The old folks’ homes of the 19th century city

They weren’t called assisted living centers or nursing homes then.

Instead, the Victorian institutions built to house elderly New Yorkers had names that didn’t sugarcoat their purpose.

This one at left, on Amsterdam Avenue and 103rd Street, was the “Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females.”

Here, “decayed gentlewomen find a pleasant and congenial home, as their faces turn toward the setting sun, ” explains King’s Handbook of New York, published in 1892.

“Any gentlewoman over sixty years of age is admitted on payment of $200 and the surrender of any property she may possess.”

The building still stands and now serves as a youth hostel.

The Home for the Aged of the Little Sisters of the Poor, above, stood at 135th West 106th Street; a second home run by this order was at 207 East 70th Street.

Men and women of any faith were welcome, so long as they were “over 60 years old and destitute,” states King’s. “The two homes give gratuitous care to nearly 500 inmates.”

This Addams Family–like building at left was the Chapin Home for the Aged and Infirm, at 151 East 66th Street. The rules were stricter.

“An applicant must be over 65 years old, and must pay an admission fee of $300, a physician’s examination fee of $5, and a burial fee of $50,” explains King’s. [Photo: NYPL digital collection]

Check out this gorgeous structure at 207-215 West 15th Street, formerly St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged. King’s tells us “it is entirely for the comfort of aged women.”

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16 Responses to “The old folks’ homes of the 19th century city”

  1. aspicco Says:

    $200 or $300 back then was a LOT of money!

  2. Parnassus Says:

    The St. Joseph home was perhaps not entirely for their comfort–that looks like a lot of steps up, and no street-level entrance.

  3. Sister Morphine Says:

    i think the us needs to bring back the poor house

  4. Lyn Says:

    I LOVE this website! Thanks for all the work you do!! What about the NYC Farm Colony that was on Staten Island? That place is so interesting. Got any photos of that one by chance?

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thank you! I have heard of the farm colony but don’t know much about it. I will look into it!

  6. Zelle VS Says:

    They had to be rich or helped by wealthy people. That is so interesting!

  7. Artnoize Says:

    What year was this building demolished?
    I live at this exact spot!
    My building was built in 1892

  8. wildnewyork Says:

    Which spot, 15th Street?

  9. petey Says:

    “the Victorian institutions built to house elderly New Yorkers had names that didn’t sugarcoat their purpose.”

    in italy there is a number of groups with names like ‘Associazione Nazionale Mutilati’.

  10. Artnoize Says:

    Yes, 15th Street.

  11. nycedges Says:

    @Lyn & Ephemeral — um, I did a post on THE NYC Farm Colony

    included archival pix for comparison of what it looks like now

  12. Lisa Says:

    The cornerstone of a building at 320 Washington Ave in Brooklyn reads “GRAHAM HOME FOR OLD LADIES (incorporated 1851)”.

    Shocking at first, since the word “old” has since become a slur.

  13. Juliet George Says:

    I would like to quote a passage from this post, and examples of names of these institutions, in an essay I am writing about a home established in 1897 in Texas for elderly women. Will you share with me the author’s name? I hate to just credit it to a blog and not to a person. If you do not want to state it here, please e-mail me.


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