Hudson River State Hospital Fire

On Friday, April 27th , at 3:45 a.m., firefighters were dispatched to the old Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie, NY, where a fire had been reported. At the time, and in the hours that followed, no one had a sense of the magnitude of the destruction. On Saturday morning, many of us woke up to the news that there had been a serious fire at Hudson and that the  Administration Building had suffered significant damage. Still. This building was tough. We thought she could survive anything. Then we saw the pictures.

Witnesses report seeing a huge plume of smoke reaching into the sky and flames across the entire expanse of the massive structure. It took 75 firefighters almost 15 hours to extinguish the blaze. Despite flames, smoke, darkness and a building that had already seen its share of fires and was therefore structurally unstable, the firefighters prevailed and there were no reported injuries. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, the fire is believed to have been intentionally set.

Video: Justin Farrisi

This blaze is yet another major setback to plans to redevelop the site once known as Hudson River State Hospital. Designed in 1867 by Frederick Clarke Withers and expanded considerably over time, Hudson River State Hospital boasted over 150 acres of manicured lawns (with landscape design by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame), farms, a power plant, golf course, recreation center and of course, the jewel in the crown – the four-story Administration Building, designed in high Victorian Gothic style to meet the specifications of the
Kirkbride Plan – a novel approach to mental health treatment that allowed for a healthy, healing environment for Hudson’s 5,000 patients.

With its massive windows overlooking the Hudson River and sunlight streaming in throughout the day, this building exemplified everything the Kirkbride Plan sought to offer. It was at once formal and imposing, but also light and airy. It was a place where nurses, doctors, administrative staff and many others could meet with patients, work out treatment plans, consult on tough cases, and share good times and bad. With so much history and so much architectural merit, preserving the Administration Building seemed the right thing to do. We were pleased when the
developers of the site, EFG/DRA Heritage LLC, announced they intended to save the Administration Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Plans at one point called for the structure to be redeveloped as an 80-room hotel.

Photo: AHV

Now, that plan is up in smoke. The Poughkeepsie Journal reports that Hudson Heritage developers are now calling for the demolition of every building. It seems even the Administration Building – which we thought could survive anything – may not survive this.