The Marshall Sanitarium

Marshalls Factory and Sanitarium

From the Sanborn, Davenport map of Troy, 1873, the Marshall complexes at the top of Poestenkill Falls.

Again, poking around an old Sampson, Davenport map of Troy, say 1873 (they didn’t change much from year to year, and as we noted yesterday, sometimes included buildings that were never built). Again, finding something we had never known about before. This time what caught our eye was a pair of complexes near Mount Ida. At the top of Poestenkill Falls is a complex marked as “Marshalls Factories.” Across the Poestenkill, another complex, marked as “Marshalls Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum.”

Benjamin Marshall was born in England, and came to Troy from New York Mills (near Utica). In Troy he established textile mills on the south side of Congress Street near what was then known as Mount Ida Falls. The mills were the Ida Mills, established in 1826. He also established the Hudson River Print Works, and later purchased cotton mills in Middlebury, VT and North Adams, MA. The WPA Guide to New York: The Empire State, by the Federal Writers’ Project, claims that Marshall’s Troy plans were the first in the state to control the complete production of cotton textiles, from raw cotton to the finished product. “Ten years later the Marshall plants were reported to be turning out the finest shirtings and prints in the country.”

Marshall was also noted for creating a series of tunnels drilled through rock that took full advantage of the hydropower available from the Poestenkill. He was the first president of the Schenectady and Troy Railroad (1841), was president and board member of the Troy Female Seminary (Emma Willard) and the Commercial Savings Bank, and very highly regarded in the community. An article from the Troy Record in 1964 says that “When his only son, John S., became mentally ill in 1847, he refused to send him to an insane asylum, which in those days had notorious reputations. He founded in 1848 the Marshall Infirmary and started a small building for about a dozen patients. The building on his own 17-acre estate on Linden Avenue was completed two years later. In 1851 it was incorporated with a board of 27 governors and with Mr. Marshall as its first president. The hospital was used for medical and surgical cases, but emphasis was on mental patients.”

According to Weise (“Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889”), Marshall,

“desiring to provide feeble-minded and diseased people with such care and comforts as might be needed by them, founded, in 1850, the infirmary, on Linden Avenue, near Pawling Avenue. The grounds, and the three-story brick building erected there that year, were then valued at $35,000. On June 20th, 1851, the institution was incorporated by the name of the Marshall Infirmary in the city of Troy. The administration of its affairs was intrusted to twenty-seven persons annually elected governors of the institution. Every person contributing ten dollars to it and annually paying three dollars to its support is a member of the corporation; and every person contributing one hundred dollars and annually paying thereafter five dollars to the corporation besides being a member of it may recommend one sick person to be cared for at the infirmary, without charge, for six weeks in each year of his contribution; and every person contributing one thousand dollars becomes not only a life member, but is privileged to recommend one sick person to be cared for without charge for fifty-two weeks in each year; and every person annually paying ten dollars may recommend one sick person to the care of the institution without charge for four weeks in each year.”

Marshall died in December, 1858; or, as the Troy Board of Supervisors put it, “The sad intelligence is received that Benjamin Marshall is no more.” The Board resolved that they had “heard with feelings of profound regret of the death of their esteemed fellow-citizen, Benj. Marshall, Esq., in whom the public have lost an enterprising man of business, the poor and needy a friend and benefactor, and society one of its brightest ornaments.” Modern readers may be confused by applause for helping the poor and needy, but it was a thing that was done back then. His funeral at Second Street Presbyterian was attended by hundreds; he was buried in a family vault at Oakwood Cemetery. He bequeathed further money to the Infirmary. His son John had recently died; the will disposed his share of the estate to Marshall’s nephews, and provided further support for the infirmary. Once the nephews were gone, “the manufacturing establishments are to be converted into money, to be divided in the same proportion as the income was directed to be divided.” The trust fund for the infirmary benefited from the Marshall Estate leasing the mills to other manufacturers.

During the Civil War, a third wing was added to the infirmary, with Rensselaer County now providing tax support. In 1900, it was named “Marshall Sanitarium.” When it closed in December, 1964, it was a 66-bed facility that had provided 116 years of service, but the explanation for the closing was that it was “duplicating state facilities.” The clinical records were transferred to Samaritan Hospital, according to an ad constituting Samaritan’s 1964 annual report (published April 28, 1965).

The newspapers of the day are filled with tragic reports of the mentally ill trying to harm themselves and being taken to Marshall; one Vermont paper reported that a local woman was going to the sanitarium for a few months as if it were a vacation – unusual in a time when there was so much stigma attached to mental illness.

It was reported in 1966, in an article on the expansion of education, that Russell Sage College had “purchased the bulk of the old Marshall Sanitarium property because of the certainty – still being borne out – that future development of the college would be inevitable.” Russell Sage purchased a 17-1/2 acre site for $32,500. But in 1973, the 30-acre former site of the Sanitarium was being advertised for sale, “ideal for garden apartments or condominiums.” Whether it happened then or later we can’t determine, but today there appears to be no evidence of the old Sanitarium. One street has been removed, and the area where the sanitarium buildings stood appears to be a wooded area today, surrounded by housing.

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