A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
Farewell, Gentle Spirits
After 140 Years, Broome County’s Historic Alms House is Demolished

"Tonight I walked slowly around the building to say a private farewell to the spirit of times past. The wrecking ball had already demolished half of the structure, and what remained was only twisted rubble, broken bricks and smashed window glass… I could almost feel the presence of those who found comfort in this old building. Some may have died, some went home to their families, all found refuge in this big, comfortable dwelling. Their voices call out, ‘we were here once, we passed this way once in our lifetime, do not let our dwelling disappear unnoticed.’"

In 1984 Bernice Dozoretz wrote these words to express her feelings on the demolition of East Building, a century-old structure at the Binghamton Psychiatric Center, now known as Greater Binghamton Health Center.

Her comments are especially appropriate today. Many in this community can now relate first-hand to Dozoretz’ deep feelings on the destruction of an historic structure, a building filled with memories of the people who lived and died there.

On February 5, 2010, the historic Broome County Alms House, a former administration and housing building of the Broome County Poor Farm and now part of the Broome Community College campus, was demolished. Built in 1870, its fate had been debated for the last 30 years. Finally, early morning on this day, demolition began.

The procedure was executed with surgical precision and absolute efficiency. Over a period of three hours, this grand structure that stood proud for 140 years, was reduced to landfill.

Removing the Cupola.

The cupola on top of the building, although a duplicate of the original, has always been the most recognizable and distinctive feature of the structure. I watched as the enormous yellow excavator chewed its way toward the rooftop icon, finally breaking it loose. Then, as if in slow motion, the cupola leaned and gracefully tipped onto the huge steel claw where it stayed balanced as the claw very gently lowered it to the ground. Once safely on mother earth, the massive claw, in an apparent change of heart, raised up and then crashed down onto the cupola, smashing it to bits.

Like East Building, the Alms House and surrounding buildings provided refuge and comfort to the unfortunate in our area for over a century. It stood testament to this community’s humanitarian spirit. Its rooms witnessed countless births and deaths, and within its walls thousands of stories played out, stories of those who "passed this way once" in their lifetime.

The Alms House is gone. Nothing remains except photographs and memories. Soon students will be parking cars and rushing to class, oblivious to the piece of our heritage that once stood in that spot. It now joins an elite list of historic buildings that are no more, that hold a special place in the history of this community and in the hearts of its residents. The Rose Mansion on Riverside Drive, Farmers’ Bank in Endicott, and now the Alms House are all gone, they will never be forgotten.

On that summer night in 1984, Bernice Dozoretz reflected on East Building and its former residents. There was a warm breeze. She watched as white curtains gently waved through shattered windows. Then, before leaving she made one final gesture. "I paused to say farewell to the gentle spirits and the gentle building that housed them," she wrote. "Before I left, I threw some daisies over the fence in final farewell because even a building has the right to have its passing mourned."

Farewell, gentle spirits.

See More Photos of the Alms House Demolition