In the shadows of the bustling cities and quiet towns across the United States lie the forgotten remnants of a past era: abandoned hospitals and asylums. These once-thriving institutions, now standing in varying states of decay and desolation, evoke a deep sense of mystery and intrigue.
In this article, we embark on a journey through the silent halls and empty wards of these historic buildings, each with its own story to tell. From the grand architecture of early 20th-century asylums to the more austere structures of mid-century hospitals, these abandoned places offer a unique glimpse into the evolving landscape of mental health care and medical treatment in America.
These deserted hospitals and asylums, scattered across the country, stand as poignant reminders of the challenges and changes in treating mental health and illness. Join us as we explore the eerie beauty and historical significance of these once-bustling institutions, now silent witnesses to a chapter of history that continues to fascinate and haunt the American consciousness.
Danvers State Hospital, Massachusetts
Danvers State Hospital is an iconic location in the history of psychiatric care in the United States. It opened in 1878 in Danvers, Massachusetts, and was originally known as the Danvers State Lunatic Asylum. It was built to provide residential treatment and care to the mentally ill.
Over the years, it gained notoriety for overcrowding, inhumane conditions, and controversial treatments, reflective of the broader history of mental health care in the 19th and 20th centuries. The hospital was initially built to cater to 500 patients. However, by the late 1930s, admissions had exceeded 2,000, and overcrowding became a serious problem.
The hospital was officially closed in 1992 and partially demolished in 2006, with a portion of the original Kirkbride building incorporated into modern apartments. However, its legacy endures, inspiring numerous books, documentaries, and the horror movie “Session 9,” cementing its place in both cultural and psychiatric history.
It was a testament to the progressive Kirkbride Plan, an architectural style meant to promote patient recovery through natural light and air circulation. The hospital’s sprawling, gothic structure and its intricate network of underground tunnels and deteriorating buildings made it a subject of both fascination and eerie legends.
Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, New Jersey
The Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey, originally known as the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, is a historic institution with a complex and often somber history. Founded in 1848 by mental health reformer Dorothea Lynde Dix, it was one of the first public mental health facilities in the United States and was initially lauded for its humane approach to patient care.
The hospital was also built based on the Kirkbride Plan, emphasizing a curative environment with ample light and air. However, its legacy was stained by the controversial occupancy of Dr. Henry Cotton in the early 20th century, who practiced radical and often harmful treatments on patients. He insisted on removing parts of people’s bodies, such as tonsils, teeth, and other organs, in order to treat their mental illnesses.
Though much of the original building was demolished, some structures remain and stand as haunting reminders of the past. The hospital, while still partially operational, has several abandoned sections that attract urban explorers and historians, drawn by its architectural significance and the stories of those who once resided there. Trenton Psychiatric Hospital’s history mirrors the broader evolution of mental health treatment in America, from groundbreaking care to dark periods of medical experimentation.
Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Pennsylvania
Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania, also known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, stands as a stark reminder of a darker period in the treatment of individuals with disabilities.
Opened in 1908 in Spring City, it was initially established to care for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. However, as the years progressed, Pennhurst became notorious for overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and widespread abuse and neglect of its residents, a situation tragically common in such institutions during the 20th century.
The landmark lawsuit, Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital, in 1977 exposed the inhumane conditions and led to significant reforms in the care of people with disabilities. The facility was ultimately closed in 1987 following increasing public outcry and legal challenges.
Today, the abandoned complex, with its decaying buildings and chilling atmosphere, serves as a powerful symbol of the need for reform in the care of the most vulnerable and as a site for historical reflection, paranormal investigations, and educational tours emphasizing the importance of human rights in healthcare.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, perched atop a hill in Louisville, Kentucky, is an imposing structure with a history as haunting as its appearance. Established in 1910, it was originally designed as a two-story hospital to combat the tuberculosis epidemic, which was ravaging the area at the time. As the disease spread, the sanatorium expanded to accommodate the increasing number of patients, eventually becoming one of the major tuberculosis treatment centers in the United States.
The sanatorium is infamous for the “death tunnel” or “body chute,” a passageway used to discreetly transport the deceased away from the hospital to minimize patient morale impact. Waverly Hills ceased operations as a tuberculosis hospital in 1961 following the advent of an effective antibiotic treatment for the disease. It briefly served as a geriatric facility before being abandoned in the early 1980s.
Today, Waverly Hills is renowned for its paranormal activity, attracting ghost hunters and thrill-seekers from around the world, making it one of the most famous abandoned sites in the country. Its tragic past and eerie ambiance are a testament to the devastating impact of tuberculosis and the era’s medical practices.
Athens Lunatic Asylum, Ohio
The Athens Lunatic Asylum in Ohio, later known as The Ridges, is a historic institution whose past encapsulates the complex history of mental health care in the United States. Opened in 1874, it was originally intended as a facility for treating and rehabilitating individuals with mental illnesses, utilizing the then-progressive Kirkbride Plan for its design to promote healing through a serene environment.
Over the years, however, the asylum became notorious for overcrowding, deplorable conditions, and controversial treatments, including lobotomies and electroshock therapy. One of the most haunting aspects of its history is the story of patient Margaret Schilling, whose mysterious death and its aftermath left an indelible mark on the asylum’s lore. She disappeared on December 1, 1978, and was not found until about six weeks later, on January 2, 1979. Her body was discovered in an abandoned ward, a section of the hospital that had been closed for some time. This tragic incident has contributed to the eerie lore surrounding the Athens Lunatic Asylum, with numerous urban legends and ghost stories emerging over the years.
The facility closed in 1993 following changes in mental health treatment and the deinstitutionalization movement. Today, the sprawling, Gothic-style buildings and the surrounding grounds, which include a cemetery where many unmarked graves of patients are found, have become a site of intrigue and ghost stories. The Ridges is a poignant reminder of the evolution of psychiatric care and the enduring need for humane and effective mental health treatment.
Glenn Dale Hospital, Maryland
Glenn Dale Hospital, located in Maryland, is an abandoned facility with a history steeped in both hope and sorrow. Established in the 1930s as a sanatorium to treat patients with tuberculosis, the hospital was designed to be self-sufficient, with a farm, a power plant, and staff housing on its sprawling 216-acre campus. The facility consisted of two main buildings, one for adults and the other for children, and was built to accommodate up to 450 patients.
Glenn Dale was a place of isolation intended to keep tuberculosis patients away from the general public, as the disease was highly contagious and a leading cause of death at the time. However, with the advent of effective antibiotic treatments in the 1950s, the need for such sanatoriums waned, leading to Glenn Dale’s closure in 1981.
Today, the hospital buildings stand derelict, a haunting reminder of the past. Their dilapidated state, combined with overgrown vegetation, has made Glenn Dale a subject of urban exploration and local legend. The hospital’s decaying structures are a poignant symbol of the changing approaches to medical treatment and the enduring legacy of healthcare history.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, formerly known as the Weston State Hospital, is a historic and monumental structure located in Weston, West Virginia. Constructed between 1858 and 1881, it is one of the biggest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the United States and is an exemplar of the Kirkbride Plan, an architectural style used for mental institutions in the 19th century.
Originally designed to house 250 patients, the asylum quickly became overcrowded and, at its peak, held over 2,400 patients, leading to deteriorating conditions and treatment. The hospital was intended as a self-sustaining facility with its own farm, waterworks, and cemetery. Throughout its history, it witnessed various treatments for mental illness, some of which are now considered inhumane.
The asylum was closed in 1994 due to changes in the handling of mental illness and the deinstitutionalization movement. Today, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a National Historic Landmark and has become a site of historical tours, paranormal investigations, and educational events, offering a glimpse into the history of psychiatric care and the evolution of mental health treatments.
Byberry Mental Hospital, Pennsylvania
Byberry Mental Hospital, officially known as the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, holds a notorious place in the history of psychiatric care in the United States. Located in the northeast region of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the hospital opened in 1907 and expanded rapidly to become a large complex with over fifty buildings by the mid-20th century.
Originally intended as a compassionate facility for the treatment of mental illness, Byberry became infamous for its deplorable conditions, chronic overcrowding, and inhumane treatment of patients, which were brought to public attention through a series of exposés in the 1940s. The photographs taken by army photographer Charlie Lord, which were published in ‘Life’ magazine, revealed shocking scenes of neglect and abuse, prompting widespread outrage and reforms in mental health care.
Despite efforts to improve conditions, the hospital continued to face criticism and allegations of patient mistreatment. Byberry was eventually closed in 1990 following the nationwide movement towards deinstitutionalization. Today, the abandoned site, with its decaying structures and overgrown grounds, stands as a haunting reminder of the dark history of psychiatric institutions and the evolution of mental health treatment practices.
The abandoned hospitals and asylums scattered across the United States serve as poignant relics of a bygone era in mental health and medical care. These structures, once bustling with activity and life, now stand in silent testimony to the evolving understanding and treatment of mental illness and disease. They remind us of the past’s harsh realities and the strides made toward more humane and effective care.
While these decaying buildings often evoke a sense of melancholy and mystery, they also hold significant historical and architectural value, offering a window into a complex and crucial part of our healthcare history. As these sites continue to captivate the public imagination, they underscore the importance of remembering and learning from the lessons of the past.