Columbia University

Morningside Heights, the home of Columbia University, is a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan between 110th and 125th Streets and from Riverside Drive to Morningside Drive. As its name suggests, the neighborhood is located on a high plateau between Riverside and Morningside Parks. Until about the 1890s, the area was rather inaccessible and contained two notable asylums, but around the turn of the century, residential development began as the University expanded. Today, the neighborhood is home to numerous universities including the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as many religious institutions. Here are our top 10 secrets of Morningside Heights!

1. The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was located at present-day Columbia University

Buell Hall at Columbia University
Buell Hall at Columbia University

The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was a private hospital for the mentally ill where Columbia University is now located. Founded by New York Hospital, the institution was proposed as early as 1769 by Dr. Peter Middleton, who advocated for a “public infirmary,” but it wasn’t until 1816 that the Society of the New York Hospital bought 26 acres for the asylum. A 30-bed building was constructed in 1829 for men, and one for women was erected eight years later, which made the facility the first in the state that cared for the mentally ill. As the institution grew, so did the population needing care, and those who could not afford medical treatment were moved to Roosevelt Island‘s New York City Lunatic Asylum.

Contrary to what most would expect, the asylum featured elaborate gardens with a working farm, orchards, and pasture. Many valued the therapeutic nature of the facility, which would eventually move to White Plains in 1889. As the city expanded further north, New York Hospital sold not just the asylum but also the nearby Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum on the present-day Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The orphan asylum, for “the maintenance and education of helpless orphan children” was founded in 1831 and remained at the site until 1891. Once Columbia University expanded its Morningside Heights campus, it occupied several buildings from the former asylum, and today, the only structure remaining is Buell Hall, which houses La Maison Française.