Danvers State Hospital

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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.


Danvers State Hospital was built in 1874.[1] Constructed at a cost of $1.5 million, with the estimated yearly per capita cost of patients being $3,000 the hospital originally consisted of two main center buildings, housing the administration, with four radiating wings. The administration building measured 90 by 60 feet (27 by 18 m), with a 130 feet (40 m) high tower. The kitchens, laundries, chapel, and dormitories for the attendants were in a connecting 180 by 60 feet (55 by 18 m) building in the rear. In the rear was the boiler house of 70 feet (21 m) square, with boilers 450 horsepower (340 kW), used for heating and ventilation. Middleton Pond supplied the hospital its water. On each side of the main building were the wings, for male and female patients respectively, connected by small square towers, with the exception of the last ones on each side, which are joined by octagonal towers. The former measured 10 feet (3.0 m) square, and were used to separate the buildings. The outermost wards were reserved for extreme patients.

Over the years, newer buildings were constructed around the original Kirkbride, and alterations were made to the Kirkbride itself, such as a new gymnasium/auditorium on the area of the old kitchens and multiple solaria added onto the front of the wards.

Most of the buildings on campus were connected by a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Many of the Commonwealth institutions for the developmentally delayed and the mentally ill at the time were designed with tunnel systems, to be self-sufficient in wintertime. There was a tunnel that ran from a steam/power generating plant (which still exists to provide service to the Hogan Regional Center) located at the bottom of the hill running up to the hospital, along with tunnels that connected the male and female nurses homes, the "Gray Gables", Bonner Medical Building, machine shops, pump house, and a few others. The system of tunnels branched off like spokes from a central hub behind the Kirbride building (in the vicinity of the old gymnasium) leading to different wards of the hospital and emerging up into the basements. This hub was also an underground maintenance area of sorts. Some[who?] nicknamed it "The Wagon Wheel" due to its design.

The original plan was designed to house 500 patients, with attic space potentially housing 100 more. By the late 1930s and 1940s, over 2,000 patients were being housed, and overcrowding was severe. People were even held in the basements of the Kirkbride.

While the asylum was established to provide residential treatment and care to the mentally ill, its functions expanded to include a training program for nurses in 1889 and a pathological research laboratory in 1895. In the 1890s, Dr. Charles Page, the superintendent, declared mechanical restraint unnecessary and harmful in cases of mental illness. By the 1920s the hospital was operating school clinics to help determine mental deficiency in children. Reports were made[who?] that various inhumane shock therapies, lobotomies, drugs, and straitjackets were being used to keep the crowded hospital under control. This sparked controversy. During the 1960s as a result of increased emphasis on alternative methods of treatment, deinstitutionalization, and community-based mental health care, the inpatient population started to decrease.

Massive budget cuts in the 1960s played a major role in the progressive closing of Danvers State hospital. The hospital began closing wards and facilities as early as 1969. By 1985, the majority of the original hospital wards were closed or abandoned. The Kirkbride administration building closed in 1989. Patients were moved to the Bonner Medical Building across the campus.[1]

The entire campus was closed on June 24, 1992. The buildings were left to decay for many years. As of December 2013, the buildings have been renovated and are now apartments.[2] [3] [4]

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.[2]

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 the allegedly asylum.
  • 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"[3] and in The Shadow over Innsmouth[4]
  • 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.

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