Worcester State Hospital

Located in Worcester, MA US

  • Built:1870
  • Opened:1877
  • Age:144 years
  • Closed:1991
  • Demo / Renovated:2009
  • Decaying for:18 years
  • Last Known Status:Being demolished or renovated (most of the Kirkbride has been razed for a new psychiatric facility)

On January 12, 1833, the first public asylum for the insane in Massachusetts was opened on Summer Street in Worcester. It was called the Worcester Lunatic Asylum or the Bloomingdale Asylum, and was found to be severely overcrowded within nine years of opening. Even after deplorable conditions were reported by renowned activists such as Dorthea Dix, state legislature would focus on the asylums in Northampton, Taunton, and Boston before appropriating funds dedicated to replace Worcester's cramped hospital.

The problem could not be ignored any longer, and in 1869, a tract of land near the edge of the city was purchased to build a new asylum complex. There was a bit of controversy regarding which plan should be used to lay out the hospital at first, but it was ultimately decided that the building would follow the Kirkbride principal - staggered wings stemming from a central administration building, segregating male patients on one side and female on the other. Patients with violent tendencies were placed at the wing tips, keeping them farther away from those who were more likely to recover (in the eyes of the doctors at the time). Construction began in 1873 and would be completed three years later. Designed by architect George Dutton Rand of Weston & Rand, the flagstone and brick building stood four stories tall, with a Gothic clock tower dominating the central administration area. The old asylum on Summer Street would remain as an overflow facility for many years later. Renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud visited Worcester State Hospital in 1909 during his only trip to America.

A peak population of about 3,000 was reached in the 1950s. A structure named the Bryan Building (also known as "Camp Joy") was constructed on the campus to relieve overcrowding and provide a more modern environment for treatment. As de-institutionalization took hold in later years, most patients were moved out of the antiquated Kirkbride building, leaving it somewhat empty during the 1980s and beyond.

On July 22nd 1991, a massive fire tore through the old Kirkbride building, destroying most of the structure. The rubble was cleared and an effort was made to keep two wards in the east wing, both rotundas, a nurse's residence, parts of the central administration building and the iconic clock tower. These structures were fenced off and patrolled, but were left neglected otherwise.

In 2008, a new psychiatric facility was to be built on top of the Kirkbride site, and the structures saved from the 1991 fire were cleared except for the clock tower and the western rotunda. All services from the Bryan Building were moved to the new Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital in 2013. A feasibility study determined the clock tower was not salvageable, however plans to completely raze the structure have been altered. Thanks to Preservation Worcester, an agreement has been made to methodically dismantle the tower and reconstruct a smaller version of it for $2.3 million, using much of the original stones and materials.

For a deeper look into the hospital's past, check out the books Asylum by Dr. Enoch Calloway and A Century of Silence by Norman Mongan.

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