The New York State Inebriate Asylum is nationally significant in the area of health/medicine as the first single-purpose hospital in the United States that was designed and built for the treatment of alcoholism as a disease. The inebriate asylum was an outgrowth of major changes in American attitudes toward alcohol that occurred between the Revolution and the Civil War. During this period, drunkenness was seen as the cause of nearly all social and economic problems. Concern over the effects of alcohol abuse was voiced by the temperance reform movement, which emerged in the early nineteenth century. During the mid-nineteenth century, reformers were drawn from a broader spectrum, widening the movement's political base. Temperance also was supported by many other groups, and together, these many voices wielded substantial political power.
The national significance of the building is derived from its role in the history of medicine. The New York State Inebriate Asylum was the first hospital in the United States that was designed and constructed for the treatment of alcoholism as a disease. This significance is conveyed by the first construction phase of the building, between 1857 and 1866. Perry's original design embodied the principles of the Kirkbride plan, which called for the classification and segregation of patients. In Kirkbride plan hospitals, the functional divisions of the buildings were clearly articulated in their plans. Administrative functions were confined to a central core, and patients were housed in long flanking wings, which were subdivided into sections based on gender and type and severity of illness. Service functions were generally accommodated at the rear of the administrative core, often in a secondary wing placed perpendicular to the main, rectangular block. Decorative embellishment, although in a variety of styles, reinforced and enhanced the functional hierarchies of the design.
The New York State Inebriate Asylum is nationally significant under Criteria A and C, with its period of significance ranging from 1858 to 1879.