Danvers State Hospital

Danvers State Hospital

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.


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 (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 (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. West side was male, east was female.

Over the years, newer buildings were constructed around the original Kirkbride, as well as alterations 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 confusing labyrinth of underground tunnels, also constructed over the years. 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 nicknamed it “The Wagon Wheel” due to its design. These older brick and cobblestone tunnels were used in the production of the movie Session 9. The original plan was designed to house 500 patients, with 100 more possible to accommodate in the attic. However, 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 originally 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 that various, and 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. On June 24, 1992, the hospital closed. After abandonment, the wards and buildings were left to decay and rot for many years until the demolition.

Demolition and Present State

In December 2005, the property was sold to Avalon Bay Development, an apartment company. A lawsuit was filed to stave off the demolition of the hospital, including the Kirkbride building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, this ultimately did not stop the process, and to some public outcry, 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.

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. Despite the anger of many, 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. 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 short, fat, rebuilt one from 1970.) the Avalon Bay predicted that they would have properties available for rent/sale by Fall 2007.

However, on April 7, 2007, four of the apartment complex buildings and four of Avalon bay’s construction trailers burned down in a large, mysterious fire visible from Boston, some seventeen miles (27 km) away. The mysterious conflagration was confined mostly to the buildings under construction on the eastern end, with damage to the remaining Kirkbride spires from catching fire due to excessive heat. An investigation was started concerning the cause of the mysterious fire. Avalon Bay provided a live webcam of the construction at the old site of the hospital at their website; however, the pictures cut out at approximately 2:03 AM the night of the fire, and the webcam was disabled, possibly due to the fire.

The underground tunnel leading up from the power plant still exists, blocked off at the top of the hill, however it is uncertain whether the tunnel network on top of the hill was actually removed or not during demolition and rebuilding.

While the initial outward appearance of the hospital’s irreplaceable Kirkbride complex was preserved as far as the center of the old building is concerned, it is widely believed that the entire Kirkbride could have been further restored to some extent rather than demolished and replaced with the modern and comparatively cheap construction inside of it. Traverse City State Hospital in Michigan is an example of a successful similar renovation. The only thing left of the asylum is the cemeteries, some tunnels which are blocked off, and the brick shell of the administration and the D and G wings.

In popular culture

  • 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 game Painkiller, one of the levels, called Asylum, is based on the central administration section. While the outside is a faithful reproduction, the inside is not.
  • In the book Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz, the plot involves six teens breaking into Danvers, to investigate the allegedly haunted asylum.
  • In the tabletop RPG Mage: The Awakening, the hospital’s reflection in the World of Darkness was administrated by soul-stealing Tremere vampires, who fed upon their patients.
  • “The Danvers State” is a song by Portland artist Archeology which appears on the band’s second E.P. The Wildwood Hymns.
  • The Hospital is commonly used as a theme and icon in the animation and video art of Boston artist Fluffy Conti.
  • The Danvers State Hospital is largely believed 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.”

External links


All or part of the article above was taken from the Wikipedia article Danvers State Hospital, licensed under CC-BY-SA.