As though it as dependable as the life cycle of a butterfly, American mental institutions all seem to follow a trajectory from noble-facility-for-healing to abusive-human-rights-horror-show to haunting-ruins, and New York’s Letchworth Village is no exception.
Opened in 1911 the sprawling asylum complex was created as a home for "the segregation of the epileptic and feeble-minded.” While the archaic language makes the facility seem as though it was a sinister institution from the start, it was actually seen as fairly progressive with its layout of smaller, more personal dwellings spread out on the grounds as opposed to the classic, imposing asylum building that had previously been the popular model. Unfortunately despite the good intentions of the facility planners the institution was almost immediately overcrowded leading to insufficient funds and staff, which then, as it often did in such hospitals, curdled into abuse among the inmates and staff.
The facility was also up front about its intention to use the inmates as guinea pigs in clinical trials. The most famous of which was the experimental polio vaccine which was successfully tested on an eight year old boy in 1950, and subsequently a hand full of other patients, ushering in the widespread use of the vaccine that we still see today. It is likely that it was only the success of these experiments that postponed public outrage at the testing, allowing Letchworth to remain open for decades after.
Letchworth Village was finally closed in 1996 after decades of human rights campaigns that closed a number of similar facilities around the country. And just as so many other closed mental institutions, the grounds were simply left to rot and be retaken by nature, slowly adding credence to the hoary horror movie trope of the creepy abandoned institution with the disturbing past.