All posts by Emily Mancini

The Binghamton Inebriate Asylum

On a hillside overlooking Binghamton stands a towering gothic castle. Although the intricate exterior stonework, stained-glass windows and medieval turrets make it seem something out of a fairy-tale, this castle has a very dark past. It is the former New York State Inebriate Asylum, once informally known as Binghamton Asylum for the Chronically Insane.

The Asylum has a strange history shrouded in tragedy, speculation, and mystery. Designed by New York architect Isaac Perry in 1858 and completed in 1864, the castle was built to house and treat alcoholics under the experimental theory that alcoholism, like insanity, was a disease whose cure required institutionalization. The Asylum faced financial woes for a decade after a great fire broke out in March of 1870. Governor Lucious Robinson deemed it a “complete failure” in 1879, suggesting that the Asylum be closed down and renovated to house the insane. In 1881, its doors were reopened as Binghamton Asylum for the Chronic Insane, later renamed Binghamton State Hospital. Hundreds of patients were transferred to Binghamton from Utica, Poughkeepsie, and Middletown, where they lived, suffered, and died in the castle-esque Asylum. Treatment methods only worsened with the turn of the century.

Architect Isaac G. Perry

In 1942, the hospital instituted Electric Shock Therapy, Hydrotherapy and later Lobotomy as methods of treatment for the mentally ill. These ‘treatments’ were nothing short of brutally inhumane. Patients were restrained in wet canvas for up to six hours at a time and forced into seizures by means of electric shock. The worst and most terrifying of these treatments was the Prefrontal Lobotomy, a form of psychosurgery that involved scrambling the frontal lobe of the brain with a sharp metal instrument inserted through the upper eye socket.

Vintage postcard of the hospital complex

The hospital fell into steep decline in the late 1900’s with the introduction of modern medicinal treatments until it finally closed its doors in 1993. Aside from a few remaining historical documents, the dark history of the castle and its patients has long been obscured, ignored, and forgotten. Richard L. Diffenbach relayed a few of his experiences as a former aid at Binghamton State Hospital to the New York Times in 2008. “These people are encased in my memory,” he said of the patients. “I worked on the violent ward. We had a patient who sat all day in a chair and shuffled his feet back and forth and wore a considerable size depression in the wood floor. The patient used to call himself ‘ZZZ Wafe Rainmaker Father Mother Simon Joseph Francis Carl’. He said he was the maker of Heaven and Earth. He sat in his chair in the hallway and shuffled all day.”

“I worked on the violent ward. We had a patient who sat all day in a chair and shuffled his feet back and forth and wore a considerable size depression in the wood floor.”

The original hospital gravesite, which contained 1500 bodies marked with numbered stones, was moved to an open field to make way for a new highway in 1961. In early spring, it is said that the melting snow collects in the basins of the shallow anonymous graves, leaving what little evidence of those who lived and died there in plain sight. The Castle itself is awaiting another phase in a series of renovations geared towards preserving it as a Historic Landmark. Once the renovations are finished, a portion of the old ward will be made into a museum in honor of its former patients.

Numbered graves in the cemetery

Source: NYS Asylums

 

Article: Detroitism in Binghamton, A Photo Essay

Ravi Arvind Palat is Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University who maintains a blog entitled ‘After US Hegemony.’ On July 17th, 2013, he created a post entitled ‘Detroitism in Binghamton: A Photo Essay.’ Palat points out how the movement of big industrial firms has “hollowed out the commercial cores” of cities in the rust belt. He draws an analogy between Detroit’s relationship to General Motors and Binghamton’s relationship to EJ Shoe Co. and IBM.

 

 

 

The Carnegie Library

Carnegie Library Binghamton, New York – April 2009

If you’ve taken any sort of American history class, chances are you’ve heard of the famous industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American who  made an enormous fortune in the Steel Industry. Carnegie was also one of the biggest philanthropists in the U.S., using his wealth to built public works including the famous Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie built a number of libraries all over the world, 106 in New State York alone. In 1903 the city of Binghamton received a $75,000 gift from Carnegie to build a beautiful brick-and-limestone building in the Classical Greek Style with Ionic columns and porticos.  Names of thirteen literary icons are etched in stone above the large windows: Emerson, Lowell, Homer, Plato, Bacon, Shakespeare, Hugo, Virgil, Dante, Goethe, Schiller, Longfellow, and Hawthorne.

The library housed books as well as assembly meetings, an art gallery, and a museum.

In 2000, the library relocated to a brand-new, larger facility on Court Street. Since then the library has remained empty .

 

Source: Treasures of the Tier

Partiers of the Parlor City

There is incredible and deeply historic architecture to be found all over the city of Binghamton. And a lot of these places are what students and residents are now calling home. Binghamton’s got hundreds of designated local landmark properties, many of them located on Riverside and the Tree Streets, a popular neighborhood for student living. You can access the full list here to see if your house could’ve belonged to a famous merchant from the Parlor City days.

Here are some Parlor city mansions that  now house social fraternities and some wild revelers:

63 Front Street

This lovely house on Front Street was built in 1828 by Franklin Whitney, son of Binghamton’s founder Joshua Whitney II. In 1840 the columns were added to mimic Greek Revival style architecture.  Today it houses the social fraternity TDX, and college partiers report that the balcony is “The perfect place to throw up off of when the bathroom’s full.”

Such fine folk, and what a nice chandelier

6 Riverside Drive

This Georgian-Revival style home was once the mansion of Charles McKinney, a famous coal merchant in New York state. Like 63 Front, it now houses a social fraternity.

84 Riverside

This Queen Anne style mansion designed by Architect Edward Vosbury and built in 1902 features beautiful crown moulding along its castle-esque corner tower. It had its own carriage house, which can be found today on 11 Johnson Drive. The house belonged to the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity in 2013, whose brothers reported that the basement was filled with black mold from past flooding but was otherwise a good place to play beer pong. A few punched holes in the walls and an entire security deposit later the house has been rented to a new fraternity for the next year.

Just don’t breathe in too deep now

Binghamton: A Brief History

Chances are if you’re viewing this page you live in or around Binghamton, whether you’re a student or a local resident. Ever wonder how this strange little city came to be? Here’s a brief bulleted history of Binghamton to give you a general idea of how we got here:

  • The first Europeans who came to the general area were soldiers of the 1779 Sullivan Expedition. They destroyed local villages of the Onondaga and Oneida tribes who were living there.

William Bingham, image courtesy of the Library of Congress

  • In 1786, a wealthy Philadelphia man named William Bingham bought a 10,000 acre patent for the land, which was then called Chenango Point. Agricultural growth and the building of roads, railroads and the Chenango Canal through the 1800′s led Binghamton to become a ‘Valley of Opportunity’ for manufacturing companies.
  • Binghamton officially became a city in 1867. In the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, immigrants flocked to the area, drawn in by the abundance of jobs. In the 1920′s, the major employer of the region became Endicott Johnson shoe company, which was known for treating workers well under the system of welfare capitalism. “Which way EJ?” was said to be what they asked immigration officials at Ellis Island in New York City.

 

Workers in an Endicott Johnson Shoe factory. Image from Broome County Historical Society.

  • Binghamton became so prosperous through this industrial boom that it gained the nickname ‘The Parlor City’ due to the large number of stately mansions that were built by those who made it big in industry. You can still see some of these mansions on Riverside Drive today.
  • In 1935, Binghamton experienced devastating floods which, unfortunately, would hit the area again the early 2000′s.

    Bird’s Eye View of Binghamton (from top of courthouse). Note earlier version of bank on right side of Chenango Street)

  • During WWII Binghamton continued to grow as IBM, which was founded in greater Binghamton, flourished in the transition to a high-tech economy. Edwin Link’s famous invention of the flight simulator in Binghamton would also contribute to this growth. The population of the city peaked in the mid-1950′s, when it was home to around 85,000 people.
  • What is now known as Binghamton University was established in 1946 as a subsidiary of Syracuse University under the name Triple Cities College. Similar to Broome Community College, it was created to cater to the needs of returning WWII veterans. The school was renamed Harpur College upon its induction into the SUNY system in 1950.

Washington Avenue Looking North, Endicott, N.Y. Postcard courtesy of The Endicott History Project

  •  Unfortunately, Binghamton’s prosperity would not last forever. Post-war suburbanization led people to settle in smaller suburban sprawls, drastically reducing the city’s population. As the Cold War wound down in the late 1900′s, the defense-related industry in Binghamton began to pack up and leave, including the economic juggernaut IBM. These companies laid off thousands of workers and the local economy plunged into a deep recession, with jobs dropping by 64% from 1990 to 2013.

Abandoned Endicott-Johnson Factory building

  • Binghamton is rocked by tragedy after being hit hard by the Mid-Atlantic US Flood of 2006 and later floods from tropical storm Lee, which caused $1 billion worth of damage, and then on April 3, 2009, when shootings at the American Civic Association left 14 dead. 
  • Despite these tragic events, Binghamton continues to push towards revitalization. The city is working closely with Binghamton University, creating student housing complexes and promoting local businesses to diversify its economic base.  Binghamtonians and University students are working to  make the city better each day, preserving the art and culture of its vibrant past and looking forward to the promising future.

    Downtown Binghamton at night

Sources

Broome County Historical Society

Ghosts in the Valley of Opportunity 

Welcome!

Welcome BU students to the Binghamton History: Then and Now page, your portal to Binghamton’s rich historical past!

This page is devoted to showcasing Binghamton’s interesting history to new Bing U students in order to give them a broader perspective and lead them to discover all that Binghamton has to offer.

Ever wonder how Binghamton came to be the way it is today?

This portion of the Binghamton Microcosm website is devoted to showcasing Binghamton’s historical development over the years, and how it came to be the Binghamton we know and love today.

This page will include images, videos, and links to important historical sources and the local organizations that work to promote and preserve these places of historic and cultural significance.

Check out What’s Goin’ On Binghamton’s cool video compilation of old postcard pictures of Binghamton transposed with pictures of Binghamton in 2013 below!

Video Link: What’s Goin’ On Binghamton- Now & Then