I'm Mental For Kirkbride
December 29, 2005 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Kirkbride Buildings. Once state-of-the-art mental healthcare facilities, Kirkbride buildings have long been relics of an obsolete therapeutic method known as Moral Treatment. These massive structures were conceived as ideal sanctuaries for the mentally ill in the latter half of the nineteenth century. AKA:The Kirkbride Plan. [more stuff inside]
posted by KevinSkomsvold (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In 1979, I spent seven months hospitalized at the last known Kirkbride in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. For the first two months, when I was able to leave my room, this was all I got to see. It was a fascinating structure that, even as a 16 year old, intriqued me. These photos bring back some good and bad memories.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:03 AM on December 29, 2005

I live and work just down the street from the old Traverse City State Hospital. It's quite a remarkable sight. Unfortunately, the main building was demolished some years ago and a bland 60s-era office was put in its place. The rest of it still stands. Thankfully, a group is working on restoring the grounds for a residence/office community.
(Off topic- I'm a long time lurker and first time poster. Seeing this topic made me take the plunge and sign up!)
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2005

I stumbled upon the Northampton State Hospital while wandering around the woods near Smith College when I was a teenager. Since the site says it closed in 1993, I'm guessing that was about 1995. Only two years abandoned, and it was already spooky.
posted by Uccellina at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2005

Maybe I'm missing it somewhere, but wasn't Trenton State Hospital the first Kirkbride building? I used to live on the grounds of that institution as a small child (my father was a psychiatrist on staff) and I think the experience gave me a high creep-out threshold for life. The beautiful old building was the locus of what was basically a small town of extremely mentally ill people forgotten by their families. Unfortunately it was pretty much a decaying snake pit by that point.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 10:33 AM on December 29, 2005

I spent a lot of time wandering around the Northampton State Hospital. It was recently abandoned and incredibly creepy inside and out.

Several years later I was there when a woman put together a memorial weekend for the former residents and doctors. Many of the residents had lived almost their entire lives in the hospital until it was closed and were not shy about saying that they considered it their home and the closing of it a tragedy. The weekend was capped by a performance of a recording of Bach's Magnificat blared through speakers that had been arranged inside the abandoned building. It was quite moving, this crumbling hulk and the beautiful music playing from inside it, the people crying in the crowd.

Nice post, thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2005

I live really close to the Buffalo State Hospital. In fact, when I went to dinner Monday we parked right next to it! (well, right next to an eight foot iron fence at the perimiter of the property).

For many years it was something of a college right of passage to sneak in.

They keep talking about plans for it... everything from selling it to the neighboring state college for conversion into dorms to turning it into luxury condos. Unfortunately the city barely has money to keep police and firemen employed, so any plans will have to come from the private sector, or wait.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:35 AM on December 29, 2005

kalamazoo state hospital was one of those buildings ... it was regionally known as "third hill" ... as in "they took him/her to third hill" ... (never have figured out where the first and second hills are, although there's plenty around)

most of it is gone now, but the tower still stands
posted by pyramid termite at 10:51 AM on December 29, 2005

Yeah, the one in Athens was locally just referred to as "The Hill." I had no idea that similar buildings existed on hills throughout the country. The rumor in Athens was that the real life "Sybil" was a famous resident there. None of my Googling can turn up any evidence of this, although I did amazingly find out that she taught art at my alma mater in 1969/1970.
posted by Otis at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2005

I've driven past the Northampton building many times, and I'm always struck by its Victorian beauty. Does anyone know whether there are any plans to renovate the building and do something with it?
posted by alms at 11:07 AM on December 29, 2005

Holy crap! I didn't even see this photo. This was where we were housed for our schooling. I haven't seen that place in over 20 years. Wow.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:29 AM on December 29, 2005

what was the actual regime of care like there kevin?
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:30 AM on December 29, 2005

alms, I believe every plan to renovate the hospital has fallen through, and it is slated for demolition, after which I'd expect Smith College to erect some new stuff, which will pale in comparison to the beauty that was the hospital.

I grew up near the hospital, and while it was officially closed in the early 90s, it closed much of it's services years before that. I remember the effect it had on downtown, as former patients (at least the least dangerous ones) were essentially left to wander the town, with a stipend to pay their rents, making them a semi-permanent fixture in town.
posted by Busithoth at 11:31 AM on December 29, 2005

Busithoth: "I grew up near the hospital, and while it was officially closed in the early 90s, it closed much of it's services years before that. I remember the effect it had on downtown, as former patients (at least the least dangerous ones) were essentially left to wander the town, with a stipend to pay their rents, making them a semi-permanent fixture in town."

It's funny, isn't it. Today, when we hear nothing but gripes about the costs of supporting the weakest and most vulnerable among us, we'd never dream of spending the kind of money that it must take to create and staff a building like this, and yet in the Victorian era, a period renowned for its cruelty and lack of humanity towards the poor, civic buildings like this were common place -- even those aimed at housing our social outcasts.

It's a conundrum that I can never figure out. Perhaps it has something to do with the relative costs of building materials and labour in the two periods. Alternatively, perhaps such buildings were part of the spoils of imperialism (for us here in the UK at least.)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:42 AM on December 29, 2005

Session 9 was filmed at Danvers State Hospital, and made incredible use of the atmosphere.
posted by candyland at 11:52 AM on December 29, 2005

I wonder if Dean Motter was aware of these when he created his super-stylish, retro-futuristic Mister X comics, set in a huge metropolis designed by the architecture of "psychetecture" to be a utopia and have a wonderful effect on its inhabitants, but gone terribly awry and driving all its citizens mad.
posted by Shane at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2005

shane, I freaking loved Mister X.

and I wholeheartedly believe that architects are destroying society, intentionally or no.
posted by Busithoth at 11:56 AM on December 29, 2005

what was the actual regime of care like there kevin?

As I recall, it was quite incredible. Being a drug addict and all, it was my first taste of structure and at the time, I needed it. Three hots and a cot along with a structured therapy program based on transactional analysis, saved my life. The State of Minnesota was in a very giving mood and the level of care there, was top notch. We never went without anything and the staff were the best.

Being with 22 other kids my age, we were all sort of freaked out by it. We all ate in the same huge cafeteria with people who society forgot about. There was Eugene, the dishwasher who had been in the hospital, at that time, for 15 years and was the last patient to receive a lobotomy there. He would show off his scar to anyone who wanted to see it. He also had episodes where his anger would explode and he'd argue with inamimate objects (cups, forks, a dishwasher tub). If I remember correctly, he was still receiving shock therapy.

There were also other assorted characters who we came to know over time. I think had it not been for that experience, I'd still carry a lot of the same sterotypes about mental illness. Despite my age and initial freakout period, we did learn understanding and tolerance.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:10 PM on December 29, 2005

I'm glad it worked for you Kevin :)
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2005

candyland, thanks for that factoid. Session 9 was the first thing I thought of once I'd seen a few of the linked pix. I was disappointed in the movie when I saw it, and now I realize that it wasn't really the movie's creators who developed the creepy atmosphere, which was the one main thing (besides the basic idea of the movie) that I had liked about it!
posted by kimota at 12:55 PM on December 29, 2005

I recently saw this movie: Fingersmith, in which institutionalization figures, and it was a horror (Victorian England). I bet these buildings and programs really were better for patients, given the previously existing conditions.
posted by amberglow at 4:54 PM on December 29, 2005

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