By Jasmine Willis
SONYEA — After driving by what remains of the Craig Developmental Center for years there came an opportunity to capture the essence of the tragic story.
It was the summer of 2015 when I met Leicester Historian Tom Roffe. Roffe has since passed away, but he dedicated his entire life to the history of the Craig Colony. He was happy that local news had taken an interest in the story. Once I was able to step out the car to get him we were standing at the gates of what once was the Craig Colony Administration Building.
It was Roffe's goal right off the bat to get the remains of this historic gem on the National Register of Historic Places. The Craig Developmental Center or Craig Colony was established in 1895 as a way to cure epilepsy. It stayed strong in its practice until the end of WWII when the ways of medicine changed. The facility remained opened for other medical practices until 1988 when its doors were closed for good. Afterwards, parts of it became the Groveland Correctional Facility and Sonyea Gulf Club.
Several historical figures made an impact on the ever growing colony that called this place home for most if not all of their lives. Rochester Lawyer, Dr. Oscar Craig called for the construction of the state-of-art epilepsy treatment center as he was employed by the state. Dr. William Spratling of NYC was the first superintendent of the colony in 1896. After him came William Shanahan and Dr. Vincent Bonafede.
There had been an abandoned Shaker Community that was purchased by the state in the late 1800s. This land was used for farming and the few buildings that remained were turned into the Craig Colony. They were The Seneca House, Wigwam House, and Letchworth House.
The Craig Colony Memorial Cemetery holds over 2,365 small white stones that only have a name of those who forever rest under them. It is a heartbreaking sight indeed, but it is important to share the story of those who were sent to this colony for treatment, and never made it back out alive.
The colony provided an entire community for the patients. They had stores, churches, farms, laundry, blacksmith, bakery, groceries, shoemaker, schools, and much more.
A book has been written breaking down first person accounts, documents, photos, newspaper articles, and much more about the colony. It is entitled "The Colony Chronicles" by Char Szabo-Perricelli and David Mack-Hardiman. It was made both as a tribute to Tom Roffe and as a way to honor those who lost their lives in the colony.
I had been approached to be part of the book when I wrote an article about this colony in 2015. The book came out three years later. It has truly been an amazing journey to read about a place that has been forgotten in time.
The book is available at museumofdisability.org for $45.95.