Syracuse State School

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Syracuse State School
Syracuse State School
Established 1846
Construction Began 1851 Albany, then 1854 in Syracuse
Opened 1855
Closed June 17, 1998
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan as a state school, but the main building is still being used by state services.
Architect(s) William M. Woollett
Location Syracuse, NY
Architecture Style Institutional Gothic/Italian Villa
Alternate Names
  • Syracuse Developmental Center
  • New York State Asylum for Idiots
  • State Idiot Asylum
  • Syracuse State Institution for Feeble-Minded Children
  • Syracuse State School for Mental Defectives


The New York State Asylum for Idiots was authorized by the New York State Legislature in 1851, acting upon a recommendation contained in the 1846 annual report of the New York State Asylum for Lunatics. Hervey B. Wilbur, M.D., was appointed the first superintendent and remained in that position until his death in 1883. First located on rented landed in Albany, it admitted its first "pupils" in 1851. The cornerstone was laid in 1854 for a new building in Syracuse, and the institution removed to Syracuse in 1855. After 1855 it was generally known as either the New York Asylum for Idiots or just the State Idiot Asylum, but in 1891 it was officially renamed the Syracuse State Institution for Feeble Minded Children, in 19-- the Syracuse State School for Mental Defectives, and finally in 19-- just the Syracuse State School. Wilbur collaborated with Edward Seguin, M.D., the originator of the physiological method of training. Maria Montessori was also Seguin's student and much of the "Montessori Method" is based on foundations laid by Wilbur and Seguin in Syracuse. In its 85th annual report (1935), the Syracuse State School rightly noted that it was "the pioneer institution in the United States for the care and training of mentally deficient children." Surgery was done in the old building, and at least one child was born there. The School also operated a farm and a number of satelite cottages. In the 1970s, the Syracuse State School building was torn down and replaced by a residential facility called the Syracuse Developmental Center. With the growing emphasis on community living rather insitutionalization for developmentally disabled persons, no new individuals were placed at SDC and there has been a gradual movement of residents into the community. In early 1998, there were about six persons left. SDC is to be closed, and it is not clear what will happen to the building. [1]


The colonies were limited in capacity to around 20 boys or girls and the school made every effort to make these colonies more home like with furnishings and surroundings. To achieve this, the colonies were located within residential neighborhoods surrounding Syracuse. Four girl colonies were located within the city limits while a boys colony was on a farm on the outskirts of Syracuse. The colonies within the city did not differ from the homes surrounding them. The girls were employed as domestics within residential homes and the boys were used as labor in local farms and other industries. The wages the boys and girls made went into paying a minimum charges for room and board with the remaining wage placed in a personal account for the student. These accounts were used to pay for personal clothing and other expenses the student occurs. There was no time limit as far as how long a student would be at a colony. It depended on how fast they matured and when the time was right, they could move out of the colony to live on their own.

Female Colonies[edit]

  • Belle Isle Colony
  • Edwards Colony
  • Munro Colony
  • Colony A
  • Colony B
  • Colony C
  • Colony D
  • Colony E

Male Colony[edit]

  • Amos Colony
  • Antrim Colony
  • Camillus Colony

Images of Syracuse State School[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Syracuse State School


  1. From: A Short History of Hospitals in Syracuse, SUNY Upstate Medical University: Health Services Library: Historical Collections: