Letchworth Village - An abandoned residential institution located in Rockland County, New York in the hamlet of Thiells
Originally built in 1911 as a residence for the physically and mentally disabled of all ages. Letchworth Village at its peak consisted of over 130 buildings spread out over many acres of land.
On February 27, 1950, the first trial case of the polio vaccine in the United States was administered to an 8-year-old patient. After the patient suffered no side effects, the vaccine was administered to 19 more of the institution’s children. In 1972, a New York affiliate of ABC News featured Letchworth Village and its appalling conditions in an episode called Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace which helped lead to reform of similar healthcare institutions throughout the United States.
Letchworth was described as an ideal center for the mentally challenged and praised by the state at first. Yet, rumors such as the mistreatment of patients and horrific experimenting continued to circulate long after its closing. Former worker Dr. Little presented in an annual report in 1921 that there were three categories of “feeble-mindedness”: the “moron” group, the “imbecile” group, and the “idiot” group. The last of these categories is the one that could not be trained, Dr. Little said, and so they should not be taken into Letchworth Village, because they were unable to “benefit the state.” the various jobs that were assigned to the male patients included loading thousands of tons of coal into storage facilities, building roads, and were expected to farm acres of land. A disturbing realization upon a review of Little’s reports is that many of his patients were young children. In 1921, the 13th Annual Report lists the number of patients admitted that year. 317 Out of 506 people were between the ages of 5 and 16, and 11 were under the age of 5 years. The negative energy surrounding Letchworth is heightened because so many of the patients were young children. Visitors observed that the children were malnourished and looked sick. The Letchworth staff claimed in the Report that there was a scarcity of food, water, and other necessary supplies but that was not the case. Children were often the subjects of testing and some of the most cruel neglect. Many of the children were able to comprehend learning but were not given the chance because they were thought of as “different.” Patients were forced to dwell in cramped dormitories, because the state would not complete the construction of more buildings. Barely ten years after being constructed, Letchworth’s buildings were already overpopulated, cramming 70 beds into the tiny dormitories. Nearly 1,200 patients were present during 1921. Over-population was one of the harshest conditions at Letchworth. By the 1950s, the Village was overflowing with 4,000 inhabitants. Quoting a spokesman for the State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Corcoran confirmed that families abandoned their relatives there. Families of patients seemed to be just as neglectful as caregivers of the facility.
By the mid-1980s, the institution was no longer being adequately funded nor properly managed and residents, including children, continued to be found unclothed, unbathed, and neglected. In addition to rampant abuse among the institution’s residents, staff also suffered abuse at the hands of fellow co-workers which included incidents of rape. In 1996 the institution was permanently closed down, and many of its abandoned structures have since fallen into serious disrepair.
Nearing the end of Call Hollow Road, Rockland County, there is a wide path dividing thick woodland. A large memorial stone shows the words “THOSE WHO SHALL NOT BE FORGOTTEN” and a list of hundreds of names. Behind this memorial are T-shaped markers bearing numbers which mark hundreds of nameless victims who perished at Letchworth. The cemetery lays half of a mile away from the institution. The old grave markers reveal only the numbers that the dead patients had been given, because families refused to allow their names to be known. Patients’ names are buried in the archives at Letchworth Village, off limits to the public. Hardly anybody visits these graves. Few people ever did. Letchworth Village still cares for the old burial ground, sending a crew every few months to mow the tall grass, straighten the markers and clear away the garbage.
In 2011, Letchworth was featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures cable-television series on Season 5, Episode 6 which originally aired on October 28, 2011.