Essex County Hospital Center (Overbrook)
Located in Cedar Grove, NJ
Photo © 2007 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Essex County Hospital Center (Overbrook) History
In the late 19th century, the Essex County Hospital for the Insane in Newark, New Jersey was becoming alarmingly overcrowded, and funds were allocated to purchase ninety acres of rural land upstate for a new hospital. The area chosen was located just outside of the sparsely-populated town of Cedar Grove, called Overbrook, and although the new hospital was officially named The Essex County Hospital Center, it would often be referred to as the original tract of land. This vicinity soon became a host of "less than desirable" institutions with the old Essex County Penitentiary (1872) less than a mile away, and the Essex Mountain Tuberculosis Sanatorium (1907) located across the road from the hospital.
Overbrook was most likely a kind of catch-all institution for the county in the early days, assuming the roles once taken by poor houses and almshouses; the patients were typically people battling psychiatric illness, physical handicaps, drug and alcohol abuse, and other ailments requiring a prolonged stay at an institution. By the 1920s, Overbrook was generally renowned as hospital specializing in psychiatric illness. The plan of the hospital seems like a mashup of other typical asylum layouts being implemented at state-run psychiatric hospitals in the area; a kind of Cottage Plan, such as the one at Marlboro State Hospital, but joined together in a linear fashion, much like Kirkbride's plan, exemplified at Greystone Park in Morris Plains. At Overbrook, the original plan consisted of an administration building, reception building, and the central Star Building, named for its cross-like floor plan, all joined with above-ground corridors, and surrounded by various service buildings (power house, laundry, firehouse, etc).
Within a few years, Overbrook became seriously overcrowded. Five large treatment and dormitory buildings were built on both sides of the reception building in 1909, and again were connected with above-ground passages, forming a long, serpentine complex. Despite these additions, the facility remained overcrowded (many servicemen wound up here after both World Wars with PTSD), underfunded, and understaffed, and as in most state-run psychiatric hospitals, these three ingredients result in widespread reports of patient neglect and abuse. Still, Overbrook followed the trends of the time in terms of psychiatric treatment: occupational therapy, hydrotherapy and electroshock eventually gave way to psychotropic medicines during the 1950s and 1960s, and once the majority of patients could be treated without being institutionalized, Overbrook began to empty its large buildings of residents.
Despite the downsizing, Overbrook continued to operate into the next century with a continued focus on treating psychiatric disorders and also drug abuse. In 2006, a new Essex County Hospital Center was built nearby, and by the next year the buildings at Overbrook had been emptied and shuttered for good. The property was transferred to the Essex County Parks Department, and as of the summer of 2016, demolition of the old hospital is currently underway.