1843 A Christmas Carol


My favorite story of all time is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The story revolves around Ebenezer Scrooge, a stingy old man of business who is worth a fortune but will not spend any of his money, not even on himself. He lives in his dead business partner’s home and eats gruel or oatmeal for dinner. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by four ghosts who come to persuade him to change his ways, and of course, he does. There is so much more to this story and the time period in which it was written (1843), but at this time, I am focusing on what Dickens was talking about when he wrote the words: Bedlam, Treadmill, Poor Law, and Surplus Population.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 1843

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 1843

“There’s another fellow,” muttered Scrooge; who heard him: “my clerk, with fifteen shillings a week and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam.”

The character Scrooge, along with political economists of 1843, felt that poor people had no right to marry. “Bedlam. A corruption of ‘Bethlehem,’ referring to the Hospital of St. Mary’s of Bethlehem in London, which was founded as a priory in 1247 but became a hospital for the insane as early as 1402. In 1547, after the dissolution of church property by Henry VIII, it was incorporated as a royal foundation as a madhouse. The term was current as early as the late sixteenth century…” (2)

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman. “I wish I could say they were not.”
The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoice. What shall I put you down for?’
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge.” Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Coldbath Fields Treadmill - Wikipedia

Coldbath Fields Treadmill – Wikipedia

I found a reference to a treadmill while searching for historical information on my own hometown of Rochester, Monroe County, New York.

The Treadmill or Treadwheel resembled a giant water wheel and served no purpose other than to punish the inmates of the prisons and workhouses. The inmates would walk on the rotating steps for hours at a time. “As the village grew in size it seems to have become more immoral, for the Telegraph of February 10th, 1824, after making the rather rash assertion that “probably no place in the Union of the size of Rochester is so much infested with the dregs and outcasts of society as this village,” speaks of a meeting that had been held during the previous week, at which a committee was appointed to draft a petition to the legislature for the passage of a law to erect a tread-mill, or ‘stepping-mill’ as it was called. Although the journal applauded the scheme as being likely to inspire non-resident criminals with such terror that they would stay away from this region, the law was never passed, public sentiment being then, and ever since then, too strongly opposed to it in this country, though Great Britain retained that form of torture until five years ago.” (1)

The Treadmill-The Victorian Dictionary

The Treadmill-The Victorian Dictionary

The Poor Law of 1834 in England
 was different than the New York State Poor Law of 1824 but the basic premise was the same; you had to pull your own weight. No one was allowed to be idle. No one received their food and shelter unless they worked for it. In New York State, we had county poor houses where families were required to work on the farm and in the house in order to survive, in addition to workhouses or penitentiaries. It appears that in Victorian England, they had only union workhouses.

In 1853, a workhouse was built in Rochester, NY. Its purpose was to segregate the minor offenses of vagrancy, prostitution, drunkenness, and indebtedness, from the hardened criminals. This was a place for short-term confinement of at least three months but not over six months. Before this time, all prisoners were held in the county jail with no distinction as to their misdemeanors or crimes. In 1858, The Workhouse changed its name to The Penitentiary. The county poorhouses, workhouses, and penitentiaries were deplorable, filthy places, and were phased out with the Social Security Act of 1935 in the U.S., and modern social welfare in the 1940s in England.

The Poor Law of 1834 provided that two or more parishes unite to provide a home for the destitute where they might labor in exchange for their room and board. It divided England and Wales into twenty-one districts and empowered in each a commissioner to form ‘poor law unions’ by grouping parishes together for administrative purposes and to build workhouses to contain the poor. The able-bodied were worked in penury, and their dependents were kept in the house where as little as possible was spent on food and shelter. They were characterized by strict discipline; the sexes were segregated and classified, and preliminary inquiries into the private lives of the inmates were generally conducted. It was considered a disgrace to go to such a place. Dickens fiercely attacked these institutions…” (2)

The Last of the Spirits by John Leech 1843

The Last of the Spirits by John Leech 1843

An Essay on the Principle of Population
, by Thomas Robert Malthus, first published in 1798, foretold of the catastrophe that would occur when overpopulation caused a shortage of food supplies. The Surplus Population was the poor producing large families that they could not afford. I have mentioned Reverend Malthus, an economist, in a previous blog post about social welfare and eugenics. Although the term eugenics wasn’t coined until 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, it was definitely in use during the early nineteenth century in England and in the U.S. The whole point of rounding people up, dumping them in a union workhouse or a county poorhouse, and separating them, was done so that they could not breed. These places were intentionally made uncomfortable so that people would leave and seek employment. The problem was there were not enough jobs to go around. Many people would rather have committed suicide than to live in one of these places.

“This economist made clear ‘What the surplus is, Where it is’ when he wrote: ‘A man who is born into a world possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents, on which he has a just demand, and if society do not want his labour, has no claim of right of the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At Nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone…” (2)

1. Peck, William F., History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York, New York and Chicago, The Pioneer Publishing Company, 1908, Pages 165-180.

2. Hearn, Michael Patrick, The Annotated Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by John Leech, Avenel Books, New York, 1976, Pages 64-65.

History of Rochester and Monroe County – Crime and Punishment – by William F. Peck 1908.

Thomas Malthus

The Victorian Dictionary

The Victorian Dictionary – The Mysteries of London, Volume II


1864 Monroe County Poor House

“The Monroe County Insane asylum is, by a special act of the Legislature, made a separate and distinct institution from that of the poor house, and is under the control of the board of supervisors of the county. It is a three story brick building, the basement being 10 feet ceiling, and the other two stories 12 feet each. The single rooms are 5 x 10 feet, and the double rooms 8 x 10 feet. The windows are 2 x 7 feet. There are four rooms without windows opening out of doors. The building is heated by stoves; and in winter the temperature is maintained uniform by the indication of a thermometer. The lunatics are confined in four separate wards; four occupy the same room. The whole number confined during the year is 105; but the number has been reduced by patients discharged, deaths and absconding, so that only 74 have been in confinement at any one time: 46 were males, 59 females; 38 American, 67 of foreign birth; 54 were mild, and 18 were filthy; 27 had been treated in the State asylum. Ten males and ten females were capable of labor; but those who could not labor were unprovided with occupation or amusement. Fifty-four human beings, with at least some intellect in action, though not guided by reason, shut up in one building, with neither occupation or amusement! The only restraint resorted to, aside from handcuffs, is close confinement and cautious showering. This asylum has one bath tub, but not a full supply of water. The lunatics are required to wash daily. All the rooms have single iron bedsteads; some are fastened to the floor. Only one sleep in a bed, and the bedding is comfortable. The diet is respectable. About two-thirds come to a table; the remainder are served in the wards or their rooms. The sexes are kept separated, and all are under the care of the warden and his wife, assisted by two females. The rooms are clean, and the air in the upper rooms good. All had shoes during the winter. This asylum, recently erected, was designed to accommodate 48 patients; 74 are crowded into the space designed for 48 to occupy! Three escaped during the year, who have not returned. The supervisors appoint a physician, who visits the institution twice every week, and oftener if necessary, but with reference only to the physical condition of the inmates. Dr. Thomas Arner remarks of the building, “Its design is for the physical welfare of the insane poor, without reference to their ultimate recovery. * * * The personal cleanliness of the inmates, and that of the wards and sleeping apartments, the quantity and quality of food, together with the admirable discipline adopted and maintained, are all that can be desired, and reflect the highest praise upon the warden and others, upon whom devolves the care of this unfortunate class of people. There are deficiencies of an important character still to be provided for, in order to render the institution in all respects complete. In its present capacity the building is designed to accommodate forty-eight persons only, eleven of which number are provided for in the basement. The impropriety of crowding seventy-four insane persons into this limited space, some of which is damp and unhealthy, needs no remark, (it needs the severest censure from all humane citizens.)” Increased capacity is essentially necessary to the physical welfare of the inmates of this institution. There should also be a more bountiful supply of water, increased facilities for bathing, and for cooking, and for washing, enlargement of the dining halls, and better provision for exercise in the open air. The question whether, in an institution of this character, the treatment adopted should have in view the ultimate recovery of the inmates, cannot at the present be easily determined; and its solution properly rests with those upon whom devolves the responsibility of their care. The following facts are submitted:

All the insane formerly confined in the poor house (under the old system) have very much improved in every respect, by cleanliness and kind treatment, since their removal to the asylum.

Cases that have been returned as incurable from the State asylum at Utica, have afterwards improved to a marked degree, and in two or three instances nearly well.”

SOURCE: Documents of the Assembly Of The State Of New York, Eighty-Eighth Session, 1865, Volume 6, Nos. 199 to 112 Inclusive, Albany: C. Wendell, Legislative Printer, 1865, Pages 200-201.

New York State County Poor Houses.

Rochester State Hospital & Mt. Hope Cemetery

Rochester State Hospital (Rochester, Monroe County, New York), served the counties of Monroe and Livingston. My understanding is that the anonymous graves are located in section Y of Mt. Hope Cemetery.

1916 Rochester State Hospital.
Rochester State Hospital
Rochester State Hospital – OPACITY.
Rochester State Hospital – Rochester, NY – 9.7.2013.
1872 “Bone Yard” The Remember Garden – Rochester, NY – 4.18.2013.
The Willard and Rochester State Hospital Connection – 4.18.2012.
1888 Monroe County Insane Asylum (Names).

Monroe County Poor House & Rochester State Hospital

Monroe County Poor House & Rochester State Hospital


Very interesting article on the use of TREADMILLS in Rochester, New York:
1843 A Christmas Carol – 12.9.2013.

Duffy’s Malt Whiskey Company, Rochester, New York:
1921 Duffy’s Malt Whiskey – Nostrums For Good Health! – 1.29.2014.

Susan B. Anthony:
1860 Susan B. Anthony – 10.19.2012.

Anonymous Burial In Rochester, NY:
Sally Green’s Anonymous Burial – 2.24.2012.

The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery.
City of Rochester – Mount Hope Cemetery.
City of Rochester, Monroe County, New York.
The University of Rochester’s Connection to “Our Quietest Neighbor” – Rochester’s Hope (Includes Map of Mt. Hope Cemetery from 1885).
1906 Elopements, Suicides & Accidents at New York State Hospitals – 8.2.2012.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO They’re Buried Where? by Seth Voorhees

THE BAD NEWS: Thousands Remain Nameless! 6.15.2015.

THE GOOD NEWS: One Man Is Remembered! 6.14.2015.

1872 “Bone Yard” The Remember Garden – Rochester, NY

These two documents from the Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Monroe, shed a great deal of light on the forgotten cemetery that was uncovered by excavation in Highland Park, Rochester, New York. In July 1984, approximately 900 human remains were discovered; 284 to 305 of these remains were removed, examined, and reinterred in Mt. Hope Cemetery in 1985. Hundreds of remains, many buried on top of another, were left at the sight undisturbed because it was thought that they were buried deep enough. What is most interesting to me is the County Board of Supervisors of 1872 clearly knew that this fenced-in, unmarked cemetery, known as the “bone yard” existed, and was still being used as late as January 8, 1873. It was on that date that the supervisors made a decision to discontinue burying the inmates of the Penitentiary, Alms House, and Insane Asylum in the cemetery that was located behind the Penitentiary. “Resolved, That the Superintendents of the penitentiary, and of the county poor, be and is hereby directed in the future to discontinue the burial of paupers or criminals in the old burying ground attached to the penitentiary, and to have the remains of all such interred in Mount Hope cemetery.” It would appear that although they knew it existed, it was not recorded on any map, or perhaps the map has never been found. Through the passage of time, the cemetery was forgotten. The Remember Garden marks the location where many of the bodies were found and was dedicated in 2009. “Since 2004, the effort to create a living memorial garden, located at the original site in the park, has been coordinated by DePaul Community Services. DePaul Community Services coordinated development, building, planting and maintenance of the garden. The Remember Garden appropriately marks the grave, lending dignity and respect to those buried there, while heightening community awareness to the site and the history of institutionalization. The plantings are predominantly purple, reflecting the official color of Mental Health Awareness. Pinks and blues are also part of the scheme that includes trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.”

Even though I know that I will never be credited with making this discovery, I am very proud that I uncovered the “Bone Yard.”

Saturday, December 14, 1872. Board met pursuant to adjournment. Mr. Jeffords in the Chair. Members all present. Minutes of the meeting of the 12th inst. read and approved. Mr. Malone, presented the following report, which was adopted, and on his motion the Clerk was instructed to have the survey recorded in the County Clerk’s office.

To the Board of Supervisors of Monroe County:
Gentlemen:—In compliance with a resolution of your honorable body at the close of the November session, commanding the Chairman of the Building Committee of the new Poor House to cause a survey of the lands occupied by the new Alms House and fix the amount that should be set off for the use of all the County Institutions, I therefore present the following survey of the lands, with the amount to be occupied by the different institutions of that part of the grounds owned by the County lying between the Poor House road and the Cobb’s Hill road, east of South avenue:

Map of Penitentiary, Poorhouse, Asylum

Map of Penitentiary, Poorhouse, Asylum

(The above map was most likely made at the time of the excavation by the Rochester Museum and Science Center team).

Beginning at the east line of South avenue at the south-westerly corner of the Alms House lot, running thence south ninety-nine degrees, east along the southerly line of the Alms House lot fifteen chains and four links to the south-easterly corner thereof; thence south twenty-six decrees, west three chains twenty-five links to the centre of the Poor House road; thence north eighty-eight degrees west along the centre of the said road seventeen chains to the east line of South avenue; thence along the easterly line of said South avenue north twenty-five and one-half degrees east six chains twenty links to an angle; thence north thirty-one degrees east five chains nineteen links to the place of beginning, containing 11.08 acres.

Beginning at a point in the easterly line of South avenue, which is thirty-four feet northerly from the range of the northerly end of the new Alms House building; running thence south fifty-nine degrees east at right angles with said South avenue and parallel with the range of the north end of said building, and thirty-four feet distant therefrom, three chains forty-seven links to a point thirty-four feet northerly from the northeast corner of said building; thence south thirty-one degrees west four feet; thence south fifty-nine degrees east two chains six links to the northeast corner of the yard; thence south thirty-one degrees west one chain ninety-seven links to the north side of the privy; thence south fifty-nine degrees east fifty-four links; thence south thirty-one degrees west thirty-nine links; thence south fifty-eight degrees east eight chains forty-eight links to a stake: thence south twenty-six degrees west three chains eighty-seven links to the range of the north line of the Asylum yard; thence north fifty-nine degrees west along said easterly line of South avenue; thence north thirty-one degrees east along said easterly line six chains and forty links to the place of beginning, containing seven and sixteen one-hundredths acres.

Resolved. That the survey herewith presented be fixed as the division of the county lands described above, and that the Penitentiary occupy the residue of the land not contained in the said survey of that portion of the County farm described above.

Resolved. That the Poor House authorities have the right of a driveway across the asylum lands, from the new Poor House to the old Poor House road. Respectfully submitted, P. Malone.” (Pages 188-189)

Remember Garden 1

Remember Garden 1

January 8, 1873
Mr. Malone
presented the following report, which was accepted:

Rochester, Dec. 31, 1872. To the Honorable the Board of Supervisors of Monroe County:
Gentlemen:—The duties of the office of Chaplain of the Monroe county almshouse, to which you did the subscriber the honor to reappoint him in 1871, have been discharged by him during the past year in conducting public worship on Sundays and preaching in the chapel, in visiting and ministering to the inmates both on Sundays and week-days, in the house and in the hospital, in administering in public and in private to such as sought them at his hands, the Christian sacraments, and in services in the chapel and at the grave over the remains of the dead. When the chilly weather of autumn set in, after the pulling down of the large dormitory for men, it became necessary to occupy the chapel as a dormitory, and the public religious exercises in the chapel were suspended; but the visits of the chaplain and his ministries to individuals were continued until he was informed, some time in October by a friend, of the action of your board in making a new appointment. After that his visits were confined to members of his own communion who asked his services.

In consequence, as he has been informed, of an increased charge (eight dollars) for interments of paupers not chargeable to the city, in the public grounds of Mt. Hope, the bodies of those of this class who were friendless, were laid in, what is familiarly known as the “bone yard,” an enclosed lot of the public farm in the rear of the penitentiary. It was not uncommon, in such cases, to make more than one attempt in opening a grave, from the pick and shovels encountering, perhaps transversely, the mouldering coffin of some buried convict or pauper; while in spring and autumn, on a rainy time, the wetness of the ground and water in the grave, added to the pain of dishonoring the ashes of a brother man.

Remember Garden 2

Remember Garden 2

In several instances your chaplain could not deny himself the privilege of procuring at his own expense the interments in Mt. Hope of patients dying in the hospital, whose dependence came of misfortunes and not of crime, and whose sickness and death had been cheered by the solace of Christian baptism and communion. He has ventured to attach to his report a receipt for his outlay in one of these cases, in the confidence that a rich agricultural town will not fail to reimburse him.

Remember Garden 3

Remember Garden 3

It is well known that a very large proportion of the inmates of your almshouse are foreign born, and that most of these are in religious faith Roman Catholics. It is a part of their education to make much of attendance once on each Lord’s day on the public worship of their church, and it had been customary to indulge many of them in going to the city on Sunday mornings for this purpose. The result from their yielding to the solicitations of appetite or the false kindness of acquaintances, were subversive of the order and discipline of the house, and an effectual remedy was found in the rule laid down and enforced by the present officers forbidding absence on Sundays, in conjunction with an offer of the chapel, at a fixed hour on Sunday, for religious services by a minister of their own faith. Such services were held in consequence in the chapel at an early hour on Sunday mornings, by Father Bupaffe, a Roman Catholic clergyman, of courteous manners and earnest devotion to his work, under appointment from his bishop, beginning in March last, and suspended upon the taking of the chapel for a domitory. The influence of this arrangement upon the discipline and good order of the house has often been attested by the officers in charge.

Your chaplain may be permitted to say in conclusion, that the ties of his sacred calling with inmates of the house who welcomed his services and with some who are still tenants of your hospital and examples of every Christian virtue, and the happy relations and intercourse experienced with all the officers of the institution, having been chief recompenses of his services there.

Respectfully submitted,
J. V. Van Ingen, Chaplain.

Remember Garden 4

Remember Garden 4

Mr. McNaughton moved that the claim of Dr. Van Ingen referred to in his report, amounting to eight dollars, be referred to the chairman of the Alms-House Committee to report thereon. Carried.

Mr. Mack moved that when this board adjourns for the day, it be until Friday morning next at 10 o’clock. Carried.

Upon motion of Mr. Pool, the Messenger was instructed to have the sleighs in readiness at 12 o’clock to-morrow, to convey the members to the alms house.

By Mr. Larkin-
Resolved, That the Superintendents of the penitentiary, and of the county poor, be and is hereby directed in the future to discontinue the burial of paupers or criminals in the old burying ground attached to the penitentiary, and to have the remains of all such interred in Mount Hope cemetery. Laid on the table by consent.” (Pages 211-212)

Remember Garden 5

Remember Garden 5


Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Monroe, for 1872, Rochester, N.Y., Steam Press of Curtis, Morey & Co., Union And Advertiser Office, 1872.

ROCHESTER HISTORY, Life and Death in Nineteenth Century Rochester, Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, Editor, Volume XLV, Nos. 1 and 2, 1985 (Monroe County Almshouse, Pages 12 – 22).

Bodies of Evidence: Reconstructing History Through Skeletal Analysis edited by Anne L. Grauer, (Page 121).

Photographs by L.S. Stuhler

1873 Monroe County Poor House – Rochester, NY

The Monroe County Poor-House – This institution, situated near the city of Rochester, was completed and occupied near the close of the past year. It consists of a centre building and two wings, each connected with the former by fire-proof corridors. The centre building is forty-five feet square, and is three stories besides the basement and a high attic. It is occupied by the warden and family, and also furnishes room for offices.

Monroe County Poor House 1873 (Rochester, New York)

Monroe County Poor House 1873 (Rochester, New York)

The wings each have a width of seventy-one feet in front, forty-nine feet in rear, and a depth of 102 feet. They are both three stories high, and nearly alike in their structure and arrangement. The left is occupied by males and the right by females. The third story of the whole front is used as a hospital. In the rear of the centre structure there is a building thirty feet wide and sixty feet long. The basement of this is used for general kitchen purposes, the first floor for laundry, etc., and the second for the hospital kitchen. The entire edifice has a front of 238 feet, and is 105 feet deep.

Monroe County Poor House Floor Plan

Monroe County Poor House Floor Plan

The basement is built of stone, and the stories above of brick, with partition walls of the same material. The roofs are of slate and the cornices of iron. The floors are of oak and maple, and the stairways of iron, and fire-proof. All the rooms are high and well ventilated. The edifice is plain, substantial and well built, and is appropriately arranged and furnished for its purposes. The entire cost of the building, including steam-heating, plumbing, etc., it is reported, was $71,000. It will accommodate and suitably classify five hundred inmates.”

SOURCE: Sixth Annual Report of The Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities of the State of New York To Which Is Appended The Report Of The Secretary Of The Board, Transmitted to the Legislature January 28, 1873, Albany: The Argus Company, Printers, 1873, Pages 84, 86, 87.

Monroe County Almshouse (Pages 12 – 22).

Monroe County Asylum 1888 – Inmate’s Names on pages 4 & 5.

The Willard and Rochester State Hospital Connection

“The raving maniac, the young child, the infirm old man, and the seducer’s victim, were crowded in a building whose remembrance must seem painful.”
– W. H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York

To the west of the entrance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester in Highland Park (1440 South Avenue, Rochester, NY) stand three cream colored wooden arbors with benches, a lovely brick patio, and a small garden. This site, now known as The Remember Garden, marks the old burial ground that was used to bury paupers and criminals in unmarked, anonymous graves during the nineteenth century. In July 1984, approximately 900 human remains were discovered in this unmarked cemetery which was located behind the old Penitentiary. The bodies are believed to be the inmates who lived and died at the Work House (Penitentiary), Alms House, and the Insane Asylum between 1826 and 1863. 284 to 305 remains were re-interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in 1985. The memorial that marks the location of the cemetery in Highland Park was dedicated in May 2009, and the memorial to mark the re-interred remains at Mount Hope Cemetery may be dedicated in the spring of 2012. See 1872 “Bone Yard” The Remember Garden.

Remember Garden, Highland Park

Remember Garden, Highland Park

It is indeed unfortunate that thousands of poor “sane” men, women, and children, who lived and died in the county poor houses and other charitable institutions of our country, were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves; but their final resting places can be marked with engraved headstones. The same rule does not apply for those who were labeled as “insane” which also includes people who were diagnosed with epilepsy. It is virtually impossible for family researchers to obtain the medical records of their ancestors who were incarcerated at these long closed insane asylums because of the federal HIPAA Law which states, The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.” This rule has also been applied to burial ledgers and death records of former NYS Hospitals and Custodial Institutions. Everyone has been forced to sign HIPAA documents at their doctor’s office. Most people interpret this law as one that applies to the living, not the dead. An individual’s right to privacy ends at death but the right of patient confidentiality apparently lasts forever. What is even more confusing is that a few states have interpreted this federal law differently than New York State. SEE NEW HIPAA UPDATE!

Monroe County Poor House & Rochester State Hospital

Monroe County Poor House & Rochester State Hospital

Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have allowed the release of the names of former psychiatric patients buried in anonymous, unmarked graves to the public. In some cases, these states have provided funds for cemetery restoration and engraved headstones. One would presume that if other states have released the names of patients, then New York State should be allowed to do the same. To deny our ancestors this simple remembrance, for all eternity, on the grounds that they were unfortunately and unnecessarily labeled as mentally ill, is unconscionable. The people of the state and the country have a right to know where their ancestors are buried; and the patients should have the right to be remembered with dignity.

Bill S2514 has been introduced to the New York State Legislature by Senator Joseph E. Robach. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this bill becomes a law.

So, what does Willard State Hospital have to do with Rochester State Hospital? (The main building of the Willard State Hospital was demolished in 1984/85. Some of the buildings currently belong to the NYS Prison System / Willard Drug Treatment Facility).

The Willard Act of 1865 was “An Act to authorize the establishment of a State asylum for the chronic insane, and for the better care of the insane poor, to be known as The Willard Asylum for the Insane.” This law introduced a new policy that “was to relieve the county of their care and devolve it upon the State through the ‘Willard,’ and the State Lunatic Asylum at Utica.” Willard opened its doors on October 13, 1869. From the beginning New York and Kings Counties were exempt from this law; Monroe County quickly followed. “An Act In Relation To The Chronic Pauper Insane” was passed on April 25, 1871. The board of State Commissioners of Public Charities was authorized to hear and determine all applications by the county superintendents of the poor of the counties of New York State. On written application the several counties had to prove to the Legislature that “the buildings and means employed to take care of the chronic pauper insane of such county are sufficient and proper for the time being for such purpose.” Monroe County was exempted from sending their pauper chronic insane to the Willard Asylum about the year 1872.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

The Willard Asylum was unique because it was created to end the poor house system of caring for the insane. From 1869 to 1890, an inmate once committed to the facility, was prohibited from being returned to the county poor house unless the county was exempted, or the county did not want that particular patient returned. Willard provided a permanent home for the pauper chronic insane or “incurables” of the state. The term chronic refers to an individual who suffered from insanity for more than one year. Counties that were not exempt from the law were responsible for transporting their pauper chronic insane to Willard and paying the cost of the patients’ care, maintenance, and clothing. Willard was located in the towns of Ovid and Romulus, Seneca County, New York, on the shores of Seneca Lake and is roughly 80 miles from Rochester.

According to The Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Monroe, 1871, the only patient who was sent to The Willard Asylum for the Insane by the County of Monroe was Francis J. O’Brien, at the yearly cost of $129.00. The U.S. Federal Census of 1870, which is the first census of the Willard Asylum, shows that Mr. O’Brien was 29 at his last birthday; male; white; born in the state of Michigan; insane. In 1880, he is listed as: 40 years old; married; occupation, physician; born in the state of Michigan; insane; living in the North wing of the main asylum building. The 1880 U.S. Federal Census Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes lists him as: residence when at home, Rochester, Monroe; form of disease, Chronic Mania; duration of present attack, 13 years; total number of attacks, 1; age at which first attack occurred, 27; what has been the total length of time spent by him (or her) during life in such asylums, 11 years. In 1900, he is listed as 60 years old; inmate, white; male; married; born in Michigan. His name does not appear on the 1910 Federal Census. Mr. O’Brien died between 1900 and 1910 and spent at least 31 years of his life locked up at Willard as did thousands of New Yorker’s during the last two centuries. We will never know how or when he died, or where he was buried unless current law changes.

The State Care Act passed in 1890. It was An Act to promote the care and curative treatment of the pauper and indigent insane in the counties of this state, except New York, Kings and Monroe counties, and to permit said excepted counties or either of them, in accordance with the action of their respective local authorities, to avail themselves or any one or more of them, of the provisions of this act.The State Commission in Lunacy was given the power to divide the State into hospital districts and dropped the distinction between acute and chronic asylums. This law also renamed state insane asylums to state hospitals. Willard was no longer an asylum for the chronic insane only and was renamed Willard State Hospital which served the counties of Allegany, Cayuga, Genesee, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates. The Monroe County Insane Asylum was renamed Rochester State Hospital and served the counties of Monroe and Livingston. On July 1, 1891, Monroe County came into the state system and the asylum was purchased by the state. The New York State poor house system of caring for the insane ceased to exist October 1, 1893, when the State Care system went into effect.

The commonalities of the Willard Asylum for the Insane and The Monroe County Alms House, were they both shared the same architect; Mr. John Rochester Thomas, born on June 18, 1848, at Rochester, New York. According to W. H. McIntosh in his book History of Monroe County, New York: “John R. Thomas, one of our most enterprising young architects, commenced the practice of his profession here in the year 1866, and now ranks with the leading architects of the country. Mr. Thomas has during the past ten years accomplished a very large amount of work. He introduced the Mansard roof, which was first applied to private dwellings. Mr. Thomas has made a specialty of the study of Gothic art, believing it will be the architecture of the future in this country. He has also designed largely for private dwellings in the city and adjoining country, among which is the residence of H. A. De Land, of Fairport, one of the most elegant and costly private residences in western New York. He also designed Rochester Theological Seminary buildings, Sibley Hall, on the University grounds, the Opera House, the Monroe County almshouse, the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville,Virginia, and the New York State Reformatory buildings, at Elmira. In the year 1874, Mr. Thomas received a very honorable appointment from Governor Dix as one of the State architects, and was assigned at once to the charge of the Reformatory at Elmira, which position he now holds.” (1) The choice of Dr. John B. Chapin, first Superintendent of The Willard Asylum for the Insane, choosing Mr. Thomas as the architect of The Willard Asylum for the Insane caused a great deal of controversy in New York State because at the time he was not yet a state architect. The “Mansard” or French roof is prominent in many of Mr. Thomas’s architectural designs.

The differences between Willard and Rochester State Hospitals, was that Willard had its own twenty-five acre cemetery located about a mile down the road from the facility which contains the remains of 5,776 patients buried in anonymous, unmarked graves. The Rochester State Hospital used Mount Hope Cemetery to bury its inmates. I spoke to a very knowledgeable gentleman from the Rochester Office of Mental Health who stated that the address of the Rochester State Hospital was 1600 South Avenue. He said the facility was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the Al Sigl Center. The address of the Al Sigl Center was given a new address by the U.S. Postal Service: 1000 Elmwood Avenue (corner of South Avenue). In the past, I have searched the Mount Hope Cemetery Records looking for family members and had often seen “1600 South Avenue” given as the residence for many people. I always wondered what it was and on occasion I had Googled the address but received no hits. Now I know why, the address no longer exists.

I have transcribed the earliest records: Names: Monroe County Poorhouse, Asylum, Penitentiary, Other Charities 1838 to 1860. If you believe that your ancestor was an inmate who lived and died at The Monroe County Insane Asylum / Rochester State Hospital you can search for them at the Rochester – Mt. Hope Cemetery Records online. Here is a brief description of what you will see if you decide to search the records for yourself: Under the heading “Residence,” a street name will be given with no specific address; or it will list the place where the person died such as: Insane Asylum, Asylum, County House, Jail, etc. (Be aware that there was an Asylum Street in the City of Rochester that as far as I know, had no connection with the Monroe County Insane Asylum). About 1891, you will start to see the words “Rochester State Hospital” under “Residence.” At some point in the 1900s, instead of listing the place of death as Rochester State Hospital the address has been given instead as “1600 South Avenue.” In some instances, the family of the deceased claimed the body and buried them in the family plot. In the case of pauper and indigent insane, the hospital buried them in unmarked, anonymous graves at Mount Hope Cemetery. Some unclaimed bodies were donated by state hospitals to state medical colleges for the advancement of medical science in which case no grave will be found.

At the very least, the location of these graves should be marked in Mount Hope Cemetery with a memorial indicating the final resting place of the patients of The Monroe County Insane Asylum and Rochester State Hospital. Providing individual, engraved markers would be ideal but without the actual death records this will not be possible. The Rochester State Hospital burial records do exist and should be released to the public, along with all former state hospital burial ledgers in a unified, digital, database in order that descendants and caring citizens can find their ancestors and mark the graves of these forgotten souls if they wish to do so. Hopefully, a new bill introduced into the New York State Legislature by Senator Joseph E. Robach will allow the release of the names of these people who have remained anonymous for over one hundred years. I would like to thank Senator Robach and his staff for writing and sponsoring the bill.

As a life-long Rochester area resident, I am proud to live in a community that has provided so many genealogical resources. I am truly grateful for The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery who have taken the time and effort to assist me on more than one occasion. A few years ago, volunteer Frank Gillespie, who recently passed away in January 2012, helped me locate my great-grandparents’ grave by providing a map and directions. Marilyn Nolte, President of The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, has located the section where many of the Rochester State Hospital patients are buried, and she patiently answered numerous questions regarding the older sections of the cemetery, unmarked graves, and the responsibilities of plot owners. I thank them for their dedication, knowledge, and help.

(1) SOURCE: McIntosh, W. H., History of Monroe County, New York; With Illustrations Descriptive Of Its Scenery, Palatial Residences, Public Buildings, Fine Blocks, and Important Manufactories, From Original Sketches By Artists Of The Highest Ability.Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign & Everts, 716 Filbert Street, 1877, Page 142.