2016-10-13 / Columnists

Raised in the Shadow of the Three Amityville Asylums for Nervous Invalids – PART 1

by Sandi Brewster-walker

Coming of age during the New York State Women’s Suffrage Movement influenced the lives of local women like Grace Bonheur (Louden) Burns, of Amityville. Along with many others, she is said to have worked behind the scenes in the effort to get women the right to vote.

Dedicated women suffragists led the way for Grace to become involved in the politics of the 1917- 46 Republican Party. Later her son William Burns would become mayor of the Village of Amityville, NYS assemblyman and finally State senator. What made Grace unique was that she was raised in the shadow of the original Long Island Home Hotel for Nervous Invalids, Louden Hall, and Brunswick Home. Her grandfather was also John Louden.

As we travel south on Broadway (Rt. 110) near Dixon Avenue it is hard not to notice the vacant buildings and empty lot on the west side near Division Avenue (now Louden Avenue). If many renovated, abandoned, demolished cottages and buildings could talk, we would hear about the lives of the famous, and the not so famous, people during the glory years of the property.

On March 1, 1881, the Long Island Home Hotel was founded by: David S.S. Sammis, Adolphus Bailey, Townsend Cox, William Blake, Stephen Williams, Prince Foster and Daniel Runyon.

One of the trustees David S.S. Sammis (1818-95), of Babylon, first wife was Emeline Wheeler (1823- 52), and his second wife was Antoinette Wheeler (1832-1902). Three years after Emeline died, Sammis purchased 120 acres near the new replaced Fire Island Lighthouse, and built the famous Surf Hotel. It opened in 1856, and operated until 1892 offering rooms, gas lamps and summer activities for about 1,500 guests, as well as transportation from a Babylon pier by ferry. Until 1867, it is believed New York City guests were transported by carriage five miles from the Deer Park Railroad Station to the ferry. When the Southside Railroad came to Babylon, Sammis built a trolley line that would take his guest to the dock. It is assumed Sammis’ resort experience influenced the Long Island Home Hotel being build similar to a resort, but for the nervous invalids.

A month later, on April 12, the trustees met at the Grand Union Hotel in New York City, and agreed to purchase 14 acres for $4,200 in Amityville “for the purpose of constructing an institution.”

In 1882, the Long Island Home Hotel opened with the first patient being admitted on Jan. 26. The main building seems to have had “an impressive structure with lavishly appointed parlors, bedrooms, dining rooms and sun porches,” according to a Southside Signal article in August.

The following year, on July 21, during John Louden watch, the South Side Signal reported Edwin Woodbury, a New York City brush manufacturer and patient was found in Cedar Brook near Carman’s Road.

Before moving to the area, John Louden (1839- 1933) traveled from Maine to become superintendent of the Work House on Randall’s Island, NY. He would later become supervisor of the Suffolk County Almshouse (poor house). On Jan. 1, 1876, the South Side Signal published a letter to the editor in reference to John Louden. “I visited the County House a month ago, and was carried by him through all the different apartments and was surprised to see how well everything was conducted under his management…”

Louden’s grandchild Grace Bonheur Louden was born (1884), the same year the US House of Representatives had a debate on women suffrage. When Grace reached the age of two, the Suffrage Amendment was defeated two to one in the US Senate.

In Amityville, a large number of patients were arriving at the train station to be admitted in the Long Island Home Hotel. The new patient arrivals would be met twice a day by a coachman driving a carriage drawn by two horses. The patients were treated like guests arriving at one of the many local waterfront resorts similar to the Surf Hotel being built during the Gilded Age (1870-1900)!

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 15, 1884, ran an advertisement for the Long Island Home Hotel stating “it was a private hotel…for the care of persons afflicted with mental and nervous derangements. Near the Great South Bay and Ocean; 32 miles from New York.” The advertisement was signed by John Louden, and placed above that of the Argyle Hotel, a resort in Babylon.

Two years later on June 5, the South Side Signal (Babylon) reported that Cornelius Richardson, a Brooklyn man, was transferred to the Amityville Insane Asylum. Perhaps the patients were beginning to understand that it was not a hotel.

The yearly report published in the Senate of the State of New York (1885 and 1886) from the Long Island Home Hotel stated on Oct. 1, 1885 there were 99 patients remaining of the 169 admitted during the year. There had been 268 patients treated with 137 being discharged including the seven classified as “not insane.”

By Sept. 30, 1886, 17 patients died at the Long Island Home Hotel, and 99 remained. The commission’s report mentioned, “…that the managers, individually and as a board, have been somewhat remiss in the discharge of their duties.” Further details were not given!

Commissioner Stephen Smith, MD of the New York State Commission on Lunacy, in 1888 reported there were three institutions in Amityville: Long Island Home Hotel, Louden Hall and Brunswick Homes, a licensed institution for the “care of idiotic and feeble-minded persons.” John Louden left the Long Island Home Hotel and had started Louden Hall.

The new superintendent of the Long Island Home Hotel was Joseph Carpenter, and the institution consists of a central building with a male, and a separate female two-story wing. The facility was two stories with a central hall, and dormitories on each side. Each floor had a day room and closets, as well as in the central building were parlors and private rooms.

Between October 1887 and September 1888, the institution had 20 deaths, 147 persons admitted with 80 being male and 67 female. The month of January had the most patients, and for the year 113 were discharged. The commissioner’s report mentioned that since the last report the name of the institution had changed slightly from the Long Island Homes Hotel to the Long Island Homes Company. A detailed description of new construction was given, and it was stated that “the servant’s quarters have been removed out of the main building, which had been a great source of annoyance.” In the report, the next Amityville institution was Louden Hall.

After officials from Suffolk County examined the buildings, it was determined that Louden Hall would be licensed for a maximum of 15 patients. The institution consisted of two former residences “to which additions have been made in such form as to complete two halls, with convenient apartments for single patients.” The report mentioned a total of 11 patients were admitted with seven remaining at the institution on Sept. 30, 1887.

At Brunswick Home, the superintendent was Stephen R. Williams in 1887, and consisted of a number of wooden buildings, arranged by classifications of the inmates “who represent every grade of idiocy and imbecility.”

Stephen Williams is mentioned the following year in the March 24 Suffolk County News as part of the Amityville Land Improvement Company along with John E. Ireland (Amityville), Dr. G.A. MacDonald (NYC), John R. Perkins, T.M. Griffing and George W. Cooper (Riverhead). Stephen would later become the company’s president, as the company purchased vacant land in and around the Village of Amityville.

The commissioner for the State Commission in Lunacy traveled regularly from Albany to inspect the three Amityville asylums. He documented the asylums’ history stating, “Each institution should provide and use a letter copying book in which all official letters sent out from the institution should be legibly copied.”

On May 5, 1888, the South Side Signal (Babylon) reported that “Captain Richard Smith, of Smithtown, died in a private insane asylum at Amityville on Friday last. Some time ago, while on a voyage up the coast, Capt. Smith, in consequence of a fall, sustained injuries which affected his brain and caused his death...”

“Every man was a potential Andrew Carnegie, and Americans who achieved wealth celebrated it as never before…,” according to the American Experience Show on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

PBS continued describing the Gilded Age in America, “While the rich wore diamonds, many wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1,200 per year; of this group, the average annual income was $380, well

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