This is my Photo Blog detailing my adventures into the world. From exploring the waterfalls, mountains, and the beauty that is Western North Carolina, urban exploration, to anywhere my lens takes me across the country. Also visit my site The Digital Mirage

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Castle on the Hill - Jackson Sanatorium - 10-16-2009

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"Founded on rock. For suffering ones and weary. 
A home, secure from worldly care and strife. 
Nature, the healing mistress, tends its portals. 
Beckoning with gentle hand to paths of life."
-K. J. J.

After exploring the amazing ‘modern ruins’ of Grossinger’s Resort, Andy and I had Urban Exploration fever! So a few days later we made plans to go explore Jackson Sanatorium in Dansville NY. Here’s a short history of Jackson:

The Jackson Sanatorium was founded in 1854 by Nathaniel Bingham and was established 'for the scientific treatment of invalid, and for the recuperation and rest in cases of overwork and nervous exhaustion.' Jackson, 'The Castle on the Hill', was conducted as a Health Institution and not as a 'fashionable resort'. The surrounding wooded area, temperate climate, and sources of natural springs and mineral waters were what drew the founders of Jackson to that area. The natural mineral waters were prescribed for many kinds of chronic ailments. The main building at Jackson was made from brick and iron and was marketed as "Absolutely Fire-Proof. The cost of renting a room in the main building ranged from $17.50 - $35.00 per week for an individual. Jackson could accommodate only 300 guests.


The morning we left, Elmira had its first snow of the year. In town there were light patches of snow on the ground, and flurries floating through the air. As we passed through Corning and Painted Post, the snow picked up and the hills were covered like “Frosted Mini Wheat’s”. We had high hopes of being able to get some snow shots at the sanatorium, but those hopes were dashed as we descended into the Dansville valley where the snow faded, and everything was just wet.

We parked in a parking lot about a quarter mile from the sanatorium, and loaded up our gear. This time we remembered flashlights! We walked up the hill, ignored a no trespassing sign as we walked around a locked gate and followed a grassy path. On the way we passed several abandoned decaying houses that were slowly rotting and crumbling away. As we walked along a grass path the sanatorium came into view: a beautiful 5 story red brick building, perched majestically on the side of the hill looking down at the small town of Dansville NY.



Rain drops trickled out of the sky on to us and our gear as we setup outside the building and shot our exterior shots.


We marveled at the beautiful arched windows and wrought iron balconies that evenly dotted the outside of the building.


The building was 300 feet wide, but its depth was relatively shallow, maybe no more than 40 feet. On the short side of the building we noticed a massive scar; from the fourth floor down to the second, a large gash was cut into the brick. As wide as the windows and two stories tall, the wound opened up to show empty decaying rooms inside and provided an interesting glimpse into what a cross-section view of the building might look like if you sliced it in half.



After making good use of our wide angle lenses, we walked up to the front door. We walked up the wooden stairs and entered into the main reception hall of Jackson Sanatorium. On our right a set of stairs led downwards into the pitch black basement. Above us, an iron railed staircase began its circling upward journey, dizzying us as we followed it up to the fourth floor with our eyes.


In front of us a set of columns and arches presented themselves as remnants of what once was front desk or receiving area of the building.



We immediately noticed that whatever material the floors may have been made out of at one time, now consisted of many inches of packed dust and dirt that revealed old footprints of other fellow urban explorers.



As we slowly walked around the lobby we could already taste the gritty dusty dirt that had become airborne as we paced around. We donned our masks and broke out the flashlights. Slowly we walked down the main downstairs hall, peeking in closets and old debris filled rooms with the narrow beams of our lights. The right hall ended in what must have been a large den or community room. All the first floor windows were boarded up tight, only allowing slivers of dim overcast light from the outside to enter.

We headed up the stairs to the second floor:



Andy in action:

We began slowly walking down the main hall, looking in the old rooms. Many rooms were completely bare, some were in great condition, others looked like the floor or ceiling might collapse at any moment, and in others, the floor/ceiling actually HAD collapsed! We spent a good deal of time exploring the first three floors, shooting the beautiful decaying hallways, rooms, and objects that we found.










I had seen some pictures taken from the roof so I really wanted to find a way up there. Andy stayed below and shot some more scenes while I slowly ventured up the next three flights of ever-decaying stairs. The floors of the upper level seemed to progressively get less stable. I could feel soft areas all over the place and was very careful to move slowly and spread out my body weight as much as possible. As I arrived on the roof level I noticed the significant damage of the upper level rooms. Ceilings had collapsed, walls had fallen over, and there were signs of major fire damage all around.





I emerged on the wide open roof and took in the breath taking panoramic view of Dansville NY.



I was alone, 6 stories up on the roof of a crumbling building, and my heart was racing with excitement! After hours of shooting and exploring the abandoned hallways and rooms of Jackson, I stood on the roof feeling victorious as if I had conquered a massive giant in battle!

A large tower still stood on top of the roof:


After taking in the view I headed back down to Andy.

We returned to the first floor and explored the left side of the building. We found a very large, long room lined on both sides with pillars. This was the old dining room. Boarded up windows lined either wall allowing the smallest slivers of light to pass through into the room. We set up our cameras at the entrance to the room and just had some fun running around with our flashlights and 'light painting'.





After exploring Jackson for at over two hours, we were chilled to the bone and wheezing from the dust we had breathed in. We packed our things and headed out of the building. We walked back to our car but not before stopping to turn around, and admire once more the giant, looming ruins, of the Castle on the Hill.

Ariel view of Jackson Sanatorium:


To view more of my work and purchase prints, head over to The Digital Mirage.


Anonymous said...

Very nice. Great photos, and that building is amazing. It makes me want to model it. lol



Anonymous said...

i grew up and still live in Dansville, New York where the castle is. i have never really seen the inside in daylight..i have only sneaked up at night so it was awesome seeing all those pictures!!! you did an amazing job! it is such an amazing place! i love going up there!

Duck Hunter said...

First of all - Great photos!
I really like how in your past two posts, you combine original photos of the building compared to what it looks like today. That is a great way to demonstrate what is happening to these buildings.

Suzie Homemaker said...

truly beautiful pics, walter! I've always thought you were so gifted. My favorites are the ones in the rooms with the windows and the yellow trees in the view...

Chris said...

Awesome! Makes me want to take a trip to NYC and go there for myself!

Photo_For_Fun (Flikr)


Anonymous said...

It is extremely interesting for me to read that post. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Great photos! I grew up in Dansville and now live near Huntersville, NC. My mother used to work at "The Castle on the Hill" when it was being run by Bernarr McFadden.

My brother took a tour of the building and surrounding grounds back in the mid 70's and took many pictures. It would be interesting to see how things have changed after so many years. I was quite young at the time of my brother's visit, but I remember seeing quite a bit of old exercise equipment still being in the building, even an old piano. I am going to send him a link to your blog and see if he can dig out those old slides to compare.

I also read someplace that a $2.9 million grant was given to help shore up the building and restore it so some degree at least. Not sure of the details, or if anything will acutally come of it, but I'm hopeful. It will certainly take much more than $2.9 million to restore the building, but perhaps it would be enough to keep it from falling down and buy some more time. It's almost incomprehensible that such an amazing building has fallen into such a state.

Thanks again for the wonderful images and the bravery to go up on that roof!


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Grinder said...

Now THAT was a fun ride - Thank you!

Sar said...

I, too, grew up in Dansville & have been up to the castle many, many times. But I have to say you guys captured the eeriness of it with you pictures. I thought something was going to pop out at me while I was looking through the pics! =] & the old pics against the ones you took is great too. Although I'm not sure how much history research you did or got because it was a little different from what I knew growing up. AWESOME job from someone whose childhood included the castle on the hill!

Walter said...

Thank you for your comment Sar, I am glad you enjoyed the post. All of the historical data I got from a very old book about Jackson that was on record in the library of congress online. That is also where I got some of the pictures as well.

Karen said...

Puts me in mind of the exploration of the sunken 'Titanic'. Hmmm...if 'Titanic' were a building....

Karen C. said...

My family is from Dansville and I used to visit frequently. I always wished I could check out the Sanatorium - thank you so much for the pictures!

Mushy said...

Simply awesome man...glad I found this site.

frankierowe said...

great job!! where is the parking lot you parked in?? public type parking or just a pull off on the side of the road??? don't notice any areas on the aireal shoots

mrd said...

Beautiful photography but so sad. I tap danced in the lobby there whan I was a child. There used to be tennis courts and a swimming pool. We swam there in the evenings - it was beautifully lighted and heated - could swim from 7 - 9 for a quarter. Such fun. It was still functional in the '60's - I swam there in the '50's but I guess that's a long time ago now. Wonderful memories.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Dansville and was fortunate enough to be able to take a private tour about four years ago. I can tell you that the pool is actually still there, mostly. There is a tree growing through the middle of it, rainwater builds up there now. You can still see where the diving board was. The large spot in the side of the building that you noted shows a nice cross-section is not there because someone cut a gash into the building, but is because of piping that has leaked. The water has frozen, expanded and contracted and so the brick has fallen away. I was told that the tower was one of the most expensive rooms that could be had because of the view offered.

deborah, naples said...

I used to sneak in the bottom window when I lived in Naples and danced in the hall, climbed to the top and loved it. What a history Great, great photos cudos

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Dansville. Many times I remember going to this castle. Just the other day part of the castle structure collapse. Its hard to believe that a great iconic structure for Dansville is slowly being taken over by time. This is a historic building that should have been treated that way.

John Guiles said...

Awesome job Guys :)

Josh said...

I've explored this castle many times, only once in the day. We use to go up there with new friends all the time to show them. We would also climb to the roof and take in all the history within the building.

Great photos! I was just thinking about the castle since its been years since I've been there and google searched it and was happy to see these awesome shots.

My friends and I use to love going urban exploring, I miss it.

Josh said...

I've explored this castle many times, only once in the day. We use to go up there with new friends all the time to show them. We would also climb to the roof and take in all the history within the building.

Great photos! I was just thinking about the castle since its been years since I've been there and google searched it and was happy to see these awesome shots.

My friends and I use to love going urban exploring, I miss it.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful shots. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

i grew up in dansville and have been in there as a teen,,my grandmother work there as a maid,,i loved it pics but its sad to see too..the castle is falling apart..thank you

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Hendersonville, NC, United States
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