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Peter Emslie Illustrations of H.H. Richardson’s Buffalo State Hospital

About the Collection

In the mid-19th century, attitudes towards mental illness were beginning to change. The Kirkbride Plan, proposed by psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride, asserted the curative effects of a more natural environment featuring fresh air, natural light, and grounds with cultivated parks and farmland in the treatment of the mentally ill.

This era saw a rapid increase in the construction of state asylums following the Kirkbride Plan, including the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, one of 73 such facilities built in the United States from 1845 to 1910. At the time of its construction, the Buffalo State Asylum was considered a state-of-the-art facility, both for its appearance and its use of therapeutic landscape design as integral to treating mental illness.

With buildings designed by architect Henry Hobson (H.H.) Richardson, and grounds by prominent landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the Richardson Olmsted Campus is the preeminent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style and reflects the development of mental health institutions in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the 145-year-old Campus is a National Historic Landmark and home to one of the largest historic preservation projects in the nation.

The pen-and-ink illustrations on view were copied directly from H.H. Richardson’s original plans by Buffalo civil engineer Peter Emslie, the Asylum’s Supervising Architect (1877-1880) and Building Superintendent (1878-1880).