Seaside Sanatorium – Nurse’s Residence // 1935

Next to the Maher Building at Seaside Sanatorium, the Nurse’s Residence building (1935) sits in the same sad state but retains a lot of its architectural character and charm. The Nurse’s Residence was built for… you guessed it, housing for the nurses who worked at the Seaside Sanatorium and treated the young children with Tuberculosis. Like the main building, this structure was designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert in the Tudor Revival style. In designing the buildings, Gilbert met the requirements of the sanatorium to have a self-contained hospital for the children and a large separate dormitory for the nursing staff, but adapted an essentially domestic architectural
style to de-institutionalize their appearance through the use of applied, decorative detail and an extraordinary wealth of materials. The Nurse’s Residence is constructed of brick and is capped with a polychrome slate roof which is lined by 15 dormers on each slope, alternating in size. The end gables, which are similar to those of the main building and in surprisingly decent condition given the circumstances, are covered with decorative tile and add a punch of architectural intrigue. Oh too see these buildings restored one day…

Seaside Sanatorium – Maher Building // 1933

One of the most entrancing and clearly haunted places in Connecticut is the Seaside Sanatorium on the coast of Waterford, CT. It’s founding dates back to the early 1900s, when tuberculosis killed 252 of every 100,000 people living in the state, making it the leading killer in the state early in the century. When Connecticut Tuberculosis Commission members, including Chairman Dr. Stephen J. Maher, a New Haven physician, began hearing of success in Europe with exposure not only to ocean air, but to strong sunlight, they began pushing for a new location in Connecticut to treat children with tuberculosis. The first Seaside was established in Niantic in 1918, which was outgrown, and a newer, modern facility on the coast was needed. The State found a site on the coast of Waterford and hired world-renowned architect Cass Gilbert to design the complex in the Tudor Revival style, a departure from the Colonial or Classic Revival styles favored at the time for such projects. When the facility opened, children would spend as much time as possible exposed to the sun’s rays as part of their treatment here. They played sports, took lessons, ate, read, and played music outside year-round, either on the beach, the lawns, or the three levels of south-facing porches. By the early to mid-1950s, tuberculosis became curable with antibiotics that required limited bed rest and could be given in a regular hospital setting. After its use as a TB facility ceased, the state re-opened Seaside as a hospital for people with mental illness, which too closed in the 1990s. The massive campus has sat vacant since, rotting away as a State Park. Apparently the State has been looking for a developer to revitalize the campus as a hotel or other use, but sadly, nothing has materialized.

Detail at one end.

Danvers Lunatic Asylum // 1874

One of my favorite buildings in Massachusetts has to be the Kirkbride Building at the former Danvers Lunatic Asylum. After the American Civil War, the need for an additional psychiatric hospital for the Boston area was critical, as others in the state and region were already at capacity. A site called Hawthorne Hill in Danvers was chosen for the new hospital; the scenic vistas, fresh air, and acres of farm land to work were part of the therapeutic treatments thought to have cured insanity. Stakeholders of the new hospital hired Nathaniel Bradlee, a Boston architect to design the Victorian Gothic main building and some later outbuildings. Bradlee employed the Kirkbride Plan, a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809–1883) in the mid-19th century, which advocated for air circulation and natural light, through the use of elongated buildings.

Opened in 1878, the extravagant asylum drew some criticism from the working class residents of Danvers living in its shadow during the first years of operation, wondering why the “insane” were given such grand treatment. Patients were given ample space and could even farm on the grounds. As the asylum grew, the importance for new buildings were paramount. A series of underground tunnels connected many structures to allow the facility to fully function during the cold winter months.

Asylum formal garden, maintained by patients ca. 1880. Courtesy of Frank Cousins Collection.

The downfall of the Hospital began in the 20th century when the crowded hospital paired with lack of funding. By the 1930s, the number of patients grew to over 2,000 while the size of the staff remained relatively the same.As a result, the quality of care began to deteriorate as the overwhelmed staff struggled to control the massive number of patients. Patients were soon subjected to “special garments,” presumably straitjackets, as a means of control. In 1948, the first lobotomy was performed at the hospital and in the 1950s electric shock therapy was introduced. By the 1960s, state hospitals had become outdated and unnecessary due to better psychiatric medications, a more enlightened approach to treating mental illness and the establishment of a statewide system of community health centers.

The main tower was removed from the Kirkbride Building in the 1970s due to lack of funding. The hospital eventually closed in 1989 after a series of security concerns and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to entirely cut funding to the “outdated” facility. The former asylum sat shuttered high on the hill for decades until it was converted to apartments, with most outbuildings being demolished as part of the redevelopment. Now you can (willingly) live at a former insane asylum. Any takers?

2006 Image of Kirkbride Building during controlled demolition. Photo courtesy of Maurice Ribble (Flickr).