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Willard State Hospital among ‘Seven to Save’ historical sites in NY

The Preservation League of NYS included Willard State Hospital in Romulus on its ‘Seven to Save’ list of the most endangered historical sites in the state.

Willard State Hospital- formally named Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane- was built in 1869 on the east side of Seneca Lake at the site of the short-lived Ovid Agricultural College. The facility came to national attention in 1995 when workers discovered hundreds of suitcases in the attic containing the belongings of former patients.

Aerial view of Willard campus looking east. Credit: Preservation League


Related: ‘WE DON’T NEED AS MANY PRISONS’: Hochul eyes ‘scaling-down’ or closure of state correctional facilities

Property left vacant after Willard Drug Campus closure

The hospital closed in 1995. Some buildings were repurposed by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) for the Willard Drug Treatment Campus.

In November 2021, DOCCS announced the treatment center, along with six state prisons and 27 other correctional facilities in New York, would close in March 2022. Empire State Development Corporation retains ownership over the site.

Since the closure was sudden, no plans were developed to secure the buildings for future use, hence the League’s urging for the site to be repurposed.

Related: Upstate Republicans hammer Hochul, Democrats over closure of more prisons: Willard to shutter in March 2022


Hopes to revitalize

For over two decades, the Preservation League has highlighted New York’s most endangered historic sites through its ‘Seven to Save’ program. Over the course of the two-year listing, the League works with local advocates to help raise visibility, assist with advocacy and provide an array of technical services.

Maple building at Willard State Hospital, c. 1940. Credit: Preservation League

“The historic buildings and grounds of Willard are an opportunity to better understand far more than our rural local history,” said Margaret Ellsworth, President of the Romulus Historical Society Board of Trustees, according to a release.

“They are tangible reminders of social themes such as mental health that are universal. The Asylum came here with the appreciation of its beautiful location on the shores of Seneca Lake. That same magnificent location now offers the opportunity to repurpose these buildings and their history in a direction that will benefit our local economy and create a new destination in the Finger Lakes.”

Related: No new prison closures planned for 2022-23 fiscal year


Full 2022-23 ‘Seven to Save’ List

“The individual sites included on this year’s Seven to Save list embody key preservation issues affecting places across New York State,” said League President Jay DiLorenzo.

“From the negative environmental impact of senseless demolition to bringing little-known, but important, histories to light, the League is excited to work alongside on-the-ground advocates to save each of these seven at-risk places.”

The Preservation League’s full 2022-23 list:

  • Thomas Memorial AME Zion Church, Watertown, Jefferson County

Threat: Deterioration; Demolition

  • Genesee Valley Park, Rochester, Monroe County

Threat: Demolition; Development Pressure; Lack of Public Awareness; Loss of Visual/Architectural Integrity

  • Proposed South of Union Square Historic District, Manhattan, New York County

Threat: Demolition; Development Pressure; Loss of Visual/Architectural Integrity

  • Downtown Oneonta Historic District, Oneonta, Otsego County

Threat: Development pressure; Demolition

  • Willard State Hospital, Romulus, Seneca County

Threat: Demolition; Deterioration; Development Pressure; Lack of Public Awareness;
Loss of Visual/Architectural Integrity; Vacancy

  • James Brooks / Charlotte Park Home & Studios, East Hampton, Suffolk County

Threat: Demolition; Deterioration; Lack of Public Awareness; Vacancy

For more information about the Seven to Save program, visit the Preservation League’s website.

You can also check out the League’s Facebook, Instagram or YouTube to learn more.

Related: Inflation, supply, and stiff competition: Ovid Big M’s plight as a small town grocery store



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