Forest Haven

Coordinates: 39°6′19″N 76°46′32″W / 39.10528°N 76.77556°W / 39.10528; -76.77556
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Forest Haven was a state school for children and adults with intellectual disability (ID) located in Laurel, Maryland and operated by the District of Columbia.[1] The site was opened in 1925 and closed on October 14, 1991, by order of a federal judge after years of alleged abuse, medical incompetence, and several deaths from aspiration pneumonia.


Forest Haven opened in 1925 as a farm-like institution geared towards educating its patients with useful life skills. It encompassed nearly 300 acres and contained 22 separate buildings, and at its height housed well over one thousand patients. Its decline began in the 1960s as funding was cut and the population grew to include persons with non-ID conditions such as epilepsy.[1] In 1974, Forest Haven received at least 20 individuals from a nearby orphanage "Junior Village" which had closed. A lawsuit filed by families of patients at Forest Haven in 1976 and joined by the Department of Justice in 1978 resulted in the relocation of many residents to group homes, but the facility continued to operate, even allowing a physician with a suspended medical license to continue practicing there.[2]

Between 1989 and 1991, prior to the facility's closure, the Justice Department began to monitor deaths from aspiration pneumonia, a condition that can be caused by improper feeding procedures (e.g. feeding a patient who is lying down). There are also accounts of rampant physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the facility.[2][3] Prior residents have reported being hit with "belts, switches, and baseball bats." Missing teeth and other dental problems are commonly reported. Many of the residents who died were buried in a mass grave, unmarked until a headstone – noting 389 individuals – was erected by some of the patients' families in 1987. Some of the graves have been uncovered by erosion.[1]

Today, the site is abandoned and is cared for by United States Park Police, but remains a popular attraction for urban explorers. Many hazardous items such as asbestos have been removed, but much of the equipment, including desks, beds, toys, and medical records remain.[1]

Timeline and history[edit]

Date Event Notes References
1925 "District Training School for the Mentally Retarded" opens
1928 First on-grounds burial
1954 Thorazine becomes widely used in hospitals and institutions
1963 Institution name changes to "Forest Haven"
1967 Joy Evans court-ordered to Forest Haven
1971 Curley Building opened
1972 More than 100 job vacancies at Forest Haven reported
1973 (February 23) Evans v. Fenty lawsuit filed
1974 Nearby orphanage "Junior Village" closes, 20 children are relocated to Forest Haven
1976 (July) Joy Evans dies (age 18)
1978 US Departement of Justice joins lawsuit Evans v. Fenty
1987 Families of patients construct a plaque to mark the 389 individuals buried in the mass grave
1989 (August 8) Arkie, a resident since the age of 5, dies of aspiration pneumonia at the age of 22
1991 D.C. becomes the second jurisdiction to deinstitutionalize
1991 (September 29) Last resident relocated
1991 (October 14) Forest Haven officially closes


  1. ^ a b c d Maurer, Pablo (November 18, 2013). "Abandoned D.C.: Inside The Ruins Of The Forest Haven Asylum". DCist. Archived from the original on October 7, 2015. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Waas, Murray (April 3, 1994). "Bleak House". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  3. ^ Boo, Katherine (March 1, 1999). "Forest Haven is gone, but the agony remains". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 1, 2015.

External links[edit]

39°6′19″N 76°46′32″W / 39.10528°N 76.77556°W / 39.10528; -76.77556