Welcome to Danvers State Insane Asylum in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Notably, this place is said to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. I kid you not.
Opened on May 13th, 1878 at the height of Victorian ghoulishness, the campus was also known as “The State Lunatic Hospital”.
They had a way with words back then. And creepy Gothic architecture.
Danvers Lunatic Asylum was built under the supervision of well-known Boston architect Nathaniel J. Bradlee in a then remote location.
This is what it looks like as of 2013…
Don’t be fooled by its meticulous appearance – most of the complex is brand spanking new – modeled after the original 1870’s structure:
The institution was a large self-contained psychiatric hospital designed and built according to the Kirkbride Plan – “a special apparatus for the care of lunacy”.
Under the Kirkbride Plan, the wings of the hospital were staggered to the east and west radiating from a central administrative building. The wings were also connected by a series of underground tunnels for the sake of “privacy”.
Constructed at a cost of $1.5 million – astronomical at the time – the campus also contained numerous kitchens, laundries, a boiler house, a chapel, and dormitories for the attendants.
Male patients were housed on the west side, female patients were housed on the east side. The outermost wards were reserved for the most extreme cases of lunacy – i.e. the ones in cages.
Over the decades, additional buildings were constructed around the original Kirkbride hall, including a new gymnasium/auditorium.
But by the 1960’s, budget shortfalls and the exorbitant cost of running these kinds of massive institutions put a strain on the hospital’s ability to maintain a fully operating campus. Danvers began closing wards in 1969 and continued to close large sections of the hospital through the next two decades.
By the 1980’s the deinstitutionalization movement was in full force and the final central administration building was closed in 1989. Danvers State Insane Asylum was then boarded up and largely abandoned… left to the will of looters and the elements.
As you can see in the photo above, the top portion of the central tower was removed because it had structural issues and posed a safety hazard.
Adventurous teenagers and “urban explorers” would dodge the flashlight beams of the occasional security guard and break into the decrepit building for thrills and photography.
These are some of their photos….
Eerie and chilling, these pictures recall the days of patients being wheeled around in straight jackets and also document the state of decline of a once grand establishment.
Curious thrill seekers and ghost hunters had their run of the hospital through the 1990’s but the property was eventually sold in December of 2005 to Avalon Bay Development, an apartment and housing development company.
More on that in a bit.
But first let’s tour around inside to see what was left of the Lunatic Asylum by the 1990’s.
Pretty much all of the buildings on large campus were connected by a confusing labyrinth of underground tunnels. This made sense during the brutal northeastern winter months and also served the purpose of keeping the worst patients out of sight. Not to mention the deceased – of which there were many at Danvers.
The system of underground tunnels emerged up into the basements of the buildings.
The tunnels had a catacomb-like appearance due to being constructed with brick and cobblestone.
The original Kirkbride plan of Danvers was designed to house 500 patients, with the attics being used for overflow rooms.
From the 1920’s through the 1940’s, however, over 2,000 patients crowded the hospital, so people were even held in the dark prison-like basements. That would certainly restore my sanity.
While Danvers was originally established to provide residential treatment to the mentally ill, it expanded its repertoire in 1895 with the opening of a pathological research laboratory.
By the 1920s the hospital was also operating “school clinics” to identify “mentally deficient children”.
It was also during this time period that reports were made of various inhumane shock therapies, forced lobotomies, and the use of experimental drugs and straitjackets.
During the second half of the 20th Century, there was an increased public and professional awareness of alternative, community-based and more humane methods of treatment. As a result, the inpatient population started to decrease dramatically at Danvers State Insane Asylum.
In December 2005, the decrepit property was sold to Avalon Bay Development who planned to demolish the entire hospital and build a 497-unit apartment complex.
A lawsuit was filed by historic preservationists to stave off the demolition of the historic hospital, which was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But as we know from past posts on here House Crazy, being “listed” does not guarantee being protected. Even public outcry and a lawsuit could not stop the developers. Demolition began in January of 2006.
By June 2006, most of the Danvers State Hospital buildings that were marked for demolition had been torn down.
Nearby residents and historic preservation buffs far and wide were enraged. Indeed, it is painful to look at these photos.
However, in one small gesture towards maintaining historic integrity, the developer actually propped up the original exterior brick wall of the central administration building (along with the G and D wards on each side) to preserve it while an entirely new structure was built inside of it.
Additionally, a replica of the original central tower on the Kirkbride building was created to duplicate the old one that was removed in the 1970’s due to structural issues.
The Avalon Bay company intended to have apartments for rent/sale by the Fall of 2007 but in April of 2007 there was a mysterious fire at the site which completely destroyed four of the complex buildings and several construction trailers.
But a few angry arsonists/historic preservationists were not enough to completely halt a major development project, so construction steamed ahead and the complex was completed.
Need I even ask: Who in their right minds would want to live in a place with such a morbid history?
Granted, the only original things left of the old asylum are the brick shell of the administration and the D and G wings, some underground tunnels which have been blocked off, and the cemetery…
A photo of the actual patient graves at Danvers:
Lord, bless their tortured souls.
Oh, I almost forgot – Happy Halloween!
[And special thanks to Suzan for giving me the kick to write this post!]