clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Creepy, Decrepit State of the Abandoned Kirkbride Asylums

New, 1 comment

Back in the late 19th century, medical techniques for the treatment of mental illness were—how do we put this—not quite as advanced as they might be now. Psychiatric studies and literature of the era focused on the importance of architecture in the treatment of the insane, and some 100 massive mental health facilities were constructed in the United States, adherent to the principles of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Arranged in winged, stepped plans, these structures were designed by some of the preeminent architects of their day, including Calvert Vaux, Frederick Law Olmsted, and H.H. Richardson. Despite the storied architectural pedigree, as the treatment of the insane in such buildings waned, so too did an interest in maintaining the sprawling structures. So today, many of these Victorian era behemoths sit unused and unwanted, thanks to the stigma of their "loony bin" pasts. We've collected five of the best examples, in all their run-down glory.

Designed in by Pennsylvania architect Samuel Sloan—famous for his still-unfinished Longwood mansion in Natchez, Miss.—the State Lunatic Asylum at Morris Plains (above) was built to address overcrowding at New Jersey's Trenton Asylum. More commonly known as Greystone, the building opened in 1877 and first welcomed 342 patients. By 1954, the patient population had grown to an astonishing 7,674, before the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s came along. In 2000, after a decades of scandal, the site was ordered closed by the Governor of New Jersey and was sold to Morris County for $1.

? Designed by architectural royalty, the Buffalo State Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. must have seemed destined for permanence when it was finally completed in 1895. After all, it had taken 24 years to finish the Richardson-designed colossus and the surrounding gardens by Olmstead and Vaux. By then, overcrowding was such an issue in other hospitals that Richardson curved the walls of the structure so that the placement of beds in public rooms would be difficult and inefficient. Still, even this forward thinking approach wasn't enough to save the buildings. Today, while maintained in a most basic sense by the state, the hospital has fallen into shambles. There is talk of converting the structure into an architecture museum for the city of Buffalo.

? There's another neglected New York asylum in Poughkeepsie, along the banks of the Hudson River. The Hudson River State Hospital opened in 1871 on land once owned by the Roosevelt family. Today, it is an odd amalgam of abandoned and inhabited spaces, with plans in place to redevelop the existing structure. Those plans had a setback thanks to a devastating 2007 fire in the south wing, with the downturn in the property market, we'd be surprised if the project resumed as planned.

? The asylum in Worcester, Mass.—the Worcester State Hospital—cost nearly a million dollars to construct in 1877. Designed by George Dutton Rand, it was an imposing, fortress-like stone structure and, according to historians, was contrary to the wishes of the hospital superintendent, who had hoped to build smaller houses arranged like a village. In 1991, a massive fire swept through the facility, rendering large portions uninhabitable. After a series of demolitions and the building of a more modern facility, only the clock tower and circular hall remain standing.

? Demolition isn't the only option for these impressive Victorian buildings, as the Danvers State Hospital can attest. Even after falling into disrepair and developing a reputation as a supernatural site so notorious it spawned a horror flick, the hospital was redeveloped into a residential project by mega-developer Avalon. Who were the victims in this scary movie? Why, none other than an asbestos remediation crew sent to clean up the mess. That must have been a stressful project. Check out the product, below.

· Kirkbride Buildings [official site]
· History [Preserve Graystone]
· Buffalo State Hospital [Kirkbride Buildings]
· Hudson River State Hospital [Kirkbride Buildings]
· Worcester State Hospital [Kirkbride Buildings]
· Danvers State Insane Asylum [fan site]
· Session 9 [IMDb]
· Avalon Danvers [official site]