Letchworth Village was a residential treatment facility for physically, mentally, or emotionally-disabled adults and children in Thiells, New York, the facility opened in 1911, and was permanently closed in 1996.
This sad video is of Building E, which was a dormitory for adult women next door to the Whitman building. It was once a beautiful building, like the rest of the buildings at Letchworth; but one with a sad history of good intentions that were never fulfilled.
As envisioned by the founders, the dormitories at Letchworth Village were supposed to be divided into smaller sections where residents would live in an environment similar to what we would call a group home today. Barracks full of bunk beds crammed so tightly that residents could only get out of bed with difficulty wasn't part of the plan.
Unfortunately, Letchworth Village, like all institutions for the disabled, was almost completely dependent on the government for money; and the mortar between the stones in the magnificent buildings had barely cured when the funding slowed, making it impossible for the facility to operate as intended. Less than a decade after Letchworth opened, there were already reports of overcrowding and neglect, mainly due to inadequate staffing.
The funding shortfalls also forced some dormitories to close, and the residents in those dorms to be double-bunked (and worse) into other dorms that were still staffed. Eventually, the nurses and attendants could do little more than provide the bare essentials of life to their charges.
A lack of understanding on the parts of legislators and regulators also contributed to the deterioration of conditions at Letchworth.
When the Village first opened, residents were given jobs such as farming, sewing, making toys, mowing grass, and other work to help them build confidence and gain skills which, for at least some, would enable them to live independently. It was an attempt to help residents maximize their abilities, rather than being defined by their disabilities.
Due to the never-ending budget cuts, however, by the 1960's Letchworth couldn't afford to pay residents anywhere near minimum wage; and under pressure from the same politicians who'd cut their budget, they were forced to stop the work programs.
The effect on the residents was that rather than being able to get out of their dorms to do productive work and derive the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with it, the residents stayed in their crowded dormitories all day, with little to do other than stare at each other.
Residents like the women who lived in Building E, many of whom most likely had been employed as seamstresses before the state put an end to their opportunity to work.
I can't help but look at these once-beautiful, but now-deteriorating old buildings as being analogous to the deterioration of Letchworth Village itself. It was a radical idea in its time. In 1911, the idea of disabled men, women, and children living together in a supportive community that emphasized what they could do rather than what they couldn't do was nothing short of revolutionary. With adequate support, perhaps great things could have been accomplished here.
Unfortunately, that was not allowed to happen.
As for the video itself, it's all low-level. There's not much to see from altitude due to the heavily overgrown vegetation. Also, this shoot was an add-on to two previous shoots that day; and as the afternoon wore on, people started arriving to walk the trails and ride their bikes in the park. Getting higher-altitude shots would have required overflying the people. I may go back on a quieter day, take some higher-altitude shots, and edit them into the 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.
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