Posts Tagged ‘Hospitals 19th Century NYC’

What remains of Astoria’s River Crest Sanitarium

May 11, 2020

Astoria in the 19th century was a riverfront neighborhood of expansive estates and houses, as well as a country-like destination for Manhattan residents seeking open space and East River breezes.

As the century came to a close, and the estates were beginning to be carved up and replaced by industry, one pioneering doctor decided Astoria would be the right place to open his own sanitarium.

Dr. John Kindred’s River Crest Sanitarium launched in 1896. The spacious institution consisted of eight separate buildings at today’s Ditmars Boulevard and 26th Street.

Built on land once known as the Wolcott Estate, the private sanitarium advertised itself as a place for people with “mental and nervous diseases” and alcohol and drug addiction, according to Long Island City, by the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

A mental hospital and rehab facility may not sound too unusual to contemporary New Yorkers. But this kind of place was novel in the 1890s. At the time, psychology was in its infancy, and mental issues were usually viewed as more of a morals problem, not a brain disorder.

People suffering from mental illness had few options. There was always the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island—which had to eventually close after Nelly Bly exposed its horrific conditions in 1887.

Private sanitariums like River Crest filled the void, if you could afford it. While it’s unclear what it would cost to undergo “electro-therapy” or “hydro-therapy-massage,” as the postcard advertises, the place seems geared toward the wealthy.

The above ad emphasizes River Crest’s “splendid views” of the East River for “first-class patients.” The facility even had an early phone number: 36 Astoria.

Dr. Kindred had some training in psychology, though it’s unclear how effective his sanitarium was. Old newspaper articles reference patients who were there for everything from cocaine addiction to “temporary mental aberration.” Articles also note several escapes, suicides, and people committed against their will.

Long Island City states that patients were cared for at River Crest until the 1920s. Forgotten New York has it that River Crest closed in 1961, and a high school now occupies the space.

Forgotten New York also pointed out in 2009 that a ramp and two gateposts from River Crest are still at the site—apparently all that remains of a facility with a peaceful name that must have seen its share of trauma.

[Top image: Wikipedia/Greater Astoria Historical Society; second image: New York Academy of Medicine/Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection; third image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle; fourth image: Medical Record; fifth image: Wikipedia/Greater Astoria Historical Society]

Defunct city hospitals and their amazing buildings

March 9, 2020

These days, New York’s hospitals are consolidating and shrinking. But in the late 19th century city, hospital building was on the upswing—inspired by a rapidly growing population, the benevolent spirit of Gilded Age society, and a better sense of how to treat disease and illness.

“There are nearly 80 of these ‘inns on the highway of life where suffering humanity finds alleviation and sympathy,’ and many of them are among the largest and most magnificent buildings in the city.” stated King’s Handbook of New York City in 1892.

Recently the New York Academy of Medicine digitized 118 postcards of New York City hospitals. They’re part of the Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection, which includes about 2,000 postcards—many of 19th and early 20th century hospitals that have either been demolished and forgotten, repurposed for other uses, or are still (partially at least) standing, but with a different name.

Hahnemann Hospital (top image) is one that no New Yorker today would recognize. This spectacular hospital building opened in 1878 at Park Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets. “In addition to its free beds, the hospital provides a quiet and comforting home for the sick and suffering of all classes under homeopathic treatment,” stated King’s. It was sold in 1919 and an apartment building went up on this site in the 1920s.

City Hospital, on what was then called Blackwell’s Island, is another stunning structure (second image)—built by inmates serving time in the island’s prisons. James Renwick, Jr. designed the building, which opened in 1861. Closed in the 1930s and abandoned, City (later called Charity) hospital was bulldozed in 1994.

In 1874, an English surgeon described The Roosevelt Hospital, at 59th Street and 10th Avenue (third image), as “Without exception the most complete medical charity in every respect,” according to King’s. It owes its existence to James H. Roosevelt, who left his estate to create “a hospital for the reception and relief of sick and diseased persons, and for its permanent endowment.”

Today, what eventually became St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital has been rebranded Mount Sinai West. I believe most of these original buildings are gone, but the early surgery theater still remains.

Morningside Heights’ Woman’s Hospital (above) moved to this spot near the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1906. It merged with St. Luke’s Hospital in 1952, though this incredible Gothic building remained until the mid-1970s.

Originally located on Madison Avenue and 29th Street and then Park Avenue and 51st Street, Women’s Hospital was founded by surgeon Dr. Marion Sims—whose reputation has been called into question and a Fifth Avenue statue dedicated to Sims removed in 2018.

[All postcards belong to the New York Academy of Medicine/Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection]