About The Park – A History
The Nissequogue River State Park encompasses 522 acres on the North Shore of Long Island in Kings Park, New York. It is located on the former site of the “Kings Park Psychiatric Center”. The facility was established in 1885 by Kings County, now commonly referred to as Brooklyn. Originally called the “Kings County Asylum”, it was considered revolutionary at the time because it recognized the deplorable conditions that patients were housed in and took new measures to improve treatment methods. To relieve the overcrowding of patients held in the city asylums, Kings County purchased 873 acres of farm and woodland in 1885 from several residents in rural Long Island. By 1889, sixteen cottages, a laundry, heating plant and barn were built to house 450 patients. It was often referred to as a “Farm Colony” because patients were encouraged to work in a variety of farm related activities, which was considered a form of therapy at the time.
Eventually, the Kings County Asylum began to suffer from overcrowding. In 1895, control of the asylum passed into state hands and was subsequently renamed the “Kings Park State Hospital”. The surrounding community known as “St. Johnland” adopted the name “Kings Park”. Eventually the hospital became a self-sufficient community that grew its own food, generated its own heat and electricity, housed its staff on-site and had a railroad spur that brought supplies and passengers directly onto the hospital grounds.
Through the early part of the 20th century, the patient population at the hospital continued to grow. By the 1930s, the state began to build upwards. During this period, a 13 story structure called Building 93 was built on the grounds. It was completed in 1939 and was used as an infirmary for geriatric patients as well as for patients with chronic ailments. Designed by state architect William E. Haugaard and funded with Works Progress Administration funds, building 93 was dubbed “the most famous asylum building on Long Island.”
After World War II, Kings Park and the other Long Island psychiatric hospitals would see their patient populations soar. By 1954, the patient census at Kings Park topped 9,300. Soon afterwards, the population steadily declined. The old “rest and relaxation” philosophy surrounding farming gave way to pre-frontal lobotomies and electro-shock therapy. However these methods were quickly abandoned in favor of Thorazine, the first widely used drug to treat mental illness. The use of medication to treat the mentally ill gave patients the possibility of living their lives outside of institutions. The need for large psychiatric facilities diminished and the patient population began to drop.
By the early 1990s, the “Kings Park State Hospital” now known as the “Kings Park Psychiatric Center,” was operating as a ghost of its former self. Many of the buildings closed or had limited use, including Building 93. With patient populations diminishing, the New York State Office of Mental Health developed plans for the closure of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center. The remaining patients were transferred to Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, Long Island or discharged. By the fall of 1996 the hospital closed ending Kings Park’s 111 year run.
The following video covers the history and process of redeveloping the “Kings Park Psychiatric Center” into the Nissequoque River State Park. To often many still refer to it as a Psychiatric facility. It is no longer that but a park nesting in one of the most picturesque areas on Long Island New York.
The Park Today
Today, the sprawling area that once housed the Kings Park Psychiatric Center stands as a testament to a forgotten era. Since 1996, several proposals for the property had come and gone. The greatest obstacles are the 48 decaying structures and steam tunnels that still reside on the property. Other areas contain ash and unknown materials from the hospital’s power generation facilities. These problems led to a fear in the surrounding community that a potential developer would have no choice but to build high-density housing to offset the environmental clean-up costs and return a profit.
In the spring of 2000, the waterfront portion of the former campus was reopened as the “Nissequogue River State Park”, protecting it from development. In 2006, an additional 365 acres of the former hospital grounds were added to the park. The railroad spur, abandoned in the late 1980s, was converted into a hike-bike trail in 2003. Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, which took the remaining patients from Kings Park, still runs a group home on the non-parkland portion of the campus. Today, approximately ninety percent of the former campus is now state parkland.
The north end of the park overlooks the beautiful waters of the Long Island Sound. There are also stunning views of the Nissequogue River on the east end of the park, hundreds of acres of mature woodlands, open fields, recreational facilities, scenic trails and a marina. The park is, however, an underutilized open space resource with tremendous potential, but has no clear plan to guide its emergence as a viable multi-use facility. It could, potentially, host a variety of recreational, environmental, cultural and educational activities that would function as a mechanism to provide both economic and quality of life improvements to the Long Island region.
There have been some accomplishments in recent years. The Nissequogue River State Park Foundation was established in March 2008. It united local community leaders under one umbrella organization to help enhance and beautify the park. The foundation has restored the cupola on the park’s Administration Building, helped resurface the roadway around the park’s soccer fields, sponsored several cleanup projects, organized numerous recreational and cultural events, supported the expansion of the park’s hike & bike trail and funded the creation of a conceptual master plan. The most difficult and most expensive tasks, however, still lie ahead.
$14 million was finally approved and released for the 1st phase of the park’s cleanup in 2011. This phase of the cleanup will involve the demolition of 19 buildings/structures and associated tunnels (click here to view map and list of structures included in the demolition plan). The work is scheduled to commence by the end of July, 2012 and last approximately 8 months. Click here to view the demolition plans.
The $6.4 million contract was awarded to a Bloomington, Indiana company called National Salvage and Service Corporation, which presented the lowest bid on the project. Air monitoring stations will be positioned around each demolition site by D&B Engineers and Architects. The monitoring process, part of the community monitoring program, will help ensure the safety of nearby residents.
The only change to the original demolition plan is a decision to implode, instead of dismantle, the smoke stack at the former power station. State Parks will establish a 1,000 foot perimeter around the stack before the implosion takes place. They will also setup a viewing station for anyone who wants to watch the action from a safe distance. The local community will be notified in advance of the demolition of this specific structure.
Each demolition site will be contained and will have a large buffer zone. Access to each site will be restricted. The park will remain open and operate as normally as possible. Kings Park Boulevard, which runs through the center of the property, will remain open unless it’s necessary to close it for safety reasons. Trucks leaving the work area will depart from 25A and Indian Head Road.
The foundation is hopeful that State Senator Flanagan and State Assemblyman Fitzpatrick will encourage State Parks to facilitate the complete remediation of the park in the near future. “The fact that the accepted bid was significantly lower than originally anticipated is an encouraging sign and I look forward to working with State Parks to use the remaining funds in the most effective and efficient way possible,” said Flanagan.
State Parks has a new website that will update the community on the demolition’s progress. The web address is www.kppccleanup.com.
In order to begin transforming the grounds from a former state hospital into an active state park and recreational facility, the state must, first, create a master plan to determine the most appropriate potential reuses of the park’s buildings and grounds. A master plan will also decide what infrastructure (roads, electric, water, gas, parking, etc) will be needed to help support and guide its emergence as a viable multi-use facility. The park could, possibly, host a variety of recreational, cultural and educational activities that would function as a resource to provide both economic and quality of life improvements to the Long Island region. Much of this progress could potentially be financed by public/private partnerships, which would also be outlined within the context of a master plan.