December 8, 2016

June 5, 2016

Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane

Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane was established in 1892 as the Matteawan State Hospital by an 1892 law (Chapter 81), Matteawan functioned as a hospital for insane criminals. The new hospital confined and treated individuals committed to it by criminal courts and inmates who were declared insane while serving their sentences at State institutions. The Superintendent of State Prisons had control over the hospital.

In 1886, a legislative commission recommended the purchase of the 246-acre Dates Farm in the village of Matteawan for $25,000, or just over $100 per acre. The site was accessible by rail and offered good tillable land, pure water and pleasant scenery between the Hudson River and the Fishkill Mountains An architect was hired to draw plans for buildings with "an abundance of light and ventilation" to accommodate 550 patients. In April 1892, the Asylum for Insane Criminals, with 261 patients, was relocated from Auburn to its new site. The following year, it was renamed Matteawan State Hospital,

But 550 beds were not enough. Seven years later, in 1899, another prison mental hospital was built on the grounds of Clinton. Dannemora would hold male convicts becoming insane while serving their sentences, and had the power to retain them if they remained insane at expiration of their sentences. Matteawan would hold unconvicted males as well as females in both categories.
Except for tighter security, Matteawan functioned the same as the state's civil hospitals. Until the 1950's and thorazine, doctors prescribed the program of "moral treatment" developed in the early 1800's. It consisted of kind and gentle treatment in a stress-free, highly routine environment. Patients who were capable were assigned to a work program (often called "occupational therapy"): cooking, maintenance, farming and making baskets, rugs, clothing and bedsheets.

Patients were given outdoor exercise in the courtyards twice daily and motion pictures were shown weekly. Radios and phonographs were available on the wards. Patients played softball, tennis, bowling, tennis, handball, shuffleboard, volleyball, chess, checkers, cards, gymnastics, ping pong and quoits (similar to horseshoes but with iron rings). At Christmas and other special occasions, there were teas for the women, smokes for the men and "vaudeville entertainments" staged by patients and staff.

By 1949, new treatments had been added to the traditional moral treatment (now called "milieu therapy"). Electric and insulin shock treatments were now being used extensively, hypnosis and group therapy were employed and three lobotomies had been performed.
From Matteawan's opening, the proportion of chronic and dangerous patients - who could never be released - steadily rose, and so did the hospital count. Capacity was gradually increased to about 1,000, but overcrowding continued. In 1949, there were nearly 1,500 men and 250 women.

Outwardly, the madhouse atop Asylum Road was usually quiet. Its most notorious patient was probably George Metesky, the Mad Bomber. But Metesky caused no problems, and after his release lived uneventfully outside the state. Escape attempts offered occasional excitement. In 1933, four patients obtained pistols and held two attendants in a locked ward. State Police were called in and, when one of the patients pointed a gun, he was shot and killed by a trooper.

The End of the Prison Hospitals
By the mid- 1960's, the DOCS held approximately 3,000 patients at Matteawan and Dannemora state hospitals some serving sentence, some held past their sentences and many confined without ever having been convicted. Within a dozen years, all 3,000 would be gone.

A series of court decisions ended the relatively free and easy procedures under which Matteawan and Dannemora had operated. Simply put, everyone sent there stayed until the superintendent approved their release. In many eases, persons committed for minor offenses were confined for 30 and 40 years. Now, coinciding with a period in American history when faith in the judgment of “experts" was eroding, courts put a stop to the "unbridled discretion" exercised by mental institution superintendents.

First, the courts established that transfer to Matteawan or Dannemora would require the same procedures, including the right to a court hearing, as involuntary commitments of ordinary citizens to civil mental hospitals. A later decision established that nobody could be held in a correctional institution beyond their maximum sentence (if still dangerous, they could be committed to a civil hospital). Further decisions eliminated the transfer of "dangerous civil patients," and then of persons found not guilty by reason of insanity, to institutions where convicted persons were also held.
The effect of these decisions was to empty the prison mental hospitals. Dannemora was the first to go, in 1972. For another five years, Matteawan held convicted patients only, with all other categories of the criminally insane going to the Department of Mental Hygiene.
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January 24, 2016

Palmer Sucks Estate (Rutherfurd-Stuyvesant Estate)

Traveling along County Road 517 in Allamuchy, past the verdant rolling fields of the rural countryside, it’s not hard to imagine why this area was given the name Tranquility. If you turn off the main road at the old 18th century country church graveyard you will find yourself on a rough, pot holed back road. Before long the cracked asphalt will give way to gravel and then dirt. There are expansive farm fields on your right a forested mountain rises up on you left.

Then you’ll see something unexpected at the side of the road, just a few feet into the woods––two ten-foot tall concrete pillars, and between them hang two rusted iron gates, still swinging back and forth on their ancient hinges. Anyone could tell that this impressive gate must have at one time been an entryway to a very grand place. What you might not have realized though, is that the broken road you have been traversing was once actually the driveway for that grand place.

The road, now only open at one end to cars and not much more than a hiking path at the other, is Stuyvesant Road and at one time it led to one of the most impressive estates in New Jersey, if not all of America––Tranquility Farms. Today the land is part of Allamuchy Mountain State Park, but long before it was parkland the vast tract belonging to one of the country’s oldest and wealthiest families. In centuries past the weedy trail that now leads into forest once led to the ancestral home of the Rutherfurd-Stuyvesant family.

The Rutherurd-Stuyvesants were direct descendants of Peter Stuyvesant, or more accurately, Pieter or Petrus Stuyvesant (1592-1672), who was the last Dutch colonial Director-General of New Netherland, the Dutch territory between the Delaware Bay and the Connecticut River (including what is now New Jersey) until it was ceded provisionally to the English in 1664.

If your curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to venture through that ominous looking gate you will find yourself walking along the meandering carriage path deeper into the woods. You will soon see the remnants of stone walls, bridges and dams, that once led the way up to the old mansion, which was originally built in the late 1700’s. If you continue on this course you may just find some intriguing––some might even say shocking––surprises await you there.

Rutherfurd-Stuyvesant Estate Today

In the late 1960’s the State bought land for Interstate 80, splitting the Rutherford-Stuyvesant estate in two and separating Tranquility and Allamuchy farms with an eight lane interstate super-highway. In the 1970s the State purchased the Allamuchy Mountain sections of the estate with Green Acres bond funds. According to the Village of Allamuchy Parks and Recreation web site, “The mansion burned to the ground in 1959 and was bulldozed under and the remaining farm buildings are completely covered with trees, brush, etc. and the area is definitely not safe or pleasant to roam around.”

Today if you go exploring the park looking for the ruins of the old mansion all you will find are about a half dozen outbuildings scattered around in the woods throughout the property. These consist of farmhouses, barns, sheds and the like––all being in extremely deteriorated condition, though still quite beautiful in their Carpenter Gothic architecture. Beautiful, that is, if you can disregard one very disturbing characteristic about them. The extant building are completely covered with graffiti profanity, which has been meticulously scrawled on just about ever square inch of available wall space, doors, ceilings and floors, inside and outside the decrepit wooden structures. We have no clue as to who is responsible for this defacing, but it seems that it is all the handiwork of a single obsessed individual––an individual with a LOT of time on his or her hands. Even stranger is the fact that all of the vulgarities seem to be directed at another specific person––someone named Mark.

The smutty insults are ubiquitous in all the building still standing, some of which are in such a state of decay that the writer must have risked life and limb to accomplish their slanderous task. The handwritten multi-colored messages rail against Mark and his mother, in an overwhelmingly repetitive torrent of curses, bodily function references and sexually explicit jabs. The diatribe is omnipresent throughout the buildings, carefully lettered line after line on kitchen cabinets and tiles, windowpanes, staircases and furniture. If it wasn’t so revolting, one might be compelled to feel a sense of admiration for the dedication that the draftsman put into this insane project. One can only imagine the long hours they must have spent all alone in these creepy dilapidated houses painstakingly considering each nuanced rant until they came up with just the perfect poetic line––like “LICK MY HINEY HOLE.”

Today there is a commercial farm in operation named Tranquillity Farms (spelled with two L’s) across the road from the old Rutherford-Stuyvesant Estate property on CR 517 in Allamuchy. We’re told that descendants of the Rutherfurd family can still be found working there. Many a deceased Stuyvesant and Rutherfurd can be found resting in peace in the expansive family plots at Tranquility Cemetery, which is located nearby. And perhaps they are better off there, because if they saw what has become of their once grand estate, it would surely kill them.

Info Via Weird NJ...