Northampton State Hospital

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Northampton State Hospital
Northampton State Hospital grounds.jpg
Hospital grounds in 2007
Northampton State Hospital is located in Massachusetts
Northampton State Hospital
Northampton State Hospital is located in the US
Northampton State Hospital
Location Northampton, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°18′39.6″N 72°38′56.4″W / 42.311000°N 72.649000°W / 42.311000; -72.649000Coordinates: 42°18′39.6″N 72°38′56.4″W / 42.311000°N 72.649000°W / 42.311000; -72.649000
Built 1856
Architect Preston, Jonathan; Robb, Gordon
Architectural style Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals, Late Victorian, Mid 19th Century Revival
MPS Massachusetts State Hospitals And State Schools MPS
NRHP reference # 94000696[1]
Added to NRHP July 25, 1994

Northampton State Hospital was a historic Psychiatric hospital at 1 Prince Street on top of Hospital Hill outside of Northampton, Massachusetts. The hospital building was constructed in 1856, operated until 1993, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.


Construction of the State Hospital at Northampton, the third state institution for the insane in the state of Massachusetts began on March 15, 1856 on top of Hospital Hill outside of Northampton, Massachusetts.[2]

On July 4 (United States Independence Day) of the same year the cornerstone was laid. For posterity, a time capsule was embedded within the cornerstone, where it would lay undisturbed on top of Hospital Hill for 150 years. The hospital consisted of Old Main (the original Kirkbride hospital building), and infirmaries, staff dormitories, a work farm, and other buildings including a brand new memorial complex which was established later.

The asylum received its first patients on August 16, 1858. Within six weeks, the population would reach 220, most of whom were transfers from other institutions long overwhelmed. The original design specified a maximum of 200 patients, but this limit was raised to 250 by the statewide hospital Commissioners before the asylum opened. After only two months the Board of Trustees speculated that the limit could be raised to 300 patients. As the patient population accelerated, the wards of Old Main were built onto so much that its original design looked nothing like its new shape. Soon, the population grew so much that several new infirmaries had to be built to sustain the patients.

The first superintendent, Dr. Prince, resigned in 1864, and Dr. Pliny Earle was selected as his replacement. Dr. Earle immediately began to cultivate a strong work therapy program by expanding the farm, constructing a greenhouse as well as other service-oriented buildings. When he retired in 1885, Dr. Earle was given an apartment within the asylum out of gratitude for his twenty-one years of service. The population had reached 476 patients.

The start of the 20th century was marked with a change in name from the State Hospital at Northampton to the Northampton Insane Hospital, and two years later to Northampton State Hospital. Northampton State Hospital, under superintendent John A. Houston, continued constructing buildings such as large infirmary wards built on either end of the hospital in 1902 and 1903. In 1907, the same year Bishop’s Crook lamps were installed around the hospital grounds, “A Mind That Found Itself” was published. In it Clifford W. Beers, a former patient of several institutions, argues that contrary to what the public had been led to believe, no one knew how to cure insanity. That year the population at Northampton stood at 726 patients.

Designed to accommodate 1000 patients, in 1925 work began on the largest expansion of Northampton State Hospital: Memorial Complex. Set apart from the original “Old Main” section of the asylum, Memorial Complex became the focal point for most of the construction, expansions and later operations of Northampton State Hospital, and it allowed the population to swell to more than 2,100 patients in 1935. As the asylum's population became crowded, patients were deported to other hospitals and causing several small buildings were built around Old Main. Also, Old Main had been expanded so much, the original shape of the building no longer resembled a bat wing.

After nearly a century of constant construction, Northampton State Hospital continued to grow. In 1952, the same year Thorazine, the first anti-psychotic was introduced, and 2,331 patients were served by 509 staff. The Haskell building, which still serves as an office for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, was added in 1959.

On January 6, 1978 the United States District Court approved the Brewster Consent Decree, which made clear a patient’s constitutional right to treatment in the least restrictive environment possible. Under terms set forth in the Decree the State Hospital was to reduce the number of patients it served to 50 by 1981. This process would ultimately take 14 rather than 3 years.

In 1980 Northampton State Hospital registered its 64,500th admission, while simultaneously attempting to reduce the total population. Patients were either reassigned to other, usually smaller facilities, or were simply dismissed. Ex-patients entered a largely ignorant and sometimes hostile community; for some, poverty and homelessness were as immediate as the citywide controversy. Debate raged all around Northampton.[citation needed]

After 130 years, Old Main was abandoned in 1986. Operations at Memorial Complex continued until 1993, when the last 12 patients were reassigned, and Northampton State Hospital was officially closed.[3] Plans to preserve and reuse the buildings had gained some popularity around the turn of the millennium; however, city administrators only seriously considered demolition to redevelop the property. In 2006 Old Main was finally demolished, and by the following summer, the Memorial Complex was gone.

In 2007, the city of Northampton adopted a smart growth zoning overlay district covering the grounds of the Northampton State Hospital as part of Massachusetts's "Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District Act" enacted in 2004.[4] The zoning district is designed to promote mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development, and in 2008, the 40-unit Village Hill development broke ground on the former hospital grounds.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ History of Northampton State Hospital
  3. ^ "Northampton State Hospital". Northampton State Hospital. Retrieved 2017-06-29. 
  4. ^ dhcd (2007-11-26). "Chapter 40 R". Housing and Economic Development. Retrieved 2017-06-29. 
  5. ^ Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. "Northampton: A 40R Community" (PDF). Retrieved June 29, 2017. 

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