Danvers State Hospital

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Danvers State Hospital, circa 1893
Avalon Danvers, 2008
Avalon Danvers during the day, October 2007
Danvers State Hospital demolition
Administration Building during the Danvers State Hospital demolition.

The Danvers State Hospital, also known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, The Danvers Lunatic Asylum, and The Danvers State Insane Asylum, was a psychiatric hospital located in Danvers, Massachusetts.

It was built in 1874 and opened in 1878 under the supervision of prominent Boston architect Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee, on an isolated site in rural Massachusetts. It was a multi-acre, self-contained psychiatric hospital designed and built according to the Kirkbride Plan. It is rumored to have been the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy.

Demolition and present state[edit]

In December 2005, the property was sold to Avalon Bay Development, a residential apartment developer. A lawsuit was filed[who?] to stave off the demolition of the hospital, including the Kirkbride building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This did not stop the process, and to some public outcry,[who?] demolition of most of the buildings began in January 2006, with the intent to build 497 apartments on the 77-acre (310,000 m2) site. The people who filed the lawsuit criticized how the case was handled by the courts.[who?]

By June 2006, all of the Danvers State Hospital buildings that were marked for demolition had been torn down, including all of the unused buildings and old homes on the lower grounds and all of the buildings on the hill. Demolition was done by Testa Corp. of Wakefield, Massachusetts. Despite the anger of many,[who?] the historic Kirkbride was also demolished, with only the outermost brick shell of the administration area (along with the G and D wards on each side) being propped up during demolition and construction while an entirely new structure was built behind and inside of it, leaving the historic Danvers Reservoir and the original brick shell. Much of the wood from the demolition project was salvaged and recycled into flooring and other millwork.[1]

A replica of the original tower/steeple on the Kirkbride was built to duplicate what was removed around 1970 due to structural issues. (The first picture illustrates the original tower in 1893, the second and third pictures illustrate the new replica in 2006 and 7, and the fourth picture illustrates the one from 1970.) Avalon Bay predicted that they would have properties available for rent or sale by Fall 2007.

On April 7, 2007, four of the apartment complex buildings and four of Avalon Bay's construction trailers burned down in a large fire visible from Boston, nearly seventeen miles (27 km) away. Damage was confined mostly to the buildings under construction on the eastern end, but the remaining Kirkbride spires caught fire due to the high heat. The fire was investigated.[clarification needed] The Avalon Bay website operated a live webcam of the construction site; the live feed ended at approximately 2:03 AM the night of the fire when the webcam was disabled, possibly due to the fire.[citation needed]

The underground tunnel leading up from the power plant still exists, but is blocked at the top of the hill.

While the outward appearance of the Kirkbride complex was preserved, it is widely believed[who?] that the entire Kirkbride could have been restored rather than demolished. Traverse City State Hospital in Michigan is an example of a successful renovation of a similar structure.[citation needed] Only the cemeteries, several blocked tunnels, and the brick shell of the administration and the D and G wings remain from the original site.

On June 27, 2014, it was made public[who?] that the Avalon Bay Communities, Inc,. had sold the property for $108.5 M to the DSF Group. The DSF Group released plans for the property to undergo further renovations.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The hospital was the setting for the 2001 horror film Session 9. The asylum was also featured in the 1958 film Home Before Dark.
  • In the book Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz, the plot involves six teens breaking into Danvers to investigate.
  • In the game Painkiller (video game), one of the levels, called Asylum, is based on the central administration section. While the outside is a faithful reproduction, the inside is not.
  • The Danvers State Hospital is commonly believed[who?] to have served as inspiration for the infamous Arkham sanatorium from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep". (Lovecraft's Arkham, in turn, is the inspiration for Arkham Asylum, a psychiatric hospital within the Batman universe.) It is referenced by name in the short story "Pickman's Model"[2] and in The Shadow over Innsmouth[3]
  • Rob Delaney, who grew up in Massachusetts, devotes a chapter to Danvers in his memoir, Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. Prior to its demolition, Delaney explored the hospital with his mother and uncle.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°34′52″N 70°58′28″W / 42.581234°N 70.974394°W / 42.581234; -70.974394