Danvers State Hospital was opened in 1878 after four years of construction. The Boston architect, Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee, designed the building in accordance with the Kirkbride Plan, and it cost a total of $1.5 million to construct. The self-contained psychiatric hospital is rumoured to be the birth place of the pre-frontal lobotomy, and has also been the disturbing setting for films, games and novels.
Danvers State Hospital Building
The late 19th century saw a drastic increase in mental illness, and in 1873 the general court appointed commissioners to establish a hospital for the insane in Massachusetts. From over 40 locations, Dodge Farm in Danvers was finally chosen, and building began in 1874. The hospital consisted of two central administration buildings with four additional buildings to each side, each falling back from the last. This meant that each ward overlooked the sublime gardens, bringing light into the building from all directions. The four buildings on the west of the central buildings were designated for male patients, and the east for females. The closest buildings to either side were for patients who were well behaved and quiet. The most badly behaved, or those who were deemed ‘excitable’ were housed in the very last buildings on each side, keeping them away from the staff quarters.
The turn of the century saw a huge rise in disease, and many of Danvers patients were infected with Tuberculosis. In 1907, two new buildings were built to house patients who suffered from TB, one for each gender. Each building could only hold 18 patients and this ultimately led to severe overcrowding. Throughout the years, additional buildings were added to the original Kirkbride structure, as well as vital changes to the building itself. For example, a new gymnasium was installed where the old kitchen used to be located, and new sun rooms were built at the front of the wards.
The buildings were connected by a string of underground tunnels, which allowed the hospital to function independently and be self sufficient, especially in the winter months. The tunnel system branched off like spokes from a centralised hub, which was positioned behind the original Kirkbride building. There was a tunnel which ran from the power generating plant at the bottom of the hill, running up towards the hospital to the Gray Gables, which was where the nurses slept, and to the Bonner Medical Building, the pump house and several other buildings.
The original plan for Danvers Hospital was designed to hold up to 500 patients, with additional room for a further 100 patients in the attic. However, by the 1940s, over 2,000 patients were being housed and overcrowding was a common problem. Patients were forced to sleep in cot-beds made up in corridors and day rooms, affording them little to no privacy and kept them cramped in unsavoury conditions. The stress of the overcrowding led to the upsetting of patients, delaying their recovery, thus causing bad hygiene and the general decay of the building. Nurses were over worked and under staffed, which ultimately resulted in the poor and neglectful treatment of mentally ill patients.
Upon entry, patients were greeted by a physician and led to a ward for observation. A cleansing bath was then administered, and any markings found on the patients body was documented. Their temperature and pulse were checked and the patient was then sent to bed for the night. The following day, a full mental evaluation would take place between the patient and physician and supervisor. The evaluation included testing the patient on:
These tests were set in place to determine the patients condition and the level of care they required. They would then be housed into the appropriate ward, with fellow patients suffering from similar conditions.
As Danvers State Hospital was self-contained, and located on Dodge Farm, the vast majority of patients were put to work. The main jobs among patients were:
Fruit picking, including tomatoes, apples and berries
Vegetable picking, including sweet corn, onions, squash and turnip
Egg collecting and packing
Preparing barrels of pickles
The farm served as a regular source of income for the hospital, and in 1937 the slaughterhouse produced over 60,000 pounds of pork, which was fed to patients and sold to the local population.
The overcrowding of Danvers State Hospital led to the use of inhumane treatment and punishments, such as lobotomies, overuse of drugs and insulin comas. The once prohibited mechanical restraints, such as the straight jacket were brought back into everyday use, and the image of picturesque mental health care crumbled.
The controversy caused by the treatment of the mentally ill resulted in the increased emphasis on alternative methods of treatment. In turn, this began to diminish the population of Danvers, as more and more patients were given community-based care as opposed to institutionalisation.
Closing of Danvers
The decrease in population at Danvers State Hospital, combined with the monumental budget cuts in the 1960s, led to the demise of the self-contained asylum. Wards began closing down from 1969 and by 1985, the majority of the original hospital wards were abandoned. The administration building officially closed in 1989, and most of the patients were turned out onto the streets, with minimal community-based care.
Danvers State Hospital officially closed its doors on the 24th June, 1992, and the building was left to decay for 14 years until its demolition in 2006.
In 2005, the entire property was sold to an apartment company called Avalon Bay Development. Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and public outcry, the demolition of Danvers State Hospital began in January 2006.
The plan was to construct 497 apartments on the 77 acre site, and by June 2006, all of the buildings designated for demolition were torn down. Despite much protesting and law suits, the original Kirkbride building was also demolished, leaving only the outer shell of the administration building and wards G and D. They were propped up during the demolition, and new buildings were constructed behind and inside the remaining shells. A replica of the original tower on the Kirkbride building was built to replace the one torn down in 1970.
The opening of the apartments was set to commence in April 2007, but a fire broke out that same day, engulfing four apartment buildings and numerous Avalon Bay’s construction trailers. An investigation began, and Avalon provided their live web-cam footage as evidence. On the night of the fire, the camera cuts out at 2:03AM, and much debate surrounds the reason. Many experts argue that suggests someone has cut the camera feed deliberately. Others argue that this was simply a result of the fire.
The Remains of Danvers State Hospital
All that remains of Danvers State hospital is the outer shell of the administration building, and wings D and G, the cemeteries and a small number of tunnels which have been blocked. It is widely believed that the entire complex should and could have been restored, and thousands mourn the loss of the historical landmark.