What a beautiful Spring day! So why on earth would I be out wandering the grounds of an abandoned insane asylum?!
There were much worse places than Medfield State Hospital.
Medfield State Hospital was the very first "cottage plan" (insane) asylum, here in the States anyway, which, I suppose, was quite altruistic in its intent. Rather than treating the mentally ill in large intimidating Kirkbride Institutions, the Cottage Plan included small residential treatment centers in a generally remote, isolated, peaceful, village like environment.
The quintessential mental institution in the gentle rolling hills is basically the model Cottage Plan asylum.
Ok. So why am I out wandering around an abandoned asylum?
I read online this week that the Clark Building is coming down.
Being the closest building to the street, with its fortified (block house?) appearance and the guard towers, to us local people the Clark Building is the hospital. And yes we thought it was pretty scary.
It was basically the state hospital admission center. Built in the late 1950s (1958?) its architectural style is wildly different from almost every other building on the property. On the one hand, it's a very ugly building. On the other hand, it is the very embodiment of a public building in the 50s. It is to the 1950s what Greek Revival is to the 1820s.
I wanted to be an architect. I did a paper on Greek Revival architecture. It's the signature style of an era.
Well anyway. It saddens me to see the Clark Building being prepared for demolition. The entire site is on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the buildings except for the Clark Building require some procedures with the Massachusetts Historical Commission to alter. All of these sites have been a nightmare for the local communities. It sometimes takes decades to negotiate the purchase and rights to the properties. And then most of these buildings are loaded with asbestos and lead paint and costs millions to clean up. Not to mention the politics. The State won't sell the property to the community until the community changes the zoning laws. The community won't change the zoning laws until the State sells them the property. The impasse goes on for years. And years. And years.
But even so I'm all for their historic preservation. Intact.
This has to be about the ugliest building I've ever seen. It's hard to determine its architectural "style". Brutalist? Post Modern? The sign says "Vocational Services". The map says "Canteen". Looking in the window it looks a lot like a cafeteria. The loading dock has a prominent "Kitchen" stenciled on a door.
The site has some historical significance and the buildings are (almost) all perfect jewels of Victorian architecture.
That's all hardened chain link around the porches. I'm pretty sure it's not there to keep out trespassers.
In spite of its relatively small scale buildings and all good intentions it's definitely a creepy place. There are lots of reasons to be uncomfortable here. All kinds of things I hardly care to think about. But the fact remains it's a an architectural and historical jewel.
Lest one think this place is a fountain of compassion there's a cemetery nearby. With well over 800 graves of the poor unfortunates that came here and died. With small numbered stones marking their graves. Nothing more than a practical matter to the State and a sad footnote to any good intentions.
Update 6 April 2012: Here's a moving article about adding named markers in the Medfield State Hospital cemetery.
I went here because they're going to tear down the Clark Building. And to a a large extent these places are all gone. And I think we really should remember them.
There's an agreement to replace any existing structurally unsound buildings with building(s) that meet the same specs as the existing building(s). Agreements with whom? Oh, I don't know. But I really don't buy that.