Buffalo asylum now Hotel Henry
Sunday, October 15, 2017 | Wayne Newton, Special to Postmedia Network
I’m looking for a word to describe how I feel as I first drive up to the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane.
The main building, which sat vacant for 40 years, is a massive castle-like structure of red sandstone, brought to Buffalo along the Erie Canal from Medina, N.Y.
During the 1800s, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride came up with the idea that architecture and pasto ral farm settings could cure the mentally ill.
The buildings in Buffalo were designed by architect Henry Richardson, whose style became known as Richardson Romanesque. The surrounding grounds were designed by the father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Olmsted. The complex included a working 100-acre farm where patients worked — the fields are now Buffalo State College.
The asylum was a state-of-the-art treatment centre. With construction taking place between 1872 and 1896, it eventually comprised 11 buildings and nearly 500,000 square feet of space for thousands of patients. It closed a century later, with the last patients left to their own devices to make their way in the city.
It must have been tempting to leverage it as a paranormal exploration, ghost story, Halloween hotel destination, like say the Stanley Hotel in Colorado made famous by the Stephen King book and movie The Shining, but that’s not the case. At this hotel, it’s about respect for the building’s legacy of mental health care and the patients who once lived there as well as moving forward with the complex’s new uses.
“We are honouring the intent of the complex as a place of hope and healing for people with mental illness,” the Richardson Olmsted website notes. “Horror- or paranormal-themed activities may be perceived as portraying those with mental illness in a negative light.”
After sitting vacant and deteriorating for 40 years, the main administrative and patient building reopened this year as the 88-room Hotel Henry, named in honour of its architect.