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Castle On The Hill: The Architect Behind The Asylum

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    Castle On The Hill: Behind Locked Doors

    Sitting high above Binghamton, the Castle on the Hill, or the old State Hospital is still an imposing sight to outsiders. Closed to the public since 1993, Fox 40 took cameras inside for the first time in over 24 years.

    Sitting high above Binghamton, the Castle on the Hill, or the old State Hospital is still an imposing sight to outsiders. Closed to the public since 1993, Fox 40 took cameras inside for the first time in over 24 years.

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -

Nearly 160 years worth of history waits behind the enormous, wooden doors of the Castle on the Hill, or old Binghamton State Hospital. The building has been closed to the public since 1993, but Fox 40 was granted exclusive access to take our cameras inside the historic landmark. 

You don't expect to see a castle in Binghamton, New York. Not now, and certainly not in 1855. But it was that year that the inebriate asylum's founder, J. Edward Turner, knew just the man to build one. A then 33-year-old Isaac Perry was a carpenter, working on staircases in New York City with his father. 

"The board of trustees really didn't want Perry because he was so inexperienced," says 100 Years Ago Today Historian Roger Luther, who presents on the castle and hosts a website, nyslandmarks, that takes visitors on photographic tours of the asylum.

Turner, not easily dissuaded, convinced the board to give Perry a chance. It would be Perry's first job, and no small feat. He spent the next two years designing the 85,000 square foot castle, keeping in mind Turner's requests for certain elements in the design.

"The idea is to have wide open space, so you are not confined," says Luther. 

Floor to ceiling windows provide lots of light, creating a healing environment for the asylum's patients. These ideas were gathered by Turner when he toured European asylums for research. Although it was Turner's research behind the design, Perry's hand in it is evident as soon as you walk in the door.

The dual grand staircase is intricately carved, a feature that would become Perry's signature in his future buildings. The first-time architect would go on to design several armories, mansions in Binghamton, and the New York State Capitol building in Albany. For Perry enthusiasts, even more amazing than the curving staircase, might be something a little harder to spot. Examining the newel posts at the base of the stairs, you can find Perry's mark of a hand-carved acorn. This mark would be placed on future projects as well.

Even after two fires, preservationists say the building is in excellent condition. Luther says the Office of Mental Health, the owner of the castle, is to thank for that. The office has never turned the heat off in the building. It's for that reason that the building could be used again in the future.

Two years ago, Binghamton University became the castle's new caretakers. 12.5 million dollars in state funding for renovations, thought to be gone for good when Upstate Medical Center ended plans to re-open the building, is now back in play. 

"Nothing is easy, it's taken so long. I just hope I'm still around when the doors open and it's used again," says Luther.

In March, the university began steps to get a complete picture of the building's condition, examining the exterior, heating, plumbing, and electrical workings. The latest activity is bringing new hope to Luther and other castle supporters.


Anyone interested in sharing their castle stories as part of Roger Luther's "Voices From The Castle" project can email him at rluther@nysAsylum.com. Luther has been collecting stories from former patients, employees and families since 2004.