New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y.

New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y.

Newark State School
After my visit to Willard I started thinking the old Newark State School grounds and buildings are very similar, in style and layout.  I decided to dig around in Google and see if that was a asylum at one time or another.

Guess what, It was!

New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y. opened for operation in 1878 as a satellite facility of Syracuse State Idiot Asylum.

 Wait, What’s with all this name calling?

Ah, those Victorians were a sensitive bunch weren’t they?

Let’s just stop here for a second, because if you are anything like me you are probably wondering what is up with the name calling, and what exactly is the difference is between a feeble-minded person and idiot, right?

The Victorian’s in all their subtlety created a hierarchy of terms (that by today’s standards would be considered totally derogatory)  describing illnesses or deficiencies of the mind.  Each label was an actual clinical diagnosis  to classify psychiatric conditions.

So here we go from lowest to highest level of functioning:

  •  Idiot The lowest end of the developmental and mental spectrum according to Victorian doctors.  The term idiot was used to refer to people having an IQ below 30.
  • Imbeciles moderate to severe intellectual disability, as well as any type of criminal.
  • Moron  could be described as having a mental age comparable to that of a seven to ten year child.
  • Feeble-minded Highest functioning level of developmental disability or mental deficiency, but could also include women of loose moral values (you know what I mean)

There you have it, you have now had your crash course in the politically incorrect psychological diagnoses of yesteryear.

You’re welcome 🙂

New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women

Like other asylums around New York, the  Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women name changed with time.

1878-1885: The Newark State School operated as part of the Syracuse State School.
1885: Became the State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women.
1919: Name changed to Newark State School for Mental Defectives.
1927: Became a part of the Department of Mental Hygiene and name changed again to Newark State School.

From what I have read the name change to New York State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women reflected a shift in belief that  almshouses (poorhouses) were improper places for ‘feeble-minded’ women.

It was thought that feeble-minded women in almshouse settings acted promiscuously, and as a result frequently had illegitimate children who, then became dependent on the state for their welfare.  Women of child-bearing age, fifteen to forty-five, were admitted to the New York State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women , in order to “prevent them from multiplying their kind and so increasing the number of the dependent classes on the State” (New York State Board of Charities Report, 1879).

Now still referred to locally as the State School many of the buildings sit vacant, but some are still in use as a Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO) and some are in use by Finger Lakes Community College. I actually took some of my night classes there when I was in college.  I choose not to take pictures of the active buildings, It seems weird to take pictures of schools in use.


Newark Pretty Door
I don’t know if marking vacant buildings with red signs is new, or I am only just now noticing these signs because I just recently have started hanging around vacant buildings. When I asked around I found out the red sign with a white X by the door is a identifying sign for firefighters of hazardous vacant structures. Buildings marked with these signs indicate a abandoned or vacant building that has structural or interior hazards to a degree that would warrant firefighting efforts be limited to the exterior of the building for the safety of firefighters.

Newark windows

Newark Entry

Newark Bench

Newark Flowers

Newark Courtyard

Newark Doors


The Newark State School Cemetary

Update 5/12/17

I was able to finally find the old state school cemetery, thank you for all the directions! I was also able to get a cemetery map showing exactly where all the graves are located, although the individual burial sites are not shown, it only indicates the rows. If you would like to download a high-resolution version of the map you can do so through this link: East Newark Cemetary.

The State School portion of the cemetery isn’t marked, but the land is maintained.  There are a couple of new (as in they look brand new) gravestones that have been placed alongside the old numerical markers which make me wonder if there is a group working to clean up and mark the graves at this cemetery, as the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project has been working to do at the Willard Psychiatric Center in Ovid.


Read more about the New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y:

References Regarding Historical Mental Diagnosis:

A peek inside:

I am way to chicken to try to get pics inside of the buildings. If someone was to get arrested for trespassing, attacked by a rabid squirrel, or  have a floor collapse in on them , it would probably happen to me. But I did find some fascinating shots taken inside these buildings, which I don’t recommend, it is dangerous and against the law.



This Post Has 36 Comments

  1. I was born there in 1938. My Mother, Anna Berman, had the crippling and mind altering effects of Raynaud’s disease. She was mis-diagnosed as feeble minded and committed. She died there of colon cancer in 1961. Her stone marker in the cemetery is 744, her case number.

  2. I had an aunt who was a resident of the Newark School. She was severely mentally handicapped. Her mother and father, my grandparents, lived in Rochester. My aunt would come home for short periods until she became violent and uncontrollable, then they would take her back to Newark. This was in the forties and fifties when I was a teenager. No one in the family knows when or how she died.

    1. I grew up one street over from the State School. I did volunteer work in the children’s building after school to help with feeding time etc. This was in early 70’s I was 14-15 years old. There was children’s building, teenage building, women’s building and men’s building. It was a very sad place but also scary. Certain adult’s were allowed to roam the grounds and as a young teenaged girl i encountered a few scary times with some of the males. I could hear screaming coming from some of the buildings at times. I used to help my older brother and Dad deliver newspapers on the weekends there also. Came across several scary times then also. Some would escape and run through the neighbor behind us yard and then through ours with workers chasing them. I didn’t volunteer there for long it became to emotional and scary for me as a young girl. The young children in there were pitiful and I use to cry after I got home for them. I seen slight to very severely mental children and even witnessed some that were slight get physically abused by those that were severe. As a young teenager I didn’t understand why they would all be together in one big room. I have never forgotten my experience with that place and never will.

  3. This place breaks my heart. My father and I have no closure on this place. My father spent most of his early life in the Newark location. All we have is stories to go on. We have a suspicion that my grandmother was raped and sent there to give birth to him..her name was Thelma Jeffords….his birth name was William Lee Jeffords…9/ 1954…that is all we know…William was adopted out of Newark state school when he was 12…we have no idea what happened to his bio mother Thelma Jeffords…..please email me if u know of her. It’s unfair to leave such records sealed.

    1. My name is Allyson Clark. If you dad went to Redcreek high school my sister Noreen Clark has been looking for him. My Facebook is allyson Clark. I have a fairy setting on a pumpkin for my picture. Please contact me. I just happened across this letter.

  4. Hi everyone, I am in the early process of making a documentary about this hospital. We are in the research phase right now but I would love for you that are interested to get in touch with me and talk about this place.

    1. I would love to share the truth of what went on there in the 1970s, I worked there and have lived near there all my life. I also have had conversations with people who lived there. I’ve always wanted to tell their stories.

    2. My dad went to school here. He was not disabled, but he and one brother and one sister could not be placed in foster care like his other 8 siblings so they were placed here when it was a state school. His 90th birthday is today and would like to share his story. I’m hoping Lewis receives this information. Reach me at cm********* Richard V.

    3. My grandfather was the chaplain here. My father may have pictures/info for you.

  5. Back in the day when this type of place was thought of as a “snake pit”
    my older brother was a resident at Newark.
    He died there due to Grand Mal siezures (which my parents could never prove
    were not properly treated.)
    My brother was 14 years old.

  6. My memory is of our family driving past the Newark State School and waving at the handicapped men sitting on the grass near the intersection at the light. I always felt compassion upon those seated there. Growing up we knew that getting a job at the state school meant decent money but it also meant having a hell of a time at that job.

  7. I worked there in the 1970s in a special program to help intergrate patients back in to society, I can tell you horror stories of the way patients were treated there. Did you know they even had a torture chamber there?

    1. My mom worked at Newark. I worked at Willard. Grew up hearing stories from both places. I visited both places last year, and was heart broken at the lack of care for these buildings, and cemeteries.

  8. As an employee of the facility I remember the cemetery on Vienna Street . Recently I went there to see the conditions of the cemetery and was sadden by what I saw. I remember years ago as a reporter covering an event there. A local resident was sadden by the fact that people buried there were identified by numbers only. I remember politcicians, state administrators on hand vowing to change the numbers to names. You had no idea as to who was buried there. The cemetery was in excellent shape at the time . The grass looked like a carpet. People were buried in areas by religious denominations. It was beautiful to see. Her idea was to have everyone identified by name as to be treated as a person .
    Today the same cemetery is in bad shape. Grass never cut and the wish of names on markers never materialized. Once again the state has decided to turn its head to Gods children.

  9. Grew up in Newark, and I heard many stories of the state school. My mom worked there and she told me about how she once was cornered by this creepy guy and no one was around to help her. She had nightmares about it for a very long time. I always found it interesting that they use some of the buildings for FLCC, and wonder if any weird stuff happens there.

  10. I am curious about the Newark School. While researching my ancestors, I found a news clipping that my great-grandmother was returning home to Hornell “after spending 3 months at the Newark School.” I wondered why she would be there for this brief period. I can only wonder if, because of her age (in 50’s) she might be suffering from menopause and its accompanying symptoms or whether there is more to her story. (I have a hunch there is more to her story) I will continue to search but thought some of you who knew more about the facility might be helpful. Thank you, also, for the great photos and information.

    1. I grew up there. I know my grandma spent 3-4 months there in her younger years because she had TB

  11. Very interesting. Lived nearby most of my life but never knew much about the structures or their purposes. One thing I’d like to point out is that it’s very easy to condemn people and things of a previous age; we need to be mindful that we have learned much since that time. The terms you call derogatory were not used in a derogatory sense then. The terms were simply a means of categorizing levels of intellectual competence.

  12. My grandmother worked there used to tell us stories and my neighbor was put there as an orphan the stories he tells are pretty bad… Worst things people do to other people worst things a person can do to those that can’t defend themselves… It was not a nice place… But it does look nice from the outside the old stair cases and grand doorways… But what went on when those doors were closed was nightmare for the residents…

  13. I knew this! one uncle worked at Willard & the other in Newark.

  14. My Mom worked there for years and also my grandmother. When she became a state client home provider, several of her clients were residents at the State School of Newark. As a child we used to play kick ball with the clients and even attended mass there. I believe they later housed boys/men…. In different buildings.
    There are people still around who used to work there and I believe also a few doctors. Red-cross swimming for infants and older people used to swim in the pool there and even my kids did. I believe it was a therapy pool, because it was very well heated. I also remember playing basketball in their hugh gymnasium. And even plays were put on there because of there stage. Many of the clients were put into some of the state homes around the Newark area when the buildings closed.

  15. I live in Newark ad work with individuals who lived there.Terrible the state lets properties rot

  16. Im pretty sure the red x signs mean condemned. The fire department will no longer go in to save anything in the event of a fire

    1. Those red signs are indeed a warning to firefighters. All buildings in Newark that meet that criteria are posted (unless they belong to a certain landlord).

      1. I have been seeing the signs more frequently now, in many other towns, it is a great idea!

  17. I live a few blocks away from here!

    1. Do you know where the State School Cemetery is located?

      1. On Vienna Road, I believe. Across the road from some of the buildings but further back from the road. I started working there in1973 and left about 1988. We had a casket room in the Vaux building. Cheap pressboard.

        1. Thank you, Sue I am going to see if I can locate it!
          The way the state treated/treats the departed that were under their care is horrible.

          1. The cemetery is directly across the road from the Cobblestone DDSO house on Vienna St. It is back in the wooded are where a day camp was also located. FYI….there are tunnels that start on the North side and run under all the buildings and under W. Maple Ave.

        2. I have been at that cemetery. sad….the forgotten.

      2. Do you know of a contact I could reach to get permission to metal detect the grounds?

        1. Hi Ron,
          I do not know off-hand who oversees the grounds. Maybe another reader will know of a contact? Last time I was there I did see a patrolling guard if you are in the area perhaps you could ask them for the appropriate contact?

      3. It is across the street from 545 Vienna Street. It has a dirt driveway that leads back there.

  18. it originally started as a home for unwed mothers who were thought to be “feeble minded” which I feel was untrue, and they were treated like an animal

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