“The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it.

Frederick Law Olmsted

The former Buffalo State Hospital stands as a testament to the revolutionary architecture created with the confluence of three 19th-century geniuses: architect Henry Hobson Richardson, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and physician Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. What’s even more unique is that the former Buffalo State Hospital is now the Richardson Hotel, where guests can spend the night in a former asylum.

Abandoned room inside the former Buffalo State Hospital
Typical patient ward – Buffalo State Hospital

Join photographer John Lazzaro, creator of A Vanishing New York: Ruins Across the Empire State, for a virtual talk on July 17th where he’ll share more photographs of Buffalo State Hospital and more abandoned structures of the area! This virtual talk is free for Untapped New York Insiders! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today with promo code JOINUS and get your first month free!

A Vanishing Chautauqua Allegheny and Niagara Frontier

A period of extensive growth permeated through the northwest section of New York State at the completion of the Erie Canal. Buffalo was incorporated into a city less than a decade later in 1832. The wealth of land in the surrounding Buffalo area led to an increase in population and with that, the New York State legislature soon authorized the construction of a new state hospital. After completing the Buffalo Park System, Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to design the hospital campus. At the behest of Olmsted, architect Henry Hobson Richardson was brought on to design the hospital buildings.

Design for the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane following the ‘Kirkbride Plan.’

Richardson created an architectural plan following physician and psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride’s mode of treatment. Kirbride believed environment and exposure to natural light and air circulation were crucial to treating mental illness. Kirkbride’s treatment system, known as ‘moral management,’ required a calm and peaceful atmosphere. In Kirkbride’s view, the architecture of state hospitals was paramount in the treatment plan.

A Kirkbride hospital had a central administration building with two radiating wings – eight on each side – to separate and accommodate 250 male and female patients. Each section of the wing housed a separate ward. The furthest ward from the center was designated for the most dangerous and volatile patients.

Construction on the hospital began in 1871 and it finished nearly 25 years later. With half of the buildings finished, the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane opened in November 1880.

Brick fireplace at the former Buffalo State Hospital
Common area – Buffalo State Hospital

As treatment for mental illness progressed from the Kirkbride Plan to the Cottage Style layout of state hospitals, Buffalo Asylum expanded. A new chapel, hospital staff residences, and occupational therapy buildings were added. The patient population peaked in 1950 with 2,766 patients living on the grounds.

Barbershop chairs in a room at the former Buffalo State Hospital
Barbershop – Buffalo State Hospital
Tables stacked up in  room at former Buffalo State Hospital
Hospital storage – Buffalo State Hospital

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed The Community Mental Health Act, which called for a new approach to the treatment of the mentally ill. Federally funded community mental health centers were created to replace large state psychiatric hospitals such as Buffalo State. The law supposed patients would be better served in their community rather than in a psychiatric ward. Combined with the advent of new psychotropic medications, hospitals all over the country began to discharge patients.

As the original hospital building designed by H.H. Richardson aged, the Strozzi Building – a new reception and intensive treatment facility – began accepting transferred patients in 1965. By 1974, the last patients moved to the Strozzi Building. The 19th-century structure was closed for good. Even though the central administration section of Buffalo State Hospital remained in use for office and clerical space until the 1990s, the outer wards were left to decay.

Brick walls of the former Buffalo State Hospital
Patient porch – Buffalo State Hospital

In 2004, the New York State Legislature appropriated $100 million for the rehabilitation of the Richardson Olmsted Campus and the former Buffalo State Hospital with a plan for repurposing the campus for community use. Stabilizing all of the buildings was the first step. In 2008, the Richardson Center Corporation used $10 million of the appropriated funds to fix areas in danger of collapse. Over the next several years, the decayed structures became Hotel Henry (named after its architect). The state-of-the-art hotel opened in 2017 with 88 rooms and large conference and event spaces.

In 2022, after a brief pandemic closure, the space reopened as the Richardson Hotel. Untapped New York got to stay there in 2019! To date, one can still tour the outermost wings of the former Buffalo State Hospital thanks to the Lipsey Architecture Center Buffalo and Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

A Vanishing Chautauqua Allegheny and Niagara Frontier

Next, check out 12 More Abandoned Hospitals Outside NYC and grab your own copy of John Lazzaro’s book, A Vanishing New York: Ruins Across the Empire State