The Danvers State Hospital, also known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, The Danvers Lunatic Asylum, and The Danvers State Insane Asylum, was a psychiatric hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts. Hathorne Hill, where the Salem Witch Trials judge John Hathorne once lived, was chosen for the site of the new hospital and sold to the state for $39,542. Construction began in 1874, under the supervision of prominent Boston architect Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee and cost $1.5 million (around $38 million when adjusted for inflation.) It was designed and built according to the Kirkbride Plan, which had a “batwing” style floor plan, with wings sprawling outward from a center building. The most hostile patients were kept in the outermost wards, and would work their way towards the inner ones and eventually be released.
The hospital opened in 1878, and was built to house 500 patients. They added more buildings over time, and by the late 1930s, it was extremely overcrowded with over 2,000 patients. Because of the overcrowding, some patients had to be held in the basement. Danvers, like many other state hospitals, was a semi self-sufficient complex. The buildings were all connected by tunnels in case of inclement weather, had a farm to grow some of their own food, and got their power from a steam/power plant at the bottom of the hill. The first lobotomy was performed at the hospital in 1948 and electric shock therapy was introduced in the 1950s.
By the 1960s, alternative methods of treatment for the mentally ill in independent community centers paired with antipsychotic medication, like Chlorpromazine (Thorazine), had come into favor and the inpatient population declined. The decline in patient population and massive budget cuts caused Danvers to start closing wards in 1969. In 1989, The Kirkbride building closed, with only the auditorium and kitchen remaining in use. They moved the Patients to the Bonner Medical Building, which was located across from the Kirkbride.
In 1991, Governor William Weld appointed a commission to investigate the state hospitals. It had been found that almost half of the Department of Mental Health’s budget went to the state hospitals despite the fact that they served only 6% of the state’s mentally ill. The commission recommended that the state close nine mental health facilities over the next three years. Danvers State Hospital was closed on June 24, 1992. The remaining patients were transferred to Tewksbury State Hospital.
However, the buildings were not empty for long. Thrillseekers explored the “Hospital on the Hill” and in 1999 it was used as the location for a film called “Session 9” directed by Brad Anderson and starring David Caruso and Josh Lucas. The complex had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, but that did not save most of the buildings from being demolished. In 2006, AvalonBay Communities, a real estate investment company, purchased the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. AvalonBay demolished most of the buildings and built a condo complex. They only saved the facade of the admin section and the first wards on each side.
Matt Lambros MA Danvers Jun 16, 2022 Abandoned Places Architecture History