Kings Park Psychiatric Center

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The Kings Park Psychiatric Center has had a large effect on the social changes of Long Island. A small town grew larger and prosperous from the direct effect of this State hospital from the time of 1885 to the present. The history of the town, the patients and court cases held, and the concluding plans for the land after its closing have all had a significant mark on the social changes of the town.

The first hospital was built in a quiet farming town later named Kings Park. In 1885, officials of what was then the city of Brooklyn established the Kings County Farm on more than 800 acres to care for the mentally ill. Kings Park was only a small part of what would later become a giant chain of connected mental hospitals on Long Island, each with over 2,500 patients at one time.(Bleyer,2)

As new buildings went up at Kings Park, so did the patient population. At the turn of the century, Kings Park in just 15 years had grown to, 697 patients and a staff of 454. This dramatic increase had given the hospital a larger population than the rest of the Town of Smithtown. (Sarhaddi) The hospital was very equipped; therefore, not very dependant on the rest of Long Island.

All the hospitals built around this time prided themselves on being self-sufficient farm communities. At Kings Park, the three wooden houses grew into more than 150 permanent buildings, including a bakery, Laundromat, amusement hall, bandstand, library, furniture repair shops, and nursing school. Most of the people who lived in Kings Park worked at the Psychiatric Center. Many of them were Irish immigrants brought from their native land more than 50 years ago by relatives who worked at the mental hospital on the Long Island Sound and who had promises of jobs for them too. (Bleyer)

During World War II, when many employees joined the armed forces, Central Islip recruited black workers from the Carolinas, which led to cultural changes in the mix of the community. This developed distinct differences between certain areas of race such as African American, Hispanic, and white neighborhoods. Minority groups not allowed to fight in the war or not taken to fight were offered jobs to work at the hospitals. The Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital hadn’t really become very over-populated until the 1960’s. (Sarhaddi)

The Kings Park Psychiatric Center was in its Heyday in the 1960’s.

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"Kings Park Psychiatric Center." 22 Jun 2018
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At one point, over 100,000 patients lived there. By the 1980’s, discharge of the mentally ill and retarded patients resulted in a “ghost town.” The buildings closed in 1996, including reservoirs and various smaller tributaries leading to the sound. The hospital had its own train line tributary to import patients and goods from the outside. They were equipped with underground tunnels to make the movement of patients easier. Electricity was also supplied by the hospital, as well as water from their own reservoirs. (Bleyer)

At times there were complaints and problems during the life of the hospital. In 1954, New York State passes the first Community Mental Health Act and, by the late 1960’s, the public, concerned about stories of abuse and overcrowding at the hospitals, and eyeing their huge tax cost. Many government programs called for shutdowns of the state hospitals. Patients also caused small problems within the town itself. (Wick)

The situation of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center became the talk of the town when merchants on Main Street began to complain about patients who wander in their stores unescorted and walk out with merchandise, unaware of what they are doing. Prompted by a string of incidents, Kings Park residents consider especially serious, residents, merchants, and community groups have banded together under the name of an organization called the Concerned as increasingly lax security at the 1,720 patient mental hospital– patient mental hospital. (Wick) Some of the largest problems appeared when a killer was transferred there from upstate New York named Albert Fentress. (Ambro)

Albert Fentress brutally murdered 18 years old Paul Masters in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1979 and was found guilty by reason of insanity, which included an admission to the crime. He was transferred to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center in 1984 from a maximum-security facility upstate New York. He is alleged to have lured the 18-year-old Paul Masters into the basement of his home under the pretense that he needed help moving something. According to prosecutors, Fentress pulled out a gun, forced the young man to take off his clothes, tied him up, sexually mutilated his body, and then shot him. He is then alleged to have cooked and eaten the young man’s genitals. Suffolk

County Court Judge Alfred Tisch ordered an independent psychiatrist to examine Fentress. Then later in Fentress’ term, Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the murder case against Fentress, opposed order for unescorted furlough for Fentress, which rallied residents who gathered outside the hospital. (Ambro)

New plans have been proposed to the Kings Park Psychiatric center after its closing in 1996. The New York State Empire Development Corporation took bids on the 522-acre former site of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center. Environmentalists have asked that the land be used as a park, while developers seem to be ready to build yet another shopping mall and residential community on what id left of Long Island’s open space. (Bleyer, and Marroquin) The land will be kept, as a park, marina, and the rest are yet to be determined. The Kings Park Psychiatric Center completely changed the social atmosphere of Kings Park and surrounding towns and no matter what happens to the land after it has been divided up, it will be remembered as the center and core of this town forever.

Works Cited
Ambro,David.”Psych Exam Delays Killer’s Hearing.”Smithtown News. 19 August 1993 :n.p.
Bleyer, Bill.”Caring For The Mentally Ill”Long Island Our Story. 10 Feb.2000. <<a href="">>.
Bleyer, Bill and Arturo A. Marroquin.”Developing Kings Park Center Site.”Home-News.
10 Nov. 1999. 10 Feb. 2000. <<a href="…nc.%26publishingDocID%3d14361661999">…nc.%26publishingDocID%3d14361661999>.
Nelson, Soraya Sarhaddi.”A Sad Farewell For Kings Park.”Newsday. 10 Feb. 2000 <<a href="…y%2bInc.%publishingDocID%3d3226059">…y%2bInc.%publishingDocID%3d3226059>.
Wick, Steve .”Problems At Mental Unit Are Minor, Audit Says.”Newsday. 10 Apr.1978:22.

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