Abandoned State Asylum for the Insane

Abandoned Buffalo State Asylum Richardson Oldstead Complex Hotel Henry

This Abandoned State Asylum for the Insane started construction in 1870 and was completed almost 20 years later.

It was a state-of-the-art facility when it was built, incorporating the most modern ideas in psychiatric treatment.

The design of the buildings as well as the restorative grounds were intended to complement the innovations in psychiatric care practiced at this facility.

This design was representative of what was then known as the Kirkbride system, named after the physician who developed it.

Treatment for people with mental illness continued in the Complex until the late 1990’ when a new psychiatric Center was built east of the historic complex in 1965.

In 1997, after completing an extensive statewide Master Plan, the NYS Office of Mental Health announced its intention to divest itself of several psychiatric hospital sites, including this old Psychiatric Hospital.

The complex and grounds were originally built on 203 acres of largely undeveloped farmland. The V-shaped design consisted of the central tower building with five buildings flanking on each side, connected by curved corridors, branching out in a “flock of geese” formation.

As a stage of development in the classification and treatment of mental illnesses, Kirkbride’s system was designed with a central administration building flanked by patient wards in a V-formation. This enabled patients to be gathered according to the type and level of their illness. Rooms were arranged along both sides of the corridor and the buildings were designed for maximum light, ventilation, and privacy, and a home like atmosphere.

Over time services and administrative offices were moved out of the historic complex and into the new facilities, where they continue.

The complex is internationally regarded as one of architecture’s great treasures. In 1973 it was added to the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and in 1986 it was registered as a National Historic Landmark – one of only seven such sites in Western New York – and is listed on the National Trust’s list of twelve nationwide “sites to save” and the Preservation League’s statewide list of seven “sites to save

A former patient remembered being treated at the psychiatric center in 1961. The retired educator, originally from Lackawanna, also wrote the book Bipolar Buffalo. Rudnicki shared his story recalling how he suffered a mental break down while attending University more than 50-years ago.

“You know my first night I was chained to the bed by sheets, so I was naked as basically a human ‘X’. My arms and legs were tied by twisted white sheets to the four corners of the bed. The light, I recall vividly was nothing but a wire hanging from the ceiling with a naked bulb,”

The complex fell into serious disrepair in the second half of the 20th century. In the early 2000s, a group of local preservationists successfully sued the state of New York, forcing a fix-up. Fifteen years and millions of taxpayer dollars later, the results are amazing.

The hotel, located north of downtown in the city’s museum district, has quickly become one of Buffalo’s premier destinations for weddings and other special occasion. It’s worth a stop for a drink and a tour, even if you can’t stay.

The hotel takes up three of the original 11 buildings (three of which were torn down over the years). Its centerpiece: The main administration building with its two iconic, copper-topped 180-foot towers.

This main building houses the hotel’s public spaces – the second-floor reception area, along with the 100 Acres restaurant, which takes its name from the 100 acres set aside for patient farmland when the hospital first opened.

The 88 guestrooms and suites are located in the two buildings flanking the towers, with curved, second-floor hallways connecting the structures.
As gorgeous as the property is, there is plenty of work still to come. The five remaining original Richardson buildings have been stabilized, but are otherwise untouched, filled with fallen plaster and other debris.

This is the section that RiddimRyder and I have come here to see. I was here for a legal photography tour in 2016 and was very pleased with what I was able to see, I highly recommend this tour for anyone interested. But this time around, we’re not here for a guided tour with hard hats, we’re here for a self guided tour.

RiddimRyder and I would arrive late at night, stalking the security patrol to determine the best time and location to make our entry, after watching for two hours we made our way in, in the dark, under the shadow of this old looming building, we hugged the walls until we found our entry point.
We’ve made our way inside, but it’s dark and the windows are everywhere, so we are using our red headlamps to guide us, it’s not easy to navigate your way in the pitch black with only a red light.

The first order of business, find our accommodations, a section that is clean enough to breath and can support two hammocks. We find the perfect place, a curved ward connector with heavy metal supports holding up the walls and ceiling. Next, find a window and watch for the security patrol, as long as we see him and he is on his regular timing and not walking with any sense of urgency, we know we have made it in undetected. It takes some time, but we finally see him, wandering slowly with his headphones on. We’re safe.
It is late and it is dark, but we are far too excited to settle in for the night, RiddimRyder and I return to home base, we grab a few beers grab our read light headlamps and off we go to explore this century old historic asylum by night.

Abandoned Buffalo State Asylum Hammocks

We wander the hallways and corridors, we walk through curved ward connectors, we explore the basement tunnels and the warm attics with its cathedral ceilings. In the basement, we find a wooden wall – this is as far as it goes as beyond that wall is the Hotel Henry, we were hoping that the tunnels may still pass below and take us below the hotel and across to the other wing that was also abandoned, but this would not happen.

Riddim and I know that we need a solid plan for the morning as public tours start at 10am, so we need to know exactly where to go in the morning to get the public tour section done first, before the guides arrive.

By 2:30am we have explored the entire left wing of the asylum, every floor and every ward, so we know the lay of the land in the morning. We make our way to our home base and settle into our hammocks for a very cold and very broken few hours of sleep. In the morning, the sound of the outside world and light from the rising sun wakes us both up, it is 7:00am and we’ve got alot of ground to cover!

Approximately two hours into our explore and as I am waiting for RiddimRyder to finish shooting so we can move on to the next ward that I hear a very loud sound coming from the floor beneath us.

It was the sound of someone dragging something heavy and metal across the floor. I froze and every hair on my body stood on end, I stay still, silent and I listen.

Abandoned Buffalo State Asylum Richardson Oldstead Complex Hotel Henry

RiddimRyder appears and I tell him we aren’t alone and there is most definitely a staff member in the building setting up for the tours that begin in roughly one hour. We make our way to the basement only to find that we can’t get to a safe place from here. We stop and debate our situation and we both opt to go with our guts, pack our gear and leave. However, leaving means potentially running into this person, we quickly and quietly make our way to the stairwell that will take us to the tunnels and away from the section where they do tours. We find our way to the one and only way in and out and we make our exit, free and clear!


Photo by RiddimRyder


2024 Buffalo Asylum Update

I’ll never give up an opportunity to explore this old state asylum, this was my third visit here. My first time here was on a tour in 2015, while it was great to see it on the tour, it wasn’t as much fun.
My last two visits were done the old-fashioned way, this one was done at night as by the time we arrived the sun had set, so we had to rely on long exposures to light up the dark areas and then we found the areas where they keep the lights on!


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