Trivia Break: Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

>> Thursday, July 9, 2009

Once in a while I like to take a break from questions and give you a little bit of trivia that might not be generally known. Mostly, it's likely to be the result of stumbling across the bit of trivia myself, often by random strolling through Wikipedia. Today's is no exception and I was snagged by it because it reminded me of one of my favorite question-askers, Aron (who, I think I remember, is going to be starting at Columbia University soon- if I misremembered the university, please forgive me, Aron. I have a mental weakness with names).

So, what did I learn today? Apparently, Columbia University was built on grounds that used to encompass an insane asylum for the rich and famous: Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. The photo there is the only building remaining from the original facility: Buell Hall.

I have to admit, it doesn't seem a stretch to go from insane asylum to bastion of higher education, but I'm a little off kilter myself.

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum had nothing to do with the Bloomingdale of department store fame. That portion of Manhattan used to be called Bloomingdale and that stretch of Broadway was called Bloomingdale Lane. Nor did it start out as an asylum for the elite. Originally built by the New York Hospital, it was one of the first asylums in the nation when it opened in 1821 - back when asylums were a wee bit more brutal than similar institutes today (as, indeed, were hospitals, though perhaps not to the same degree).

When the New York City Lunatic Asylum opened on Blackwell's Island (where Nelly Bly managed her expose on conditions), the indigent insane were sent there, leaving Bloomingdale Asylum for the more well-to-do mental patients. Eventually, of course, urban development made these large tracts of land very attractive to potential institutions and much of the land was purchased for the Columbia College.

So, now, wasn't that fun?


  • Lidian

    My mom went to Columbia and used to use the tunnels to get back to her dorm, that were part of the Bloomingdale asylum.

    The Bloomingdale asylum moved to Westchester county after Columbia bought this land in the late 1890s.

  • The Mother

    Cool history lesson. I just LOVE browsing Wikipedia.

  • JD at I Do Things

    I have spent more time than I care to admit hitting the "random article" button on Wikipedia.

    I'm fascinated by anything related to insane asylums. Those tunnesl Lidian mentioned sound intriguing. I wonder if there's a tour . . .

  • Aron Sora

    Thanks, I am going to Columbia. If I remember correctly, the French department is in that building. It leads to many jokes about insane Frenchmen.

  • Phyl

    Oh boy. I can see I really do need to start doing the "random article" thing at Wikipedia too. Great stuff!

    I especially howled at this, Stephanie:

    >> I have to admit, it doesn't seem a stretch to go from insane asylum to bastion of higher education, but I'm a little off kilter myself.

  • Stephanie B

    Glad I could entertain you, Phyl.

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