Rolling Hills Asylum – East Bethany, NY
by Chris Clemens
The English settlers who arrived in North America in the 1620’s established the concept of “Poor Laws”. They essentially built a legal arrangement for government oversight and support for those not able to care for themselves.
Whether you had a mental illness or a developmental disability you might have lived in one of these homes. Even a wealthy man who suffered an accident and became unable to pay his bills might’ve qualified. The local Overseers of the Poor would review each case and determine how to help.
Over time, homes for the destitute were established and, at least in New York, were managed at the county level. Poor houses, or almshouses, began to provide residential care for New Yorkers as early as 1736.
Almshouses Get An Update
If you read about Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane you already know things were changing in the early 1800’s. Officials began to review these programs with a fine toothed comb. They were concerned with the type of care that many people living in almshouses were receiving. Maltreatment and abuse ran rampant throughout the findings from investigations into the county-based programs.
As a result, they started to build state-run facilities around New York. State officials began that part of history with the Utica Psychiatric Center in 1843.
Slowly, the use of almshouses in New York began to dissipate and many of them are no longer in existence. The county established the Genesee County Poor Farm on January 1, 1827. It’s located in East Bethany, NY at the geographic center of the county. It served upwards of 300 people at a time until it closed in 1974.
The building here went through a series of changes after 1974 and has had multiple owners. Most recently, the building is privately owned and has been named Rolling Hills Asylum.
Rolling Hills Asylum Today
I had previously shared a number of personal photographs, history and impressions from the tour I took here. The nature of this blog is to share my experiences at historical and unique places and to promote exploring them. Typically, doing so is welcomed by these places.
However, I have removed the history and photos at the the request of the property owner. I took these photos you see here while standing in the road.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens
January 26, 2015 @ 9:47 pm
Great post Chris, almost makes me want to check it out, but I fear my “vivid” imagination would run wild in a place like this!
January 27, 2015 @ 10:06 am
Thanks Kathy! 🙂
Yeah, you may want to just do a day-time drive by then. Much less imagination-inducing from the road during the day!
January 27, 2015 @ 8:22 am
Great post Chris!
To be honest, I would rather see the history of this institution preserved rather than turned into a sideshow. It’s kind of sad a old mental health institution is used to generate income from paranormal tourists.
January 27, 2015 @ 10:05 am
Thanks Jennifer! Personally, I’d love to see things like the Poor Farm preserved as a museum and archives, but discussions about historic preservation always seem to come right down to money (and taxes). People don’t want their tax money going toward things like asbestos abatement for a museum that a few people a year will visit. I think our culture is one to tear things down and start over rather than put funds toward maintaining a property that doesn’t generate much income. So, with RHA owning and maintaining the property as a private business, in many ways they’ve done a service to the property by putting money back in to fix things and maintain the property without public funds. Their recent landmark status may earn them some grant funding though, which would be awesome!
I’m personally not much in to the paranormal/ghost hunting thing either, but I’m glad that someone has purchased the property and is using it instead of just having it torn down for a Costco or something. But, your comment and my tour, only opens the door for tons more questions about the world that I have to marinate in my brain! 🙂
January 27, 2015 @ 9:39 pm
Love the post. I live in Batavia and remember going into the flea market they had in there. Lots of cool stuff, but if you went down the hallways to another part, you were sure to have the hair on your neck stand up. It was creepy but at the time I never knew the history.
I also lived in Warsaw & worked in Batavia. Ill tell you there was always a window lite up at night as I drove home, but never anyone there. Always felt like you were being watched. Very freaky.
We currently go to the county park for family outting, but as night falls I get my girls out. Lol I have heard there are approximently 2500 unmarked graves. Not something I am comfortable with at night, especially not knowing where the cemetery is or that there is even one. People have told many stories of there experiences and some are super excited to go on the lock downs. Not me…I am fine passing by it a few times a month lol.
It is great to know more and more of the history. Thank you again for sharing.
January 30, 2015 @ 8:41 am
Wow- I drove by that road once a month for years and never knew about that place- thanks for the article Chris. I’ll have to plan a day trip and check that out.
February 1, 2015 @ 7:18 pm
My Grandmother was a nurse there yrs.ago when it was the Genesee County Home .i was a cosmetology student at BOCES in Batavia N.Y.in 1969-1970. We used to go there to do people’s hair .i have been there overnight .it is scary and very interesting.as things did happen to us that night .
February 2, 2015 @ 12:50 pm
I live right down the road a lot of history in this place and not at scary as people like to think. I used to go there as a child and get ice cream from the deli they had in there while it was the carrage village 🙂 I just wish it was used for something other than a “scary place” to visit.
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August 12, 2015 @ 2:48 pm
What a shame that the property owners asked you to take down your photos. It would have definitely been a great way to promote the tours they give(do they still give tours?) Usually that is the only way to generate income for the upkeep of these buildings,especially nowadays with the economy forcing financial decisions further and further and further away from anything resembling history. And how sad that fewer people realize the importance of preserving the past as a reminder for its darker parts to never be repeated. On a lighter note, what an inspiration for students and buffs of architecture it must be. You really can’t find that kind of detail and beauty in a house or building anymore. I hope that someday it will come back into style again,along with the love and time it takes to produce high quality work.
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