Danvers State Hospital History - Massachusetts History Blog (2023)

Danvers State Hospital was one of many hospitals built thereMassachusetts during the industrial revolution.

Danvers State Hospital was a psychiatric hospital built in 1874 on Hathorne Hill, site of the Salem witch trials.John Hathorneonce lived.

The hill is a 257 foot tall glacial drumlin located inDanvers, originally known asDorf Salemuntil the official name was changed in 1752. In the 19th century the hill was home to Dodge Farm, owned by local farmer and Civil War veteran Francis Dodge.

Why was Danvers State Hospital built?

When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided in the 1870s to build an additional psychiatric hospital to accommodate the state's growing mentally ill population, it settled on rural Hathorne Hill as its site and persuaded Dodge to sell his 200-acre farm for $39,542 Selling US dollars to the state. .


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Danvers State Hospital Kirkbride complex circa 1893

Based on a book by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a mental health physician and advocate who created an institutional model for psychiatric hospitals in the 1990sºIn the 19th century, called the Kirkbride Plan, the location and surroundings of such hospitals were critical to their success:

“It is now well known that this type of hospital should always be situated in the country, no less than two miles from any city of any size, and should be easily accessible at any time of the year. If possible, they should be located near freeways or other good roads, or on a railway line. While two or three miles from a town may be stated as a reasonable distance from the first, the facilities afforded by a railroad may indisputably make ten or twelve miles ... The building must be in a healthy, agreeable, and fertile district of the country ...While the hospital itself must be renovated and its privacy fully guaranteed, it is desirable that the hospital's views show life in its active form, and for this reason it is desirable to touch objects at close range" (Kirkbride 7) .

Kirkbride goes on to say that such hospitals require at least 100 acres of land needed for cultivation and gardening, as well as privacy, exercise, work and employment for patients, which "is now recognized as one of the most valuable means of treatment." (Kirkbride 7).

Fortunately, Hathorne Hill met all of these requirements, being the site of a large country farm on a scenic hill, yet close to Salem and Boston, as well as close to railroads and good roads.

Prominent Boston architect Nathaniel J. Bradlee was selected for the design, and building plans were soon drawn up.

Construction of the Gothic edifice of locally sourced Danvers red brick began on May 1, 1874 and took four years at a cost of $1.5 million while much of the country was still recovering from the financial crisis. stress in civil war.

The project, based on Kirkbride's plan, totaled 313,000 square feet and 1,100 feet long and was nicknamed "the castle on the hill" by locals.

It consisted of a central main building which housed the administrative offices, with four wings radiating from both sides of the building, allowing each wing adequate ventilation and views of the surrounding land.

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Plan of the hospital, illustration published in Danvers Lunatic Hospital Annual Report, circa 1886

Kirkbride believed this project would help heal more patients and eliminate "the darkest, saddest, least ventilated parts" of the hospital.

(Video) History Goes Bump Podcast, Ep. 60 - Danvers State Hospital

Over many years, more than 40 buildings and structures were constructed on the property, including a gatehouse in 1876, a patients' cemetery in 1878, Gray Gables in 1898, Grove Hall in 1902, separate buildings for tuberculosis patients in 1906, and a Laundry building 1912, a farm building 1919, a pump house 1921, a plant and vegetable barn 1924, a nursing home 1927, workshops 1904-1932, several houses 1850-1932, a women's nursing home 1930, Farm Hall in 1931, a barn 1951, the Bonner Medical center 1955, the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Colina 1955, a farmer's garage 1955, a water tower 1960, Capela de São Lucas 1964, a new laundry building 1964, as well as an intricate labyrinth of underground tunnels connecting all the buildings.

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Illustration des Danvers State Hospital um 1875

The hospital was to accommodate 450 patients with various mental illnesses. When the first patient was admitted on May 13, 1878, the Danvers Lunatic Hospital, as it was originally called, was a unique facility.

According to the book Weird U.S.

“When it opened [in 1878], Danvers State Hospital was considered a leader in humane treatment. The patients' program included exercise and the creation of elaborate gardens. The patient-run farm produced large crops that kept the asylum kitchen busy. But some difficult patient groups presented problems. A large and unwanted influx of criminals caused unrest, although the building of a hospital for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in 1886 helped stem the tide.

Another difficult group to treat were those suffering from excess and dipsomania — the 19th-century terms for drug abuse, or “the old enemy,” as administrators called it. In addition, mentally retarded patients mingled with the general psychiatric population - it was not until around 1980 that they were moved to their own ward.”

By the early 1880s overcrowding had already become a problem, with the hospital accommodating about 626 patients in 1881 and about 788 patients in 1885, as reported in the 1885 Annual Report of the Trustees of Danvers Lunatic Hospital:

"The number of patients sent here has been very large for some time, and the increase continues to outweigh any relief from relocations.... The overcrowded condition of the hospital was not foreseen in its design or construction.”

Just before the turn of the century, the hospital changed its name to Danvers Insane Hospital.

Danvers State Hospital in the 1920sºCentury:

In 1901 the number of patients rose dramatically to 1,137. The following year, the hospital bought another 100 acres to expand its farm, and in 1903 opened the Middleton Colony, an annex just down the street from the hospital in Middleton, Massachusetts, that housed 300 long-term patients.

In 1909, Danvers Insane Hospital changed its name again to Danvers State Hospital.

In 1926, another 500 beds were added to the hospital, and the following year another 648 beds were added, despite reports of the hospital being overcrowded.

In 1927 Dr. Clarence Bonner became superintendent of the hospital.

During the 1930s, the hospital suffered from severe overcrowding and a lack of funding. The number of patients has grown to over 2,000, while the size of the team has remained relatively the same.

As a result, the quality of care began to deteriorate as the overworked staff struggled to cope with the large number of patients. The patients were soon put in “special clothing”, presumably straight jackets, as a means of control.

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Topographical sketch of the Danvers Mass State Insane Asylum, c.1875

(Video) The Infamous Danvers State Asylum

Annual reports written by the hospital's trustees highlighted the hospital's growing problems, such as this 1939 report:

“In the past year, the problem of overcrowding has become more evident than in previous years. From August there was a sharp increase in hospitalizations of psychotic elderly and for the first time this group surpassed the younger group….

This hospital has been receiving nearly (1,000) admissions per year for the past few years, which is a very heavy burden given the space, staff and attention required by the newly admitted patient. We constantly look forward to the improvement and recovery of the newly admitted patient through all modern treatment methods, but the overcrowding makes this very difficult indeed...

There is a need for a large number of nurses, both male and female, to adequately care for our patients.

The power plant at the powerhouse has long since reached peak efficiency and letters have been sent to the Department of Mental Health reporting the fact that our power plants are aging and could fail at any time...

Particular attention was paid to the problem of destruction by disturbed patients. Significant reductions in destruction have been achieved through better patient segregation, better monitoring by nurses, the use of special clothing, and the use of bed care for nude patients. Occupational therapy and soothing forms of hydrotherapy also contributed to this program..."

The report also states that the hospital's daily population in 1939 was 2,360, an increase from the previous year, and the number of patients who died in the hospital that year totaled 278.

In 1941, The Telegraph newspaper reported that a large fire broke out in one of the barns on the hospital site, causing one of the largest traffic jams in the history of the Newburyport Freeway as an estimated 10,000 people tried to reach the hospital, thinking it was on fire and wanted to watch the fire. Fire damage was estimated at $60,000.

In 1948 the first lobotomy was performed in the hospital and electroshock therapy was introduced in the 1950s.

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Danvers State Hospital, Danvers, Mass, Daten unknown

1954 Dr. Clarence Bonner retired as Superintendent. The Bonn Medical Center was built on the property the following year and was named Bonner in honor of his services to the hospital.

In 1956, chlorpromazine (Thorazine) was introduced to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

By the 1960s, better psychiatric medications, a more enlightened approach to treating mental illness, and the establishment of a statewide system of community health centers had made government hospitals obsolete and unnecessary. Conditions at the hospital deteriorated as government pleas for more funding fell on deaf ears.

In the 1970s the massive building began to deteriorate and collapse due to lack of maintenance, including the tower which had to be removed entirely. Entire wards were closed one by one and patients were transferred to other facilities as the Department of Mental Health began deinstitutionalizing its state hospitals.

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Danvers State Hospital, illustration published in Danvers Lunatic Hospital Annual Report, circa 1886

In 1984 the Kirkbride Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The following year, a nationwide study found that the building "while impressive, is not amenable or capable of cost-effective refurbishment to modern hospital standards".

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The hospital came under investigation in 1987 when its administrator, William Bonnes, was criticized after a patient, Ann Houghton, left the hospital and was found dead just 200 meters from the hospital the next day, having suffered a heart attack, according to news reports. . reports.

Bonnes left his position at the hospital in January 1988 when the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health found evidence of safety vulnerabilities at the hospital as a result of this incident and another incident in which a female patient was raped in the hospital room by a male patient woman. Bathroom.

Why was Danvers State Hospital closed?

In 1989, the Kirkbride building was closed after the remaining patients were moved to Bonner's medical building.

In the fall of 1990, the Massachusetts Mental Health Association issued a working paper proposing that three state hospitals, Danvers, Metropolitan, and Northampton, were prime candidates for closure.

In February 1991, Governor Weld appointed a seventeen-member special committee to study the problem of state-run hospitals, finding that a disproportionate portion of the Department of Mental Health's budget, approximately 47%, was devoted to funding his old state became. Hospitals, although they only served 6% of DMH users (Hogarty 7). The commission conducted inspections at 31 facilities and held 15-hour public hearings on the issue.

In June 1991, Governor Weld accepted the commission's recommendations to close nine mental health facilities and public hospitals over the next three years. The closures were part of the Weld government's goal to privatize services provided by government agencies.

As installed programs for vacancies: Danvers State Hospital, Northampton State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital, Paul A. Dever State School, John T. Berry School, Foxborough Campus of Wrentham State School, Cushing Hospital, Lakeville Hospital and Rutland Heights Hospital.

Under the plan, Danvers State Hospital's remaining patients would be transferred to Tewksbury Hospital, which had about 200 empty beds.

On June 24, 1992, the last patients were transferred to Tewksbury State Hospital and Danvers State Hospital officially closed.

Danvers State Hospital remained abandoned for 13 years as it continued to deteriorate.

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Danvers State Hospital Cemetery, Danvers, Massachusetts in 2013

In 1998, the Danvers State Memorial Committee, a mental health advocacy group composed of former patients at Danvers State Hospital, was formed to identify the names of hundreds of former patients buried anonymously in the cemetery.Danvers State Hospital Cemetery.

In 2002, the committee managed to identify the names of more than three-quarters of the patients buried in the cemetery, installed new headstones with the names of all patients, and erected a memorial for patients whose graves could not be identified.

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Patient Annie Babcock's grave, Danvers State Hospital Cemetery, circa 2013

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(Video) From Numbers to Names: State Hospital Cemetery Restoration

One of the plaques to patients at Danvers State Hospital, Danvers State Hospital Cemetery, Danvers, Mass.

What is Danvers State Hospital now?

In 2005, the hospital was purchased by Avalon Bay Development for $12 million with plans to convert it into an apartment building.

Construction began the following year, during which six of the original eight infirmaries in the Kirkbride building were demolished, as were the nurses' and nurses' houses, the hospital's two chapels, Bonner's medical building, the tuberculosis houses for men and women, the mechanic's workshop, the laundry building, the Gray Gables, the gym and the kitchen.

The two remaining wings and the central building were destroyed, leaving only the facade of the building. The original tower, removed in the 1970s, was rebuilt.

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Danvers State Hospital, Danvers, Mass, December 2013

Construction was seriously delayed in 2007 after a mysterious fire broke out on the property, burning down most of the newly constructed building and some of the site trailers.

Avalon Bay completed construction in 2008 and residents began moving in soon after. Since then, the building management has been plagued by a spate of tenant complaints about the building's poor build quality, according to the Apartment Ratings and Danvers State Insane Asylum websites.

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Former Danvers State Hospital, Danvers, Massachusetts in 2013

In 2014, Avalon Bay sold the building to DSF Group for $108.5 million, which then changed its name to Halstead Danvers and recently back to Bradlee Danvers.

The former Danvers State Hospital is located at 1101 Kirkbride Drive, Danvers, MA 01923.

Danvers State Hospital in movies and books:

Due to its ghostly appearance and gruesome history, the hospital has appeared in numerous films, books, and video games over the years, including the 1958 horror film Home Before Dark, which features interior and exterior shots of the Kirkbride building, and the 2001 horror film Session 9, filmed in the hospital in 2000.

The hospital was also featured in the 2004 video game Painkiller and served as the setting for the book Project 17, a fictional story about a group of teenagers who break into the former hospital.

The Kirkbride building was also credited as the inspiration for the Arkham Sanitarium in H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Thing at the Door.

In addition, several former patients and staff have published memoirs about their time at the hospital, including Nobody's Child, published in 1987 by former patient Marie Balter, who returned to the hospital in 1988 to work as the hospital's spokesperson, and Danvers State: Memoirs of a Nursing Home Nurse published in 2004 by Angelina Szot.

In 2018, Arcadia Publishing published the book Danvers State Hospital as part of its Images of America series.

For more information on historic state hospitals, see this articleabandoned psychiatric hospitals in Massachusetts.

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Kirkbride, Thomas Story.On the construction, organization and general facilities of insane asylums. Philadelphia: 1854.
Third Annual Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Madness, and Charities. Rand, Avery & Co. Printers for the Commonwealth, 1882.
Eighth annual report of the Trustees of Danvers Lunatic Hospital for the year ended September 30, 1885. Wright & Potter Printers, 1886.
Anderson, Katherine and John Duffy.Danvers State Hospital.Arcadia-Verlag, 2018.
Hogarty, Richard A. "Downsizing of the Massachusetts Mental Health System: The Politics of Circumvention."New England Journal of Public Policy, Bd. 12, Issue 1, 23. September 1996, Scholarworks.umb.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1461&context=nejpp
"Open investigation into Bay State Mental Hospitals."The Telegraph, February 1, 1938, news.google.com/newspapers?id=9whAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qaQMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2608%2C4303579
Richard, Rai. "New boss at Danvers Aims High."Boston-Globus, the 14th of March. 1988, www.danversstateinsaneasylum.com/newspaper-articles
Cassie, Chris. "The state promises clean-ups to keep records out of the wrong hands."Salem news, 7.4. 2006, opacity.us/article44_state_vows_clean_sweep_to_keep_records_out_of_wrong_hands.htm
"The manager of a psychiatric hospital got into trouble in the East."Moscou-Pullman, 20. November 1990, news.google.com/newspapers?id=t5MrAAAAIBAJ&sjid=vdAFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6320%2C2763883
"Avoid the panic of the insane."The Telegraph, February 13, 1941, news.google.com/newspapers?id=6oxAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=r6QMAAAAAIBAJ&pg=5528%2C3083941
Bonner, CA and Lois E. Taylor. "A study of accidents in a psychiatric hospital."Das American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 96, Issue 2, September 1939, pages: 283-295, ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/ajp.96.2.283
Korker, Michael. "Gloomy asylums of yesterday, grand apartments of tomorrow."Wall Street Journal, July 27th. 2005, www.wsj.com/articles/SB112242767408496949
Braun, Francisco H.Das New England Medical Registry. Boston: Cupples und Hurd, 1888.
"Cregg investigating mysterious death, Danvers State Hospital."The Telegraph, 28. September 1934, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Ah5AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=oqQMAAAAIBAJ&pg=7167%2C5832183
Jenhouse, Susan. "Massachusetts faces criticism for poor mental health care"New York Times, 21. August 1988, www.nytimes.com/1988/08/21/us/massachuetts-is-under-criticism-for-poor-care-of-the-mentally-ill.html
Historical Collections of the Essex Institute Vol. XLVIII-1912. Essex Institute, 1912.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Annual Report of the Trustees of Danvers State Hospital for the year ended November 20, 1939. Mental Health Department, Danvers State Hospital, 1938
Laidler, John. "Despite the sluggish economy, the Danvers State project is moving forward."Boston.com, Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 10. Juni. 2010,
Roy, Mathew K. "Change on the Top of Hathorne Hill."Salem news, Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company, 5. Januar 2007
„Danvers State Hospital.“opacity, opacity.us/site22_danvers_state_hospital.htm
„Danvers State Hospital.“Danvers Archives Center, Peabody Institute Library, www.danverslibrary.org/archive/?page_id=1096
"Danvers State Hospital." Kirkbride Building, www.kirkbridebuildings.com/buildings/danvers/
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History of Essex County, Massachusetts; part 1. JW Lewis and Company, 1888
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What is the story of Danvers State Hospital? ›

It was built in 1874, and opened in 1878, under the supervision of prominent Boston architect Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee, on an isolated site in rural Massachusetts. It was a multi-acre, self-contained psychiatric hospital designed and built according to the Kirkbride Plan.

What is the history of Danvers Massachusetts? ›

In 1752, the town was named for settler Danvers Osborn. The historical event for which Danvers is best-known is the Salem witch trials of 1692. Resident Rebecca Nurse was convicted in a trial for witchcraft. The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is still standing in Danvers, and can be visited as a historical landmark.

What was the famous mental hospital in Massachusetts? ›

McLean Hospital was first known as the “Asylum for the Insane,” a division of the Massachusetts General Hospital. The Asylum opened on Oct. 1, 1818, and admitted its first patient on Oct.

What was the old mental hospital in Danvers? ›

Danvers State Hospital was a psychiatric hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts, USA and opened in 1878 at a cost of $1.5 million. Danvers had previously been called Salem Village and was the site of the famous Salem Witch Trials of 1690, the name having been changed to distance itself from the events of the past.

What is Danvers Massachusetts known for? ›

Today, Danvers is best-known for its connection to the witchcraft trials, the Danvers State Hospital, a psychiatric institution which opened in 1878 and closed in 1994, and a large shopping district with the Liberty Tree Mall as its centerpiece.

What is Arkham Asylum based off of? ›

Inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, and in particular his fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts, the asylum was introduced by Dennis O'Neil and Irv Novick and first appeared in Batman #258 (October 1974); much of its back-story was created by Len Wein during the 1980s.


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