The James F. Reville Hospital Building at Letchworth Village
Note: Some of the historical information about Letchworth Village that used to be on this page has been moved here in order to keep the focus of this page centered on the Reville Hospital building.
This is a sad video of a sad place with a sad history.
The Reville Hospital Buildings is where the most severely-disabled patients at Letchworth Village were housed, where the research lab and morgue were located, and where most of the medical experiments were conducted.
The Reville hospital is also the building believed by many locals to be the most haunted. That has attracted a large number of paranormal investigators, some of whom consider this one of the most-haunted places in the world. This page and my other pages about Letchworth Village, however, are more about the buildings and the history of the facility.
The first thing to consider if you want to understand this building's history is that the Reville Hospital Building was, first and foremost, a hospital. It was where residents and staff of Letchworth Village were treated for all manner of medical and dental conditions. Most of what went on here was ordinary medical and dental care, not anything remotely gruesome, and certainly not anything sinister.
This building was also where the most severely-disabled residents were housed, however, because they needed constant or intensive medical attention. As time went on and the budget allocated for care of the disabled by the New York State legislature continued to dwindle, the level of care the staff were able to provide to these people degraded into profound neglect. It wasn't that the staff didn't care. There simply weren't enough of them to properly care for the patients.
The building also contained a diagnostic laboratory, a research laboratory, and a morgue. The morgue has been featured in many YouTube videos, often referred to as "cold storage." But again, remember that this was a hospital, and people died here. So like all hospitals, the Reville Hospital had a morgue.
I'm not trying to minimize the suffering of those who lived and died here, mind you. Thinking about the pain they went through has kept me up many nights since I started this project. What I'm saying is that many of the urban explorers and ghost hunters who publish pictures and videos of this building seem to overlook the fact that it was, at one time, a working hospital: and hospitals can be pretty gruesome places behind the scenes.
Medical Research at Letchworth Village
Scientific research into the causes and treatment of disabilities, especially those related to the brain, was one of the reasons why Letchworth Village was established. And in fairness, some of the research was quite good and led to what at the time were breakthrough discoveries.
It was here, for example, that Dr. George A. Jervis discovered the genetic defect that causes phenylketonuria (PKU), a congenital condition that can cause severe intellectual disabilities. This eventually led to other scientists developing tests for the condition that could be routinely administered to newborns, and to special diets low in phenylalanine that could prevent the onset of disability.
It's also been widely reported that in February of 1950, twenty children at Letchworth Village were administered a then-experimental live-virus polio vaccine before it was approved for general public use. That's true. But few of the articles mention that Dr. Hilary Koprowski, who was the vaccine's developer, tested the vaccine on himself before administering it to to the first patient, an 8-year-old boy; and then monitored himself and the boy for any side effects prior to administering it to the other 19 children.
The reason I mention these things is because in hindsight, it's easy to condemn what happened here as brutal and barbaric, given what we now know about developmental disabilities and medicine in general. But it's also true that a lot of what we now know is a result of research that was done at Letchworth Village and places like it.
Of course, that doesn't diminish the suffering that some patients endured. But neither would it be fair to condemn the doctors and researchers as ghouls or sadists. They were very early twentieth-century scientists trying to understand their patients' conditions and find treatments.
In 1914, Letchworth Village opened its own cemetery in a clearing in a wooded area off Call Hollow Road, about a mile away from the main campus. Patients who died at Letchworth and and whose families didn't claim their remains were buried there in graves marked only with plain, numbered, steel markers, most of which remain to this day. There were no names on the markers.
The old cemetery was closed in 1967 and a new cemetery opened closer to the main campus. The simple stone markers at the new cemetery do bear the names and the decedents' birth and death dates (or at least the years).
I mention the cemeteries here because it's likely that most of the souls who rest at both cemeteries spent some time in this hospital both before and after their deaths. The building had its own morgue where autopsies were performed, with special attention to the brains of the departed, which were stored in the basement lab in jars of formaldehyde until the facility shut down in 1996.
Again, this may seem gruesome and barbaric to our modern minds. But remember that Letchworth Village opened in 1911, when little was known about the organic causes of intellectual deficits and mental disorders. Past studies of the brains of the deceased was one of the ways we learned what we know today.
Letchworth Village began moving residents to community-based care shortly after Geraldo Rivera's Exposé of Willowbrook and Letchworth Village aired in 1972. The facility closed in entirety in 1996. Most of the buildings, including the Reville hospital, still stand, in various stages of decay. The Reville Hospital is one of the more severely-damaged, but also one of the most historically significant. I wanted to document it before it's either demolished or falls down on its own.
Screen Shots from this Video
The screen shots in the gallery that follows are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC BY-SA). In other words, you are free to use them pursuant to the terms of the license.
Special thanks to Idri and Mother Rita for setting me straight and correcting me with regard to the history and other facts surrounding Letchworth Village.