Mysterious America

St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York

Closed in 1983, the St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York was an integral part of the local community for nearly a century. It treated thousands of mentally ill, disabled, and epileptic patients. Today, most of the hospital’s old buildings are abandoned, but several were sold and opened as private treatment facilities and a NY State minimum security prison.

In 1886, a state commission selected Airy Point on the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg to build a “State Asylum for the Insane.” Architect I.G Perry designed it in a “cottage plan,” meaning it would be made up of several smaller buildings rather than one large institution. Construction began in 1888 and it opened two years later. A nursing school opened at the location in 1890.

According to Brenda Sandburg, whose grandfather was the St. Lawrence State Hospital senior business administrator for 37 years, in the 1940s and ’50s the hospital had poultry, dairy, and vegetable farms to produce food for its approximately 2,000 patients. It had its own fire and police departments; a post office and telephone system; carpentry, plumbing, and paint shops; a tailor shop; theater; and a store.

In 1958, St. Lawrence State Hospital became the second mental hospital in the country to have an “open door policy” when Director Dr. Herman Snow unlocked the wards so patients could freely walk the grounds. Few attempted to escape. Those who did wander off were reported by members of the community and promptly returned.

The hospital had a huge economic and social impact on Ogdensburg and surrounding communities, and local residents created the St. Lawrence State Hospital Preservation Society to try to save as much of the institution’s history as possible. The hospital is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its beautiful and historic buildings are in danger of being demolished.


4 replies on “St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York”

My Grandfather Worked there as a pharmacist, so my dad and aunt grew up there. He doesn’t talk much about it. He said a lot of Jewish Dr.’s and their families who escaped WWII camps worked there.


My father brought me at ten yrs old to see my poor mother.we had to go up to the ward in a caged elevator. I saw grown adults scuffing their feet in slow movement while wearing large bibs to catch their drool from being dosed with thorazine .i saw my mother strapped to a table.first they gave her a needle.then strapped an electric shock band around her head.i watched as she cried please no make themstop..when it was over she just lay there.we had to come back next day to visit because she was incoherent. Yes i remember that horrible old building so well.yes mental illness was a problem in my mothers family. She believed in spirits because her moms family was full indian. But society believed she was nutz..tear it good memories there for anyone not even the town


Seems like there are quite a number of these old State Schools for the mentally ill around the country. There is one of them not far from here named the Pennhurst State School & Hospital. I few years ago, I had taken a trip down there to see this famous place for myself. I did “snoop around” for a bit but could only go so far because of those “Private Property” signs all over the area. This Hospital is supposed to be Haunted and was featured on Ghost Adventures. At night this place can be quite strange, to say the least. Voices, screaming, noises, and apparations have been seen here. I personally will not go there when it’s dark. Cheers, Michael.


How heartbreaking that these beautiful old buildings are in danger of being demolished! But I suppose the stigma (for some, anyway) of their former use might preclude them from “going condo” or being otherwise repurposed.

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