A long-abandoned psychiatric center on a sprawling campus in Dover has played host to amateur ghost sleuths and documentary film crews over the years -- but lately it's been like catnip to scrap metal foragers looking to make a quick buck, State Police at Dover Plains said.
Troopers have stopped several burglaries at the 300-acre campus over the past several weeks, possibly because they know the remaining buildings will soon be razed to make way for residential developments, Sgt. Mike Collier said.
The Harlem Valley State Hospital -- or former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center, as it's more commonly called -- opened in 1924 and housed patients for 70 years until closing in 1994. Since then, the buildings have steadily decayed, with broken windows, chipped stone and crumbling facades visible to drivers headed past on Route 22 in Wingdale.
"It's a massive conglomeration of buildings scattered through the hills looking empty, forlorn and utterly eerie," according to the Hidden Hometown blog, which documents overlooked and forgotten areas in the Hudson Valley.
Collier said troopers have arrested would-be documentarians and ghost hunters on the grounds in the past, but lately burglars have targeted the campus before the remaining buildings are razed to make way for the Dover Knolls residential community, a 900-acre development that will encompass the former psychiatric center's grounds.
The developer purchased the abandoned psych center in late 2003 and incorporated the grounds into its site plan.
On Aug. 30, troopers caught a couple from Wassaic leaving the parking lot of a closed mechanic shop on Route 22 late at night. When they realized a police car was behind them, 29-year-old Robert Barto and his wife, 25-year-old Danielle Barto, turned into another lot, parked behind a building and bolted on foot, police said.
Troopers caught up to them after a short foot chase and charged them with felony burglary, as well as misdemeanor fifth-degree conspiracy, possession of burglar's tools and obstructing governmental administration. They were sent to Dutchess County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail each. Records show they've since been released from the jail, but attorney information for the couple wasn't immediately available.
On Sept. 14, troopers on patrol noticed people were inside one of the abandoned buildings. The four men tried to run but didn't get very far before troopers caught them, police said.
Troopers arrested four Long Island men: Andrew S. Castano, 24, and Jeffrey J. Heller, 23, both of North Babylon; as well as William W. Wiggin, 34, of Smithtown; and Erik J. Davidowitz, 25, of Deer Park.
They were each charged with felony third-degree burglary, misdemeanor possession of burglar's tools and resisting arrest, and violation charges for marijuana possession. They were sent to Dutchess County Jail on $30,000 bail each. Attorney information wasn't immediately available for the accused burglars.
"Scrap metal," Collier said when asked what the alleged burglars were after. "All copper and brass."
Salvaging metal can be profitable, especially metal taken in bulk from former commercial and industrial properties. Police say the crime has become more popular in the down economy, and detectives often check local scrapyards if they learn of a burglary after the fact.
Because the price of scrap metal has gone up, and burglars are increasingly targeting buildings -- abandoned or not -- believed to have large volumes of metal, Dutchess County lawmakers in 2009 passed a law requiring scrap metal yards to keep records on scrap metal sales and the people who bring metal in for salvage.
Under the terms of the law, salvage yard operators must ask sellers for identification and record the details of scrap metal sales. At the time, lawmakers said they hoped the records would aid detectives and state police investigators dealing with an uptick in salvage-related crimes.
Locals who spot any strange activity at the psychiatric hospital can call State Police at Dover Plains at 845-877-3669.