Poughkeepsie’s Abandoned Psychiatric Hospital Gets an Update

Built in 1871, the Hudson River State Hospital grounds prepare for a second life as Hudson Heritage.

Photos by EFG-Saber Heritage SC, LLC unless otherwise noted

Built in 1871, the Hudson River State Hospital grounds prepare for a second life in the community as Hudson Heritage in Dutchess County.

Hudson Heritage
A rendering of Hudson Heritage / Photos by EFG-Saber Heritage SC, LLC unless otherwise noted

Do you remember the stories about the Hudson River State Hospital?

For teenagers growing up in the Hudson Valley, the abandoned mental institution in Poughkeepsie has long been a source of chills, thrills, and fascination. It’s hard to deny the allure. From its majestic, albeit isolated vantage point on Route 9, the ruinous psychiatric center sing a haunting siren song to explorers, photographers, and curious minds who crave the chance to peek inside the abandoned, potentially haunted corridors.

Not that such a thing was ever allowed, of course. After shuttering its doors in 2003, the hospital put a stop on all activity at the property, although that didn’t stop trespassers from finding a way onto the grounds.

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Hudson River State Hospital

A History of the Hudson River State Hospital

It wasn’t always that way, of course. When the Hudson River State Hospital first opened its doors on October 18, 1871, it was a shining example of healthcare reform in the United States. In a New York Times article about its construction on December 26, 1872, the publication cited the serene, luxurious atmosphere as a highlight of the center, which was one of a few of its kind in New York State at the time.

“The parlors are furnished by the gardener with a collection of flowering plants, and plants with exquisitely variegated foliage – little luxuries most dear to the soul of any one kept in confinement,” the Times writes. “The Superintendent encourages every patient to go out walking in fine weather; and in the Summer time they sit out in the shade, enjoying the cool river breeze, and chatting in little groups. Some of them who are in the convalescent wards are allowed to go about the grounds and farm alone on parole.”

In the early days of its existence, the Hudson Valley’s psychiatric center was a paragon in the healthcare industry. The main buildings were designed by Frederick Clarke Withers, the English architect known for Victorian Gothic designs that appear locally in edifices like the Reformed Church of Beacon and the Frank Hasbrouck House in Poughkeepsie. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the duo who submitted the winning blueprint for New York City’s Central Park, mapped out the grounds. A substantial undertaking from the start, the construction took an additional 25 years after the 1871 opening to complete.

Originally home to just 40 patients, the hospital welcomed as many as 6,000 patients during its heyday in the 1950s. Yet after changing hands, and names, a number of times – at one point the Roosevelts owned the grounds – the renamed Hudson River Psychiatric Center emptied of patients by 2003 and sold to CPC Resources and The Chazen Companies for redevelopment in 2005.

Hudson River State Hospital
Hudson River State Hospital, Main Building / Wikimedia Commons, Hviola

The Inbetween

With 156 acres of semi-forgotten space in the heart of Dutchess County, it was seemingly inevitable that something would go wrong. First came a lightning strike to the male bedding wing in 2007. Following that were a number of smaller, intentionally set fires that caused headaches for the Fairview Fire Department. The worst, however, occurred in April 2018, when flames took to a wing of the old administration building.

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Listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1989, Hudson River State Hospital fell claim to the ravages of nature, time, and human influence. Once a remarkable example of Gothic Revival architecture, its brick buildings have fallen into disrepair, suffering from peeling walls, crumbling infrastructures, and an abundance of graffiti.

Hudson Heritage
A rendering of Hudson Heritage

A New Life for the Hudson River State Hospital

After changing hands from one developer to the next, whispers of a revival for the site began in earnest in 2015, when The Chazen Companies submitted a development master plan application to the Town of Poughkeepsie. In 2016, Diversified Realty Advisors, LLC announced its intention in collaboration with EnviroFinance Group (EFG) to redevelop the grounds.

Soon after, Saber Real Estate North, based in Armonk, partnered with EFG to form EFG-Saber Heritage SC, LLC, the group that now helms the $300 million project, and began the process to secure the necessary approvals to break ground. A prominent presence in the Hudson Valley real estate scene, Saber is the same firm behind Rivertowns Square in Dobbs Ferry and The Collection in White Plains. Earlier in 2019, the company peaked curiosity when it cleared the trees that separated the property from Route 9, thus enabling passersby to glimpse the ruins from the roadway.

In August 2019, EFG-Saber announced it secured the green light to charge full steam ahead with Hudson Heritage, its name for the massive transformation of Poughkeepsie’s former psychiatric hospital. Approvals in hand, it commenced demolition on the buildings on the south end of the property, a stage that took a handful months. Immediately after that, it began groundwork and construction on the grounds.

Martin Berger
Martin Berger at the site of the former Hudson River State Hospital

What to Expect

With 156 acres to its name, Hudson Heritage will be a gargantuan live-work-play community on the border of Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie. Thanks to its prime location near area schools like the Culinary Institute of America and Marist and Vassar Colleges, its design prioritizes accessibility, walkability, and multi-generational use. Keeping in mind its proximity to Health Quest’s new medical campus in collaboration with Marist College, it will cater to doctors, faculty, and professionals in the region.

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“It’s a tremendous live-work-play experience,” says Martin Berger, a managing member at Saber. “Once we’re built, students and alumni have a community across the street. Someone can wake up in the morning, take their dog for a walk, drop their child off to daycare…all in one place.”

Tremendous it most certainly is. On the expansive acreage, the grounds will host up to 350,000 square feet of commercial space, which will house amenities like a grocery store, shops, restaurants, child care, and a fitness center. ShopRite is the first confirmed vendor at Hudson Heritage, taking claim of the supermarket space, which is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021. Once complete, the 65,000-square-foot store will add more than 200 jobs to the local economy, while the project in its entirety will add more than 700 permanent jobs and 350 construction ones.

“We are especially proud to be part of this new and exciting development that is taking place at Hudson Heritage,” says Brett Wing, president of ShopRite Supermarkets, Inc. (SRS).

Near the supermarket, a 10,000-square-foot day care center, a 2,000- to 4,000-square-foot bank, and a 40,000-square-foot medical office will offer onsite creature comforts. Across the way, a dedicated Main Street setting of approximately 80,000 square feet will act as a hub for the site’s restaurants and retail spaces. Arts have a home on the grounds as well, with 24,700 square feet dedicated to an educational performing arts center.

Not just a place for “play,” Hudson Heritage will be a one-stop shop for visiting professionals and college families, too. Inside the dedicated 150,000- to 180,000-square-foot hotel, around 150 rooms and a conference center will sit on the northern end of the property. Close by, 750 units of residential housing, comprised of graduate, multifamily, and senior units at a variety of price points, fulfill the “live” component of the destination.

In the center of it all lies the Great Lawn, the historic lawn that hearkens back to the original landscaping by Vaux and Olmsted. Next to it, in the northwest corner near Route 9, a lookout area with 7.8 miles of walking trails offers outdoor recreation for residents, guests, and local employees alike. In total, 60 acres of space will remain open on the grounds.

As of press time, Berger reveals that 73 percent of the retail space is leased, with a commitment for the first 134 multifamily units approved. Although only ShopRite has been formally announced as a retail vendor at Hudson Heritage, Berger and EFG-Saber look forward to sharing the news about other confirmed businesses as construction continues.

A Timeline

EFG-Saber is hard at work to convert the dilapidated, hazardous buildings at the south end of the grounds. Because the firm was at work on the supermarket, emergency repairs to the administrative building, and asbestos removal during the COVID-19 outbreak, it was deemed an essential project in part, with any work that was not considered essential put on hold. The timeline has been extended, Berger admits, but not by too much. The first opening at the site, the supermarket, has only been delayed by a few months, with the first outcropping of retail spaces to follow a few weeks after that.

Six of the original Hudson River State Hospital buildings will remain, including the director’s house, which passersby can glimpse on the righthand side of the north entrance, and the Kirkbride building, the former administration building at the top of the Great Lawn. Although many of the edifices will be new, EFG-Saber plans to honor the history of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center by incorporating elements of the hospital’s design, including coloration and ornamental work, into its architectural plan.

“Nearly all of the materials of the former [Clarence O. Cheney Building] will be recycled and the concrete will be crushed, processed, and used onsite to avoid the need for thousands of truckloads of import,” Berger reveals. “We also understand the historic significance of the site and have worked closely with historians to maintain the integrity of the property and respect its celebrated past by restoring six structures and reusing architectural elements of the past in the architecture of the new.”

Within the next three years, Berger hopes that the residences at Hudson Heritage will be fully constructed and occupied. He’s ready to see the once-abandoned venue transform into a true Hudson Valley destination, one that improves quality of life, creates job, and generates revenue for the regional economy.

“The property has sat vacant and unutilized for 10 to 15 years now,” he observes. “The tax revenue [for Hudson Heritage] is around $8 million. In addition to that, there’s a tremendous amount of buying power our users bring to the market.”

Upon completion, EFG-Saber estimates Hudson Heritage will generate an incredible amount of revenue both onsite and within the Hudson Valley at large. ShopRite alone is expected to generate $60 million annually, with retail shops and restaurants ready to draw the 1,500-plus anticipated total residents and the 40,000 cars that pass the site on Route 9 each day. Factor local college and medical populations into that equation, and Hudson Heritage’s revenue potential skyrockets.

“We’re planning to build as we lease up,” Berger says. Since much of the grounds are pre-leased, Saber can move forward with construction rather quickly. The supermarket is a priority project, with retail and the first 134 residences set to go up in less than two years and the full build-out to follow during the next five years. Due to general interest, Berger predicts that the development may accelerate faster than the projected timeline.

“The nice thing about acceleration is taxes are going from very little to $8 million a year,” Berger observes. “There’s a really opportunity for Hudson Heritage to be a great shot in the economic arm that the area needs after the COVID-19 crisis.”

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