West Hall is a building on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus in Troy, New York, United States. It is currently home to the Arts Department at RPI. It was previously a hospital, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Old Troy Hospital.
A plaque on the southwest corner of West Hall reads as follows: "The Corner Stone of the Troy Hospital was laid on the 28th of June 1868 by the right Rev. Bishop Conroy". The hospital was opened in 1869 and was operated by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. The design of the building is due to Marcus F. Cummings of Troy and noted as a major example of French Second Empire architecture. The Sisters of Charity sold the building to the Albany Diocese in 1922 and it was converted to be used as a Catholic High School in 1923. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute acquired the building in 1953 and named it West Hall, as it was one of the western most buildings on campus. Following a complete renovation, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Geology occupied the building. A geology museum was housed there at one time, the remnants of which can still be seen in parts of the basement.
West Hall currently houses several offices, art studios, and the Rensselaer Music Association (RMA). There is a large auditorium for performances and a few music practice rooms. Between 2004 and 2008 there was a major renovation of the exterior, which was made in part by a $150,000 Campus Heritage Initiative Grant. The building was completely repainted and detailed, and the front steps were re-landscaped. Between 2008-2009 new stairs where constructed traversing the hill on the north side, as well as more robust concrete retaining walls.
There is interesting folklore surrounding the construction of "cables" to stabilize the building on the shifting hill. These cables supposedly were put in place to anchor the building's foundations to an outcropping of bedrock near Walker Labs. According to Thomas Zimmie PhD, PE, D.GE, a professor in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department of RPI, this kind of myth comes about worldwide. According to him, "There are no cables holding West Hall...There are slope problems on campus, but nothing that can't be fixed." Wihle Proffessor Zimmie acknowledges that a problem will eventually occur, he says "It will probably take at least a few thousand years."
Originally built as Troy Hospital, the building opened in Fall 1871 and remained in operation until 1913. As a hospital the building was the second site of Troy Hospital founded by Daughters of Charity in 1850, and the new building was at a higher elevation to increase ânatural ventilationâ. The more recent building was designed by Marcus F. Cummings in the âGrant Styleâ after the president. The hospital was intended to treat âthe poor and indigent of the cityâ, the industrial workers, and Irish Catholic immigrants whom the Catholic priests would not visit because of their residence in almshouses and orphanages, but over the years it developed private rooms for the more affluent members of the Troy community to have respite. A service offered in 1905 worth noting was the availability of horse drawn ambulances. During West Hallâs tenure as Catholic Central High School it acquired many of the classroom structures we see today, including the separated entrances for the sexes. Visible still to this day are the southernmost entrance labeled âBoysâ and the northernmost entrance labelled âGirlsâ.
Catholic Central High School
Between 1913 and 1923 the building languished and was not in use. In the spring of 1923, Bishop Gibbons of the Albany Catholic Diocese began a movement to raise capital to transform the old Troy Hospital into a Catholic Central High School. A total of $250,000 was raised and a reconstruction plan of the building was implemented. The Diocese added an auditorium, gymnasium, cafeteria.
Classes began in 1923, but not in the intended building. Delays caused classes to be held at St. Peter's Lyceum until early 1924. Reverend Edmund J. Burns, a Troy native, was appointed principal of the new school. Between 1943, CCHS saw notable growth, increasing from 525 in 1923 to 1323 in 1943.
Some believe the building is haunted, and ghost hunters visited the building in 2006. According to legend, Nurse Betsy cared for the patients in the psychiatric ward of the old Troy Hospital. She was very musically talented and often played the piano to calm the screams and whining of her patients. She was very well known in the hospital, serving as a nurse until her tragic and unfortunate death. As legend goes, there was a fire in the psychiatric ward when Betsy was working. In her heroism, she attempted to save the lives of her patients. Unfortunately, she and many of her patients were not able to escape the flames and died entrapped in the psychiatric ward where legend has it they remain to this day. Many times late at night you can hear the sounds of Nurse Betsyâs footsteps as she walks from room to room checking in on her patients. Some have even heard her patients screaming or whining, doors flying shut, loud thumping noises and if you listen closelyâ¦the faint sound of piano coming from the psychiatric ward in the basement of the old Troy Hospital.
West Hall at twilight, June, 2009
Descriptive plaque on front steps
Postcard of Troy Hospital from 1913