Springfield State Hospital
Located in Sykesville, MD
Photo © 2006 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Springfield State Hospital History
The Springfield State Hospital Center was once a private estate and working farm owned by the wealthy William Patterson, who made a large sum of money running the British Blockade and settled in Baltimore in 1778. The expansive estate, known as Springfield, was to be a dowry for his daughter's marriage to Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. Both Napoleon and officials in France would not permit the wedding to take place, and the estate was eventually sold to the state of Maryland in 1894 for $50,000. One year later the Springfield State Hospital was established in response to the urgent need for a new psychiatric hospital in the Baltimore area.
The existing farm buildings were renovated to accept the first patients in 1896 while new hospital buildings were being constructed. While the patients waited in these structures without barred windows or locked doors, they behaved so well that the superintendent and Board of Managers had the new cottages constructed without these devices, and also adopted an open-door policy. The 700 acre farm continued to operate, supplying the residents and staff with fresh food at minimal cost. The main campus consisted of a Men's Group on the north side, the Women's Group on the south side (also known as the Warfield Complex), and the John Hubner Psychopathic Building which provided administrative and medical services. A notable cluster of twelve buildings was called the Martin Gross Area was constructed by the WPA in the 1930s. Other structures included the powerhouse, epileptic colony, firehouse, dietary and employee housing.
The isolated location of the hospital became problematic in regards to entertaining the patients and staff. To solve this issue, a drama club was started in 1901 as well as other recreational programs, including a baseball team, playing music in the dining halls, and a tennis court for female patients. A special program was started in the chronic ward to help the idle patients shift their "morbid" thoughts to more wholesome channels. Many troubled patients were released from the hospital due to this program which introduced exercise, games, folk songs, embroidery, strolls through the woods and occupational therapy to these troubled residents.
Overcrowding plagued the hospital during the early years (like most other state institutions in the United States) as the population at Springfield exceeded 3,000 patients during the 1940s. Scathing articles published by the Baltimore Sun entitled "Maryland's Shame" drew the public eye to towards the deplorable conditions at Maryland state facilities during this decade. In response, new buildings were erected at Springfield and efforts were made to improve treatment. The hospital soon became a nationwide model in discharging patients into group homes and foster care.
In the 1980s, Springfield consolidated much of the campus into a smaller and more efficient complex, leaving the historic structures to decay. The presence of asbestos and other hazardous materials have placed a high price tag on demolition or remediation. The Springfield Hospital Center still operates to this day in other structures on the grounds.
You can read more on the Bonaparte connection via this article by Michael Rudnick, and some architectural details via the National Historic Register (PDF).