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Spend the Night in Former Insane Asylum at Hotel Henry

Hotel Henry
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Buffalo, New York isn’t high on many traveler’s must-visit lists. But — for the many reasons we’ve previously shared —  it should be. Less than a decade ago, the city quietly started to undergo a renaissance, and it’s now paying off in a big way. The city’s latest step toward renewal is equal parts historical, fascinating, and a little creepy. And it’s all about Hotel Henry.

In the late 19th century, the state constructed an imposing gothic monolith inside of an 11-building brick complex to house the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Despite its dark, singular purpose, it was of great import thanks to the name brand cache of premier architect Henry Hobson Richardson and iconic landscape architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. Among a lifetime of iconic designs, the latter two were responsible for NYC’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. In the ensuing decades after opening its doors, as psychology and mental health evolved, the complex fell into disrepair.

The Richardson Olmsted Complex
The Richardson Olmsted Complex (Photo Credit: Brian Faix/The Richardson Olmstead Campus) Image used with permission by copyright holder

Now, after nearly 150 years, the Richardson Olmsted Campus is getting a much-needed influx of funding and TLC. The first phase of its rebirth includes the opening of the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center. The boutique property features 88 well-appointed rooms where guests spend the night in the quarters of former patients. On paper, this sounds altogether creepy (or, depending on your level of adventure-seeking, fascinating), but the thoroughly redesigned interior is stunning. Rooms feature an aesthetic that’s equal parts chic, industrial, and modern. Subtle mood lighting, fabric headboards, and a soft, muted color palette all create a distinct feeling of calm and reserved modernity. Amenities are state-of-the-art and include LED mirror TVs, oversized soak tubs, and plentiful USB outlets with free in-room tablets.

Hotel Henry King Suite
King Suite/Hotel Henry Image used with permission by copyright holder

The original architecture was shaped in large part by the forward-thinking practices of the asylum’s Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Contrary to the conventional teachings of his day, the good doctor believed ample lighting, large spaces, and adequate ventilation were crucial to his patients’ mental and physical health. That same philosophy is what makes the interior of the asylum-turned-hotel so incredible. The large, winding hallways, exaggerated cathedral ceilings, and wide open common areas make it easy to get lost. But, this is all a feature, not a bug. It’s one of the hotel’s best assets, ensuring guests have no trouble finding a private nook, hallway, or window seat to relax and quietly wile away an afternoon. Amid the halls, guests will find 100 Acres: The Kitchens at Hotel Henry (a mostly breakfast and dinner restaurant with the exception of Sunday brunch) and two chic, happening bars. The first floor is also home to the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center which, given Buffalo’s fascinating architecturally significant history, is a worthwhile stop in its own right.

The hotel is now open for reservations with nightly rates starting around USD $160.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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