Willard State Hospital in Romulus, Seneca County, NY has defined the physical landscape and cultural environment of its rural corner of the Finger Lakes region for nearly 175 years. The hospital complex was the largest of its kind in the 1870s, with dozens of buildings, open space, and working farms.
Once comprising over 1,000 acres, its current size is about 400 acres including a mile of Seneca Lake shoreline and an institutional cemetery containing approximately 6,000 burials. Despite the loss of several architecturally important buildings, about 70 buildings still stand today.
Exhibits and other public programs on the Willard suitcases have documented the personal possessions of some 400 former Willard patients and have brought international attention to this historic site.
After the hospital closed in 1995, the facility was repurposed by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), who refurbished several historic buildings while allowing others to fall into a state of disrepair.
In November 2021, DOCCS announced that it would be closing its Willard State facility and vacating all buildings in March of 2022, with ownership remaining with the Empire State Development Corporation. The sudden announcement included no plans to secure the buildings for future use. Basic maintenance, including heat and water service, must be addressed to avoid costly and irreparable damage.
State hospital complexes like this one pose a particular set of challenges and can be seen mirrored at similar locations across the state. Considering the future of Willard now is vital to preserving an important part of New York State history before long-term vacancy causes the remaining buildings to deteriorate past the point of no return.
The Preservation League of New York State has included the Willard State Hospital complex on the 2022-2023 Seven to Save list. The list highlights New York’s most endangered historic sites and the League offers listed places wider visibility, assistance with advocacy, and technical services.
For more information about the Seven to Save program and this year’s list, click here.
Photo of Willard State Hospitals Hadley Hall c 1887 provided by Preservation League of New York State.