed and overworked. I would wake up in the morning and tell myself that I have to do anything possible to get home that night. It’s funny because the desire to help people is what made me work there and in seven years I turned into a monster that had to do whatever it took to get home.

        Don’t get me wrong, it was just doing time and playing pool or cards with the patients, but I have seen some pretty brutal stuff go down and if I was alone…you get the picture. So helping people got me into the place and what I turned into made me get out.

        I do miss the people I worked with, everybody stuck together and we all got along fine. I still miss my friends there. If you worked there any time from 1981-1988 and worked wards 9 and 11 (I was on 9 most of the time) you know me and can relate. And you also know what we had to do. But mostly it was quiet unless we had a troublesome admission paitent who had no record, and was very unpredictable. The only thing that made me get by were my coworkers. I learned a lot about people and mostly the bad side. But I do handle ‘crisis situations’. I had a paitent break right out of a canvas straight jacket, or camisole was the more politically correct word, I have seen it all and I am a better person from the experience, It’s just the paitents who sometimes got the raw end of the deal. They were sick and most of them could not control their behavior, they were sick.

        I’m glad the place closed down but again I miss my posse. Peace and love to you all who had a similar experience there. -/DT

  5. I am looking for either a patient or student that was at Rockland State Hospital in 1962. I am adopted and recently discovered from an original birth certificate that she was there in 1962. I was born on April 18, 1962 in Englewood, NJ. She then returned to Rockland as indicated on my birth certificate that her residence was Rockland State Hospital. Her name was Mildred L. Cade and would greatly appreciate any information or direction I can go to find out about her.

  6. I recently received my original birth certificate as I was adopted in 1962. I am hoping to find out any information or how I can go about getting information about my birth mother. It indicated she was either a resident or student at Rockland State Hospital in 1962. I was born on April 18, 1962 her name was Mildred L. Cade and through this site found the information very interesting and helpful. I was not born in Rockland, I was born in Englewood, NJ across the river not far from NY. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  7. How can I track patient information from 1940’s? I have learned my birthmom, now deceased, made at least two ‘visits’ to ‘Middletown’ hospital right around the time I was born, 1950. Please help.

  8. My grandmother was a patient there. Shewas committed in 1955 and died there in 1989. Is there anyone that can tell me if there is a way to track down her records?

  9. Hey.. I am a patient right now. I have been here since Sept 24, 2015. I was an inpatient (locked up) until July 2016, when I was moved to an outpatient residence. I am no longer locked in, but I live on the grounds. There is a lot of good and bad stuff going on in here. I don’t feel safe much of the time. Mostly due to other patients being out of control and violent. Very interesting to read others’ stories and opinions…. Thank you all for sharing.

    1. Oh i removed wrongly what i wanted to say actually:

      I have a interesting question and thats why i need someone who was or is a patient there.

  10. I am interested in finding about the nursing school that was at Rockland. My father went to and graduated from this nursing programme in 1945, then came to Maryland to work for the (then) Veterans Administration, now Department of Veterans Affairs.
    Thank you,
    John A. Ford

  11. Would love to know if I would be messed with by authorities if I were to walk the grounds of the abandoned portion of this place…Tried letchworth, but couldn’t get the owner to reply to my requests…so in that I take that their answer was no…

    1. Hi Michael, you can walk the grounds fairly easily at Rockland but you are in the midst of the medical facility. They aren’t usually that amenable to requests. Letchworth is actually part of a public park, so you can definitely walk those grounds. Going inside the buildings isn’t officially allowed there. Hope that helps!

      1. When did you walk the grounds, let your mind. wonder as you look at the buildings, there are a group of buildings up on the hill, there there did shock therapy, lobotomies, cold bath, in tunes where you were in something like a straight-jacket, just read an article where they killed a patient with medication ( they were giving him all kind of psychological medication without knowing which ones reacted with the other one). I know the institution I was a patient there because I was a wayward child… trust me they are still killing patients with medication but we just don’t hear about it.
        I hope with my little intro you will be able to live vicariously with the patients who were there and there’s a graveyard also over by the golf course where there are a number of patients who are buried there and you wonder what happened to them. Enjoy your walk through and just imagine what horror that’s going on there at that time and more than likely are going on now you can take that to the bank. Taylor

        1. Dear Taylor when were you there? I am interested in interviewing folks who were there in the early fifties or maybe late forties early mid-fifties as children. my interest is serious not trivial. Thank you so much for considering my request if it is in the right time frame.

  12. My brother was addmited there 55 years ago. His name was Daniel Miller .he had downs sindrome.
    i was lucky .i went to schools for slow learners. in NY.they were chathalic schools.then i went to one of the worst public school in Harlem cooper junier high school 120.that’s a church now .talk about irony .
    My brother had a mind of a three yr. old.i don’t know why he was put in there .when i was young but my family did visit him often .bring food for him and sat with him for an hr.or so.i live the shame of what i did to him .not understanding what i was doing.my parents are dead not and i still live at the old apt.
    since then i did not go to see him.my life was hard . on the last visit i took a friend with me to .see him he didn’t reconize me and called me girl friend MOM.he frighten he so we had to go .we seperated .and i had a nerves breakdown.Spent 3 weeks in harlem. i tried about 2014 to find him.Now that i know the Hos.
    was abandoned .My brother could be dead for all I know now.may God have mercy on me and bless him were ever he is.

  13. I was a patient there when i was 5 years old never knew why but it was a horror the abuse and fear i suffered i wouldn’t wish on anyone
    I was in building 11 cottage 4 in the childrens wards i remember it well
    To this day i wish i could run into any staff member who i interacted with so i could share my pain this was in 1965 through 1969

    1. I WAS THERE DURING THIS TIME, I WAS 6 YEARS OLD WHEN I WENT THERE. I TO WISH I COULD SEE SOME OF THE OLD STAFF.. I WAS IN BUILDING 36, DONT THINK I REMEMBER THE COTTAGE, WHAT I REMEMBER IS I THINK IT WAS 73 OR 74. MY NAME WAS FRANCES WASHINGTON THAN

  14. I was a patient there when i was 5 years old never knew why but it was a horror the abuse and fear i suffered i wouldn’t wish on anyone
    I was in building 11 cottage 4 in the childrens wards i remember it well
    To this dayni wish i could run into any staff member who i interacted with so i could share my pain

  15. I grew up in the staff court of RPC and lived there fro age 9 to 23. The Staff Court had its own story to tell and would make a great documentary.

  16. I was a patient there in the late 50’s to early 60’s, I personally know know the horrors that when on there. For one Pete Lacy had the doctor order me 400 milligrams of Thorazine twice a day as punishment, he informed me the next time I would be history… have seen other patients died an always wonder why, after all they appeared healthy to me…

  17. I am an former employee.The psych center was one of the biggest employers up till the late 90’s.

  18. Hey george I would like to know what you saw everything you remember only if you don’t mind.I am fascinated by it all.

  19. I think my Paternal Grandfather died here in 1948. How do I go about getting information about him?

    1. You don’t know the half of it as I do, I am a witness to what went on there as a small not crazy kid, Joyce it may look, nice but it wasn’t

    2. Yes Rockland State Hospital, Was a nice place back in the day, I was employed there after I left the Army in 1964 and was there for 10 years, I started work in bldg. 58 and the last bldg.18, I would love to see some of the former employees doing my time there, I also stayed in home 11- room-53 for about 5 years and moved down to the home- 43 room- 84, I loved working with the patients, it is so sad to see the place like this when the buildings and the landscape was so nice, so sad,

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