Taunton State Hospital
Located in Taunton, MA
Photo © 2006 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Taunton State Hospital History
In 1833, the state of Massachusetts had its first state-run asylum established in Worcester, but by 1851 it had gotten so dangerously overcrowded that Legislature appropriated $100,000 for the construction of a new hospital. The commission chose a tranquil farm north of Taunton to help soothe troubled minds; although it was close to the city center, a river created a natural boundary that would prevent the encroachment of the bustling city life. The prominent New England architect Elbridge Boyden was chosen to design the main hospital building using Dr. Thomas Kirkbride's linear plan. A unique and rare neo-classical design was employed, utilizing cast-iron in the capitals, cornices, and the many ornate cupolas which adorned the roof line. Several wards branched out from the central administration area in the form of crooked wings, allowing plenty of natural sunlight and fresh air into the rooms. The three story building was dominated by a 70 foot tall dome in the center, which provided panoramic views of the town and scenic countryside. Although not original, another striking architectural element was the curved enclosed breezeways, which connected the wing tips of the Kirkbride building with two infirmary buildings built in the 1890s. The institution opened in 1854 as the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton, admitting the first patient on April 7th.
The patient population quickly grew to 250 in the first eight weeks, and by 1873 the number had doubled. A series of construction projects were undertaken through 1906 to enlarge the facility, and the campus underwent another large expansion in the 1930s. Some notable patients included serial killer Jane Toppan, a nurse who confessed to 31 murders in 1901 by administering fatal doses of pain medication; she was committed to Taunton for the rest of her life. Known as "Jolly Jane," she reportedly lay in bed with her victims as they died. Another famous patient who was committed at Taunton was Thomas Hubbard Sumner, developer of the celestial navigation method known as the Sumner Line; he spent his last remaining years here as well.
The Kirkbride building was closed in 1975 and fell into disrepair through neglect, however the eastern infirmary building at the wing tip was kept in operation. In the early 2000s, a ponderously large anti-climb fence was erected around the building to prevent illegal entry. In 1999, the massive central cupola collapsed, and on March 19th 2006, a fire tore through the administration area, destroying center of the building and theater. The rubble was cleared out by bulldozers, and the entire Kirkbride was eventually demolished in May 2009-2010; the eastern infirmary still remains, as well as other treatment and service buildings. Many architectural elements from the Kirkbride were salvaged and sold off, including timber, granite, iron gates, vintage fixtures and slate roofing tiles. Although Taunton State Hospital underwent a $19-million capital improvement in the early 1990s, the state announced the full closure of the 169-bed institution in 2012, effectively consolidating services to the new psychiatric hospital built in Worcester. After many protests and campaigns to keep Taunton open, the closure was cancelled and it may even undergo an expansion in 2015.