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A Look Back: The J.N. Adams Memorial Hospital

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Looking back to a time that is long gone, and you will find places that have been abandon, slowly having nature take them over. Is the ghost of people that once were still roaming these places? Do memories of a time long gone still exist in the abandon halls and corners of these places, of hope and dreams of sadness and sorrow?

One such place that I researched was the J.N. Adams Memorial Hospital, and I will share what I found with you here.

In the year 1910, over 500 people alone died in Buffalo from tuberculous, or TB. It was found that with rest, good food and lots of fresh air, patients with TB improved. J.N. Adams, the Buffalo mayor at the time, offered to fund the purchase of 300 acres with his own money.

That seemed to get the Buffalo Common Council thinking and on March 29, 1910, the allowance of bonds for such a place was voted on and passed. Initially, the commission planned on spending $200,000 to build a facility for 75 patients. About $50,000 more was spent and it now could accommodate 150 patients.

The state-of-the-art facility for treatment included an enormous veranda space, open verandas for sunbaths — they were 12 feet wide and had an 18-foot overhang to cover the patient so they could sleep outside as well — and have a clear view of the sky. Sadly, J.N. Adams died of a stroke a few months before they opened in 1912 and the facility is named after him.

But what of the life inside for both the young and the old? There was the main dining hall that was topped by a beautiful stain glass oculus. Legend has it that it came from the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition’s Temple of Music, the same dome under which President McKinley was shot.

The kitchen had up-to-date, labor-saving electrical appliances, and large wooden tables were scattered throughout the room. The compound had its own reservoir for fresh water, a fire department that served just the hospital and grounds, a noninfected children’s cottage, so the children could be closed to their mothers who sometimes stayed there for one year.

There was also an open-air school in which children who had TB attended in nothing more than their underwear. They thought being exposed to the natural sunlight would improve the health of the children.

On the grounds were grown vegetables, livestock was raised for meat and eggs and even a maple sugar house to make syrup! All together it was a self sustaining community for one to go and get the treatment they needed.

Trails wound around the grounds and through the fields and kids and adults alike could be seen walking on them.

In 1923, the hospital built a coal powerplant that served them until 1960, when gas replaced the coal. There was also a small radio station where several prominent entertainers stopped by to visit and perform on the stage inside.

But not all the stories are sad. One young gentleman who came to the hospital, thin and not strong at all, was treated at the hospital and recovered. He ended up marrying the nurse who took care of him in 1919 and opened a taxi service to the railroad.

By 1960, with vaccines, antibiotics and screening, the hospital ceased to operate as a tuberculosis hospital. The facility was renamed the J.N. Adam Developmental Center. In 1985, it was listed on the New York StateRegister of Historic Places, but sadly the doors were closed for good by 1993.

Even more sadly, thieves and vandals have destroyed or taken much of what was left. The hallways are silent, the breeze that sweeps through there now howls softly, or is that sounds from the past? The paint is peeling, windows and doors seem to creak, wooden floors are now bowed, algae is growing on some of the walls, mildew reigns supreme.

Parts of the ceiling have fallen down over the years, and now snow and rain fall inside and nature is taking back what once was a glorious place for people who had TB to come and receive the best treatment of the times that there was.

Fences are surrounding the complex, and no one is allowed in. But on a quiet night, you might still hear laughter from the children playing grounds, or on a day when it is foggy, you might see workers out in the gardens or on the trails. The buildings and ground might be falling apart, but the memories of this 107-year-old place are still alive.

You can come and visit us and read more about all of the places around here that once were: the mills, factories, stores and even the old barns like the round barn at Woodside Farm. We have photos and old newspapers, handwritten journals full of such information. Come share your stories with us at the Lucy Bensley Center!

We are open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as well as the second and fourth Sunday from 2 to 4 .pm. You can call us at 592-0094 or send us an email at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.

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