A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
Finally... A Future for Binghamton's Castle
$12.45 Million Secured for Renovation

New York State Inebriate Asylum - the Castle on the Hill

It may have gone unnoticed by many, but last week history was made in our community.

An article on page four of Wednesday's newspaper announced State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo's successful attempt to secure $12.45 million of state funding to renovate the long-vacant Castle at the Greater Binghamton Health Center. It went on to describe plans by SUNY Upstate Medical University to expand their Clinical Campus into the renovated building.

This comes as very good news. Millions of dollars will be spent in this area on the project. The local economy will benefit, health services will improve, students will be attracted, and jobs will be created. Good news, but on the surface, "history making" would seem to be a stretch.

The article was titled "Funding Aids Health Facility at Psych Center 'Castle'." Translation: "THE CASTLE HAS BEEN SAVED!" Now that's a different story.

We all know the history - the Castle, originally known as the New York State Inebriate Asylum, was built 150 years ago. The idea was groundbreaking if not controversial at the time - it was to be an institution for the treatment of alcohol addiction, the very first of its kind in America. In 1880 it was converted to an "asylum for the chronic insane," and later would be known as Binghamton State Hospital.

The building is a magnificent, castellated gothic structure that stands unique as one of the most impressive and historically significant landmarks in the Southern Tier. Designed by a young inexperienced architect, Isaac Perry, it was to launch Perry's career as one of New York State's most prominent and prolific architects.

Fast forward to 1993, when on a cold January morning part of the fašade collapsed. The building was abandoned and virtually no one has been inside since. For 15 years the building has remained empty, deteriorating with each passing year, in ever increasing danger of demolition by neglect.

Over as many years there has been an ongoing effort to save the building - not as easy a task as one might think. Aside from the obvious issue of cost to rehabilitate the facility, there is another very important concern - any intended use of the building would have to be in keeping with the surrounding health center campus.

As we have seen with many of this area's historic and architectural treasures, promoting the preservation of a structure is easy. The hard part is in coming up with an interested party that has a practical use for the building, and sufficient funding to pull it off. The trick then, is to keep deterioration to a minimum until that happens.

Thankfully, although abandoned, for the last 15 years the Castle was kept secure, basic maintenance was performed, and best of all, it was heated through the winters.

Finally, last week everything came together. A plan that started to develop over a year ago came to fruition with the announcement that initial funding has been secured. By all appearances, the intended use could not be a more appropriate fit for the Clinical Campus, the Health Center, and the Binghamton community.

Above: Original towers. Below: The towers as they appear today

As an added bonus, part of the plan includes creation of a museum in the building, and it even provides a cost estimate for rebuilding the tops of the Castle towers, which were removed in the 1950's. Restoring the towers? Quite literally, that would be the icing on the cake!

At long last, Binghamton's Castle has been SAVED! More than simply a preservation success story, this just may be THE preservation success story of the decade.

Now add to that the announcement last Thursday by Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala that funding has been secured for renovation of the Alms House, an historic landmark that has been in serious jeopardy of demolition for years. With that announcement, the Alms House appears to have been saved, as well.

Sure, "Funding Aids Health Facility" is one way to put it. But make no mistake - history was made here last week, and over a period of two days, Greater Binghamton got a whole lot GREATER. I suppose it's a bit ironic, considering the original purpose of the Inebriate Asylum, but I suspect more than a few champagne corks were popped and glasses tipped after last week's announcements.

For more information on the Castle, and to view Assemblywoman Lupardo's entire news release, visit nysAsylum.com.