By David Mack-Hardiman, Contributor and Douglas Platt, Contributor
Nicholas DiGesare, Cemetery Photography

The Craig Colony for Epileptics was established in 1894 to meet the needs of New York’s indigent population who had epilepsy. The first patients were admitted in 1896. Craig Colony was constructed on over 1,900 acres using the “cottage plan,” a cluster of smaller buildings rather than one large structure. This institution also began to admit people with intellectual disabilities in 1935. Eventually known as Craig Developmental Center, it closed on December 6, 1988.

Craig Colony, named after Dr. Oscar Craig of Rochester, N.Y., was the second institution specifically for epileptics in the United States. At the time of the opening of Craig, it was believed that the inmates would be able to “sense” an oncoming seizure in the other patients, and would be able to prevent injuries due to falls. Craig, like the other institutions had a working farm, craft shops, school, and hospitals.

Trillium Cottage for Female Patients, Craig Colony, Sonyea, N.Y.

Trillium Cottage for Female Patients, Craig Colony, Sonyea, N.Y.

As explained in The Institutional Care of the Insane in the United States and Canada:

“The number of buildings at the colony is over 100, nearly 40 of which are occupied by colonists, the remainder being officers’ and employees’ cottages, barns, store rooms, shops, railroad station, etc. Male patients are largely employed on the farm, in the garden and brickyard and in the dairy, workshops, households and with the various mechanics. The female patients work in the various households occupied by their sex, in the sewing room and in the garden.” [1]

The White City, Women's Buildings, Craig Colony

The White City, Women’s Buildings, Craig Colony

The book further elaborates:

“There is a special building where over 150 of the younger colonists of both sexes attend school regularly during eleven months of each year. This work is presided over by five teachers. A resident Catholic chaplain, a Protestant chaplain and a visiting Jewish rabbi are attached to the colony. The funds for the Catholic chapel and rectory were donated by the Bishop of Rochester in 1901. The chapel was dedicated in April, 1902. The Protestant and Jewish services are held in the House of Elders, formerly used by the Shaker colony as a house of worship.” [2]

In a remote cemetery off of Moyer Road in Sonyea, some 2,165 residents of the Craig Colony and later the Craig Developmental Center are buried. Just as their religious services were held separately, there are three areas of the cemetery for Catholic, Jewish and Protestant burials. Unlike many institutional cemeteries, this one contains many individualized marble stones inscribed with the person’s name. Weather worn and in need of some care, some of the stones have toppled over.

May 2013 blog - The Craig Colony - 3

Some of the monuments bear floral tributes.

May 2013 blog - The Craig Colony - 4

Row upon row upon row, more than one million people are buried in institutional cemeteries in the United States.

May 2013 blog - The Craig Colony - 5

The Museum of disABILITY History was recently consulted by Tom Roffe, Town Historian of Leicester, and the Superintendent of the Groveland Correctional Facility (present owners of the property), to provide advice as to how the stones might be cleaned and restored. This is the fifth institutional cemetery in which employees of the Museum and People Inc. have been involved. Beginning in June, volunteers will begin individually caring for each of these monuments; gently brushing off the stains that age and neglect have inflicted. Other flat markers at the front of the cemetery will be edged. Additional volunteers from the Finger Lakes DDSO and the Groveland Correctional Facility will assist with the efforts. Special thanks to all who have volunteered to labor on these projects, and to the folks at People Inc.’s Park Place Day Hab in Silver Creek for their ongoing beautification efforts at the Southern Tier cemeteries.


  1. Henry Mills Hurd, et al., The Institutional Care of the Insane in the United States and Canada, vol. 3 (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1916), 251-57.
  2. Ibid.