Read time: 10 min

When I was doing research online for Jackson Sanatorium, everyone was calling it a sanitarium, which is, in case you are unaware is a home/hospital for the mentally ill.  I later found out that the true designation for the building affectionately known to the locals of Dansville, NY during it’s days in operation as “Our Home on The Hillside” and then later as “Our Castle on the Hill” was actually a Sanatorium.  Which by definition is a combination resort/recreational facility and a medical facility to provide short-term complex rest and medical services.

The original Jackson Sanatorium building was located in town and was built in 1854 by Nathaniel Bingham to take advantage of the naturally mineralized water in the area renowned for healing properties. The treatment by way of this water was called a “water cure”.   Later, after Nathaniel had succumbed to illness, the center was taken over by Dr. James Caleb Jackson. Dr. Jackson was an advocate of hydrotherapy, healthy diet, and exercise.  No red meat, tea, coffee, sugar, alcohol or tobacco were allowed at the home, instead he served patients a diet of  fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains known as granula.  This granula was the worlds first breakfast cereal consisting of dense bran nuggets that had to be soaked overnight in order to be chew-able.  Through an odd chain of events, Ellen G. White visits Jackson Sanitarium and creates the “Seventh Day Adventist” religion, to which John Kellogg becomes a member.

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In 1887, John Kellogg got a hold of this Granula recipe and started to produce it as a ground up version.  Jackson caught wind of this and sued his colleague.  Kellogg settled out of court and thus was created, “Granola”. You can read the story at this LINK.  Now run by his son and daughter-in-law; Drs. James H. and Kate J. Jackson, the original home burned down in 1882.  In late October 1883, the Jacksons opened a new all brick and steel structure deemed “Fireproof”.  The home prospered as the Jackson Health Resort until it declared bankruptcy in 1914.  In 1929, Bernard MacFadden purchased Jackson Sanitarium, refurbished and converted it into a resort hotel, renaming it the “Physical Culture Hotel”.  McFadden passed in 1955, the hotel was  then acquired by New York City hotel mogul William Fromcheck, and was operated as “Bernard Macfadden’s Castle on the Hill”.   The end came in 1971, when the doors of the health spa closed for the last time.

We start our day on a long grass covered road in to the area where the castle resides. Along the way we pass two large abandon homes that were cottages here. Now in complete dis-repair. We take not and will stop on the way out to get some shots. This was my first urban exploration trip, or UrbEx as it is known. I was also new with the camera and HDR as well. But, like everything with me it’s sink or swim in the deep end. My adrenaline was pumping! After a short walk past the two cottages we could start to notice some of the foundations and markings of the roads and walkways that were here. No more did these items appear and we where there. The Castle on the Hill!


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Here is a comparison shot of the way it was back in the day.

Once grand and comforting to it’s guests, this place is now very foreboding. From another angle…


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We continue to inspect the exterior of the building. One of the first things we take note of is a large separation on the side. A massive crack, running from the roof to the second floor.


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This beautiful caregiver has seen a better day. Even before we get inside we can see that the heart has stopped beating here a long time ago. While it stood strong for over 125 years, its dust to dust moment was not far away. Here are the rest of my exterior shots from the day.


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We decide it’s time to check out the inside of this mammoth 5 story wonder. We make our way up the rickety make-shift stairs while being careful not to fall through several broken treads. Upon entering we are greeted with the grand reception area.


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And a comparison shot from the Jackson days..
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We immediately break out the flashlights as this floor is pitch black except for the light from the doorway that we entered through. In the back of the reception area, water is pouring down from above. It was raining lightly out that day so must be all the water from the buildings massive flat roof gathers here. There is an entrance to the basement here as well. We decide against exploring down there due to the water coming in. We head up to the second floor. The floors are very mushy from the plaster that has fallen. All of the brickwork on the interior was covered in plaster and that now is on the floor lending a sandy feel to every step. Not too comforting when you are in a 125+ year old building and trying to watch your step. The stairs we climb are also in rough shape. The lack of railings and holes in the floor make for an “interesting” ascent.


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Up on the second floor we find more soft mushy floors. We also find more water. We decide our plan of attack will be to explore first, take mental notes, and then photograph. We are filming our exploration and a I will post those videos at the end of the article for you to check out and share. The light is better here so we stop filming for a moment and take a few quick shots.


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The damage to the back of the building must be pretty major. We are only on the second floor and as you can see in this next shot the steel structure here has given way to weather and the floor above.


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Up to the 3rd floor we go.


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Just as we round the first half of the 2nd floor stairway I stop my shooting partner just as he is about to step on a plywood patch in the stairway deck. Weathered and rotted, that step would have been a big one. We climb the 2nd set of steps to the third floor and do some exploring. We make it to the North end of the building and peer out a window there to see what was once the kitchen area. A few years back there was a fire here and the roof was compromised.


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My “danger Will Robinson” barometer is going off at this point as I do not feel safe climbing to the upper floors. There are signs everywhere that this building is definitely un-safe. This, coupled with my “newbie” status as an explorer, means this will be where I start shooting from. My shooting partner though, much younger and more foolish than I, decides to press on. He makes his way up and inside set of stairs we found at the north end of the building towards the roof. Note: This area collapsed in 2011. I begin shooting.


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As you can see, this area is rotting away nicely. A lot of texture here. It was in this room that we found an old chaise lounge chair. The scene was quite good as was the light due to all of the large broken out windows here.


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This was one of my favorite shots of the day, so I took several angles.


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Here is a look at the dilapidated stairway that leads to the burned out kitchen area.


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My friend soon returns safely from the roof thank goodness. We head back through the 3rd floor exploring more rooms to shoot. Every door in this place was 10 feet tall. I think the idea was to keep things big and airy. This was of course, a place you came to feel better and get well. Nothing was spared in making this a reality.


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Most of the plaster has crumbled from the walls and as I said before, has now become a sandy mixture on the floor. In some places the de-plastering is still quite visible.


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This landing where I have been shooting is quite impressive. Detail in the stair rail is still visible here as well as the large solid iron Romanesque columns that support the structure. Another favorite shot of mine from the day.


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Here is a closer look at those amazing columns. I hope if this building is ever demolished they do something to save the columns. Also not the arched brick ceilings. Similar arched brick style ceilings can also be seen in the powerhouse at Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, New York. Both are believed to be designed by the same person.


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One of the smaller yet still mostly intact rooms on the third floor although the floor was not good in this room.


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Time to wrap up the third floor shoot and head down to the second floor for some real fun.


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On the second floor we find a lot of decay, and what mysteriously looks like bodies rolled up in carpet.


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Since discovering bodies wrapped in carpet was so much fun we decided to do a little ghostly light painting.


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If you are unfamiliar with the light painting technique, it’s both easy and fun. Set up your camera on a tripod. Set your f/stop as high as it will go. I set mine to f/22 and my ISO to 100. It was fairly dark here so I was able to set my exposure for 30 seconds. I had my friend trigger the camera as I quickly walked through the shot with my flashlight waving.

When we entered the building we remember seeing a very dark area to the left of the reception area. We head down there to do more light painting.


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These shots were done with 1-2 minute exposure times. This would give us the needed time to not only run through the scene with the lights but also use the lights to “paint” the columns and other areas of interest. Because we are always moving and there is so little light, no reflected light from our bodies ever makes it to the camera. These shots are right out of the camera with no photoshopping.


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This area was the dining room. Here is a vintage shot of it in its heyday. Notice the columns have been covered. My thoughts are that McFadden may have used this area as a gymnasium area and had these columns padded.

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We decide to wrap up the outside shoot and head out for the day. This is such a grand old building and it is so sad that it did not get saved. The buildings construction is brick, steel, brick, which was labeled back in the day as absolutely fireproof. Now that the roof has been compromised as well as all of the windows, water, snow, ice has infiltrated. Once water is allowed to breach the steel framing, its all over. Fixing this building now would take a complete tear down and reconstruct which unfortunately, is not cost effective. A very sad situation indeed.
We stop by the cottages and snap a few shots before calling it a day. (Note: These cottages were destroyed by fire in 2011.)


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One the places we did not get to explore on this fine day was the adjacent powerhouse. I wish we had more time as this place looked to be very cool.


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Well, that wraps the day. A great first explore and seems like forever ago now. All I can hope is that people will learn from all this. This was a wonderful place and because of neglect it will soon be gone forever. We have to save these places for future generations to enjoy. Even if it just minimal repairs to keep them safe enough to photograph and explore. I know a lot of photographers and adventurers read my blog and you all need to know that not only is this place now too dangerous to be explored, but it is also heavily patrolled and privately owned. If you go there, you will be arrested and fined. You may contact the Krog Corporation if you are interested in the building. Their website is on the net .
This last photo is of the collapse in 2011. It is called “By The Hand of God” as it seems a higher power has chosen the fate of this grand old building. And at this point, it would take an act by an even higher power to save it.


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Please consider purchasing a print to help support and continue my work. Just click the Purchase a Print link below the photo you like. To see all of The Art of Decay galleries use this link:

Jackson Sanatorium Gallery

~A.D.

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Comments (19)

  1. I am very interested in this building. For about six years I have been active in trying to save this historical landmark. I did a documentary on this building a few years back entitled ‘The Castle of Wellness” and the movie was a sell out at the local movie theater in Dansville.

    By the way, have your talked to Peter Krog about the building and is he interested in selling it?

    Best,

    Al Jamison

  2. I hope my earlier message got through. I have been working hard to help preserve this building.

    I did a documentary entitled the Castle of Wellness. It was a sell out a local theater in Dansville.

    By the way, Is Peter Krog interested in selling the building?

    1. Al, yes, I believe I have seen your work in my internet travels. I attempted to contact mister Krog after my first visit to the castle, not knowing that the property was private. I had heard from all sorts of folks that it was okay to visit to take photos. When I tried to contact Mr. Krog and his company about a joint venture to lead photography trips there for exterior photography and donations to him for up-keep, he never replied. Sad what is happening there. But, no matter the strength of the walls, once the roof is compromised, so goes the rest of the building shortly after. I am just glad I was fortunate to film it and get my story in before it’s complete downfall. Good luck in your efforts and thank you for writing.

  3. Nice collection.

  4. I was born in Dansville and have lived here all my life and had never seen the inside except when it was a restaurant many years ago it was beautiful then. It’s a shame a lot of damage came when kids would sneak up there and break things and set fires.

  5. I remember as a kid being able to swim in the pool which was on the northern end of the hotel and being inside during it’s last open years. and exploring legally and illegally I guess when it was closed down the old theater and church on the south end also interested me and on the upper floors the old billiards tables and the bridge from the roof to the hill side there was a statue in the theater area often wondered if it was of Bernard McFadden

  6. WOW! I grew up in Livingston County, was born quite near the “Castle on the Hill”. I never got to see it up close, thanks so much for this story. It is extremely sad to see such a wonderful piece of history, both this and the other structures on the property fall down. It is indeed a very unsafe place, I also hope they salvage those columns and put them into either a museum or incorporate them into a new library, bank or other local building. I often wondered how light paintings were done, thank you for sharing yours, they are wonderful. Miccilina Piraino

  7. Thank you for sharing these pictures. I grew up in New York, but downstate. I love New York State history. I wish this building were still with us, but I am grateful for your photographic record.

  8. My dad and brother use to wash the windows of this place…i always thought it was kinda spooky!

  9. Beautiful Job, your eye is amazing! And I love the old comparison photos from it’s heyday.
    I had the chance to explore here, and several of the cottages back in 1996 with my sister who was living in the area at the time.
    So much history in one little place.

  10. This place was amazing when my sister and I explored it. The main iron-stair was down but you could see that it had been grand, back then you could see the tiles on the floor too green and white. Over to the right, the wooden-shell of reception and just beyond it a room that must have been an office, on the floor we found a registry with entries dating back to the 1940’s.

    Like you we avoided the basement it had three feet of water in it and there were any number of hazards hidden in the inky depths – this was an area that saw no light and even with a flashlight was dark and gloomy. On the third or second floor – Its been so long I cannot remember – there was a large room, which we later found out was used as a music room. On one of its pale walls you could see the outline of music stands long removed; stands that had been in place long enough for the sun to “bleach” their image there. This room and no other brought a smile to my face – there was just something cheery about it – be it the pale yellow walls or just the thoughts of ghostly music playing… We had to use creative means to get to the roof, which had a small dilapidated amphitheater, and several faded shuffle boards adorning it. The stairwell we used was burned out from a previous fire, and we used the “trim” and railing, not the stairs themselves as there were too many weak spots and holes.

    It truly is sad that such a magnificent place had to fall to the shadows and become little more than a pile of falling bricks. The powerhouse – you would have enjoyed. When we were there you could see all matter of pipes and the remnants of what I believe were large boilers. Plus, like the main building there was a lot of iron work supporting its walls…

    It was and will always remain in my minds-eye amazing, even long after it has been torn to the ground.

  11. Brad Marsh

    Is that the old Bernard McFadden heslth center in Dansville? Aka the castle on the hill?

    If it is, my blood uncle had some in-laws in law enforcement in the 70’s who lived in Dansville

    You would not believe the shit that went on in that place after it closed

  12. Brad Marsh

    Yeah that’s the place. The old castle on the hill

    It is where the shining meets sales lot. Use to go there once in awhile when I was a student at Alfred my uncle had a cabin in spring water near there. The cops did not want to go in there

  13. W
    apx.1958 I WORKED AT OWEN PUBLISHING COMPANY IN DANSVILLE NY AND WE HAD OUR CHRISTMAS PARTY HERE.. IAM SURE IT WAS HELD IN THE HUGE ENTRY HALLWAY WITH A BEAUTIFUL SET DOWN DINNER IN THE EVENING.WE COULD NOT WANDER ANY FURTHER THAN THIS HUGE ROOM AS EVERYTHING ELSE WAS CLOSED OFF. THERE WAS A LARGE TURN OUT TO THIS EVENT FROM THE OWEN COMPANY. NEVER HAVE FORGOTTEN THIS. SALLY HENRY GILBERT LYNCH

  14. […] Along with the head shots, we decided to play around a bit with light painting.  It was pretty cool because we actually did some light painting on one of the very first shoots we did together at The Jackson Sanitorium.  You can see those shots im my story at this link. […]

  15. […] Along with the head shots, we decided to play around a bit with light painting.  It was pretty cool because we actually did some light painting on one of the very first shoots we did together at The Jackson Sanitorium.  You can see those shots im my story at this link. […]

  16. A shame ? Here’s what is a shame: that the citizens of Dansville & surrounding areas, along with various owners of the ‘Castle’ & its land, did NOTHING ALL THOSE YEARS to get it declared a historic site & raise money to at least secure it.
    The Quakers in Farmington, NY, are a good example of what a caring group of people can do for an important but utterly falling apart old structure. Once alerted, many folks from far & wide outside of Farmington have been contributing to the rebuilding effort.
    SHAME on you Dansville !

    1. Yes, Barbara, this is basically what I am saying. I threw the blame directly on Krog because it was in HIS hands at the time of demise. He had the money, he had the grant, and mysteriously blew it… So yes, it could have been saved all those years MAYBE with time, money, and effort by the towns people. I am pretty sure all three never lined up for them and that is what got us to this place.. It came down to 1 man…who DID have the ability and the money, and did not. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my work?

    2. Oh, and as a side note..I live in Farmington, NY. Housing development capitol of the world. Not sure what old structure they saved around here. Nothing but new houses in most of it.

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