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Glance At The Past

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We received three photos this week from regular contributor Drusilla Howland of Ogdensburg showing the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s buildings circa 1910.

The building with the severely peaked roof next to a pond is Curtis Hall, named for Gen. Newton Martin Curtis of Ogdensburg, a Civil War veteran and statesman who introduced legislation in the Assembly on April 29, 1886, to build the psychiatric center, known originally as the St. Lawrence State Asylum. Its name was changed to the St. Lawrence State Hospital just before it opened in 1890.

The hospital’s location on Point Airy was specifically chosen because of its scenic beauty, which was believed to be therapeutic. Its buildings were deliberately designed to be airy and open — because fresh air was believed to be a crucial component to patient recovery — while also balancing security and grandeur.

For the better half of the first century it operated, the hospital was almost totally self-sufficient. It grew its own produce, raised its own livestock, and supplied its own water and electricity. It canned and sold its own milk. Other sources of revenue came from the sale of its livestock and field crops and from its logging operations. Patients engaging in therapeutic work programs wove linens and rugs, sewed clothes, made shoes, tinware, furniture, brooms and brushes.

The hospital also operated a nursing school, and offered cutting-edge therapies for its patients along with leisure activities on land and water, and plenty of entertainment. Curtis Hall was home to concerts, plays, movie showings and dances. In 1928, it was the first state psychiatric hospital in New York to offer a beauty salon for its patients.

Gen. Curtis from the time the hospital was built until his death in 1910 was one of its staunch supporters. The hall was named after him five months after he died as a tribute to his support.

We believe these photos were taken shortly after the hall was named after Gen. Curtis, who is Ms. Howland’s great-uncle. That year, the hospital campus amounted to 1,219 acres, the vast majority of which was farmland. It employed 400 people and served 2,158 patients. Also that year, the hospital opened the first outpatient dispensary, demonstrating a modern, evolving philosophy about psychiatric care.

Outpatient offerings were expanded in 1968, and the center was renamed the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in 1972. Its nursing school closed in 1981, the same year the Trinity Building was constructed. By that time the hospital no longer housed patients in its original stone buildings, which by that time failed to meet updated codes and medical regulations. Most of its original buildings remain empty to this day.

If you have a photo or feature for Glance At The Past, please contact Advance-News Editor Elizabeth Lyons at 393-1003, extension 123, or egraham@wdt.net. Photos and accompanying information will be published in the order in which they are received, and must be received by Monday to be considered for publication the following Sunday. Contributors may pick up their submissions at The Journal and Advance-News office in Ogdensburg after they are published.

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