At the turn of the 19th century, New York City’s psychiatric facilities were becoming overcrowded and the expansion to quiet, calm Long Island farms was a strategy to deal with the overpopulation. The concept was to build a center on Long Island near farms and have patients in a relaxed setting. This idea for the hospital created the concept that the hospital was more of a “farm colony” than a psychiatric asylum. Two major farm colonies were created because of this concept, Kings Park State Hospital and Central Islip State Hospital. These two farm colonies eventually became overcrowded also, and another farm colony was needed. This lead to the creation of Pilgrim State Hospital.
Pilgrim State Hospital, known now as Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, is a state-run psychiatric hospital on Long Island. It was named in honor of Dr. Charles W. Pilgrim who was a former New York State Commissioner of Mental Health.
The psychiatric center’s construction began in Brentwood, NY in 1929. The Pilgrim State Hospital was opened on October 1, 1931 and at its opening, it was the largest hospital of any kind around the world. The hospital had multiple sets of buildings and each set was known as a quad. Each quad was composed of four building surrounding one central building which housed the kitchen for each building set.
The hospital was a close-knit community and self-sufficient. It had its own police department, fire department, post office, courts, Long Island Railroad station, power plant, swine farm, church, cemetery, water tower, and staff and administrator housing centers.
In the years following its creation, the patient population continued growing as it did for the other hospitals. With the continuous growth, New York State felt the need to expand and purchased more land southwest of the hospital. This newly acquired land was used for the construction of the Edgewood State Hospital, which had a very short lifespan.
At the time of the Second World War, the War Department took control of Edgewood State Hospital and three new buildings of Pilgrim State Hospital. The new possession of these buildings was called Mason General Hospital, which was a psychiatric facility devoting its work to aiding and treating battle-traumatized soldiers. There is a documentary called “Let There Be Light” made by John Huston (available at libraries in Nassau County) about Mason General Hospital and the soldiers there who suffered PTSD and other psychiatric disorders from battle.
After World War II’s end, Pilgrim State Hospital again experienced a large patient increase, with 13,875 patients committed and over 4,000 employees staffed to help these patients. The 1950s brought about a more aggressive treatment style at Pilgrim State Hospital where there was a history of lobotomies and electro-convulsive therapy.
Pilgrim State Hospital soon began its decline due to the availability of pharmaceutical treatments as an alternative to aggressive treatments and hospitalization.
Today, Pilgrim State Hospital still stands, but the farm land was sold. The farms are now part of Suffolk County Community College. The parts of the hospital that still stand are very small compared to the previously used areas of the hospital. Additionally, part of Pilgrim State Hospital is now a host to the Long Island Psychiatric Museum with displays including photos, newsletters, and relics left behind.
“Pilgrim Psychiatric Center.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Aug. 2018,