Monday, December 9, 2013

Farm House for State Institute for Feeble-minded Children

From 1876 through at least 1883, Joseph Silsbee had a working relationship with the New York State Institute for Feeble-minded Children. He was the institution’s architect, planning several structures and additions and providing consultation on future plans and building maintenance.

The practice of farming by inmates of the institution was carried on almost since its inception. Farms located on the asylum grounds in Syracuse provided inexpensive food for inmates as well as some surplus for sale to locals. Farming activities were also thought to be beneficial for inmates as an educational and reformative act.

In 1881, the Asylum purchased eighty-seven acres of land near Fairmount, approximately four miles from the main Asylum. They intended to create a larger farm, increasing the surplus and creating a revenue stream for the institution.
From the Immigration to the United States digital collection,
Open Collections Program, Harvard University Library

On that property, under Silsbee’s direction, farm buildings were improved and a new farm-house was “plainly and substantially built” for the farm workers. It was built for forty workers and had eating and gathering spaces. It is a simple two-story structure with large central dormer and a symmetrical arrangement. Some of the subsequently built institutional residential school buildings still stand but the lone remainder of the state farm is the original farm house that still stands. 

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