Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Very Last Patient to be Discharged - Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital

The Very Last Patient to be Discharged - Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital

Much controversy surrounds the impending demolition of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital on the border of Parsippany and Morris Plains, New Jersey. Once the largest poured-concrete structure in the United States, it may soon be time for this massive hospital building to be relieved of its duties and return from whence it came - but not without a fight.

In the 1870s, New Jersey had only one mental hospital, then called "lunatic asylums." The first, The New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, as it was called, was established in 1848 by Dorothea Dix, who advocated for new treatment. By the mid-1870s, the facility, designed to house no more than 500 had reached a population of over 700. In order to address the overcrowding issue, the State began surveying properties throughout New Jersey and settled on a 400 acre property in Hanover Township (now Morris Plains), near Morristown on August 29, 1871. The State Lunatic Asylum for the Insane at Morristown opened its doors to receive its first 342 patients in 1877.

Both the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum and the State Lunatic Asylum at Morristown were built using the Kirkbride Plan, a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-nineteenth century. Kirkbride developed his requirements for asylums based on a philosophy of Moral Treatment. The typical floor plan, with long rambling wings arranged en echelon (staggered, so each connected wing received sunlight and fresh air), was meant to promote privacy and comfort for patients. The building form itself was meant to have a curative effect: "a special apparatus for the care of lunacy, [whose grounds should be] highly improved and tastefully ornamented." The idea of institutionalization was thus central to Kirkbride's plan for effectively treating patients with mental illnesses. The asylums tended to be large, imposing, Victorian-era institutional buildings within extensive surrounding grounds, which often included farmland, sometimes worked by patients as part of physical exercise and therapy.

The State Asylum for the Insane at Morristown, circa late 1870s.
The building at Morristown was no exception. Designed by architect Samuel Sloan, the main building was constructed in the Second Empire Baroque style, featuring a large central administration tower and a total of forty wards split into two wings, one for men and one for women. Multiple cupolas and a mansard roof complimented the building, but were later removed during renovations. When construction was completed in 1876, it was the largest poured-concrete building in the United States. That distinction remained until the Pentagon was constructed in 1941. Almost fire-proof in nature, the exterior stone on the building is gneiss, quarried on-site, with interior and lining walls of brick also made on-site. The ceilings were iron beams with brick vaults between them. Construction of the main building reached $2,500,000. A large chapel was located on the third floor in the center of the complex, due to a belief that religion was at the center of an improved life. As part of the landscape plan, which was not completed until 1895, a broad central avenue lined with trees led visitors up the hill to the main building entrance, emphasizing the building and making it appear more imposing than it already was.

In 1875, Dr. Horace Buttolph was named the first Superintendent of the facility and two years later in 1877, Greystone opened its doors to the first 342 patients. The facility quickly filled. Originally, the administration building was five stories tall and the wards on either side were threes stories tall plus an attic. In order to accommodate the influx of patients, the mansard roof was raised for the addition of a full fourth floor in 1881.

On March 11, 1893 the State Legislature approved a name change for the hospital from "The State Asylum for the Insane at Morristown" to "The New Jersey State Hospital at Morris Plains." To address overcrowding, a new dormitory building was built in 1901, barely making a dent in the overpopulation problem. In 1914, an industrial building opened on the campus, allowing male patients to make brooms, rugs, brushes, carpets, and do printing and bookmaking. The final name change for the site occurred in 1924 when it was renamed Greystone Park Psychiatric Center. By this time, the site totaled over 1,273 acres.

Additional dormitories were added in 1917. As the facility's needs and services increased, additional support buildings were constructed, including a tuberculosis pavilion, firehouse, additional spaces for staff, two cottages, a medical clinic building, and a large reception building.

A fire broke out in the main building on November 26, 1930. It is believed to have originated from faulty electrical wiring on the sixth floor of the center section. The fourth floor north wards were destroyed as well as the central tower. Once rebuilt, the fourth floor mansard roof and cupolas in the north wards were removed and did not match rest of the hospital in construction and style again. Eventually, all the cupolas and mansard roof were removed from the remainder of the building.

Patient numbers peaked in 1953 with 7,674 patients packed into spaces designed for significantly fewer. The increase in population has been attributed to the end of World War II and soldiers requiring treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Greystone's most notable patient was folk singer Woody Guthrie. In 1956, Guthrie was picked up in Morristown for vagrancy and sent to Greystone. There, he was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia but later diagnosed with Huntington's Disease. He stayed in "Wardy Fourty" as he referred to it, also known as Ward 40 in the main building. During his stay at what he called "Gravestone," he received visitors including Pete Seeger and a young Bob Dylan. Guthrie was transferred to a New York hospital in 1961.

The 1970s saw many changes regarding the treatment of mental illness and population began decreasing during this deinstitutionalization movement. As a result of this, some of the support buildings closed. By 1988, all patients were moved out of the main building, which was then only used for administrative purposes. As time wore on, unused and abandoned buildings such as the Chest Building, Morgue, employee dorms, and cottages demolished in 1997. By 2000, Greystone was ordered to close by Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

No Trespassing.
In 2003, Morris County finalized plans to purchase about 300 acres (1.2 km2) of the Greystone property from the state for $1.00. The purchase included many of the vacant, dilapidated buildings, which were later demolished. They were replaced with athletic fields and open space as part of Morris County's new Central Park.

In October 2007, the remaining property, including the historic Kirkbride building, was turned over to the state's treasurer as excess property. On July 16, 2008 the remaining patients were transferred to a new 450-bed state-of-the-art facility behind the original complex. In the summer of 2008 a number of surrounding vacant buildings were demolished.

The State of New Jersey solicited redevelopment proposals in late 2013. Six were submitted for review, including two that claimed to have full funding for the project. Without much discussion, the proposals were ignored and plans were announced in early 2014 that main Kirkbride building and all the remaining structures would be demolished and the property turned over to Morris County as open space.

Former fire department building at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital site.
Despite a public awareness campaign from Preserve Greystone and local residents, the State remains firm in their decision. However, just because something is old, outdated, and deteriorated does not mean that it does not have life left in it. This massive structure may pose challenges, including asbestos, but that must be removed regardless of rehabilitation or demolition. Additionally, all of this locally made construction debris must be returned to the earth, inundating a landfill with unnecessary materials. The greenest building is already standing and through prudent planning and adaptation, this Kirkbride building can once again be viable under private ownership.

Other Kirkbride buildings throughout the United States have been saved and adapted under public-private, public, and private ownership:

In Weston, West Virginia, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, also known as the Weston State Hospital, was a Kirkbride that operated from 1864 until 1994. The hospital was auctioned by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources on August 29, 2007. Joe Jordan, an asbestos demolition contractor, was the high bidder and paid $1.5 million for the 242,000-square-foot building. Since purchasing the property, its new owners have transformed the site into a local tourist attraction. Using a combination of ghost tours, concerts, and festivals, in addition to government grants, private donations, and a team of dedicated local volunteers, they are committed to restoring the complex to its former grandeur, reviving the local economy and preserving an important piece of American history.

Weston State Hospital (Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum), 2006.
In Buffalo, New York, the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, in concert with the famed landscape team of Frederic Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, was built between 1872 and 1880. In 2006, then-Governor George Pataki identified a state appropriation and appointed the Richardson Center Corporation Board of Directors to save this architectural treasure. Today the site, now called the Richardson Olmsted Complex, is being transformed into a vibrant new hub of activity. The first phase of renewal consists of development of the site as a hotel, conference and event center, and architecture center.When complete in 2016, they will play a vital role in Western New York’s growing cultural tourism industry.

Just as time and loneliness wore away at patient's souls, Greystone has slowly been stripped of its character, with nothing left to show for itself but peeling paint, broken windows, and leaky roofs. Once grand, the site has been neglected for too long and will unfortunately be discharged when it meets the wrecking ball at the end of a long stay. Its stone walls will return to the earth from which it was mined, fading away from memory, to be forgotten by the annals of time...

Additional photos of my trip to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital on Pinterest

For More Information
Preserve Greystone
Kirkbride Buildings - Historic Insane Asylums
Woody Guthrie's "Wardy Forty"

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Really a great story. So sad that something with such a significant background will be destroyed. And to this, they give the name "progress". I beg to differ!

Remarkable piece; remarkable insights; remarkable writing, especially the summation:

Just as time and loneliness wore away at patient's souls, Greystone has slowly been stripped of its character, with nothing left to show for itself but peeling paint, broken windows, and leaky roofs. Once grand, the site has been neglected for too long and will unfortunately be discharged when it meets the wrecking ball at the end of a long stay. Its stone walls will return to the earth from which it was mined, fading away from memory, to be forgotten by the annals of time...

I lived in Morris Township, and my family were involved somewhat in Greystone's denouement.

Kudos to you, history girl.

Stanton Peele

Great information. You really did a lot of homework.

Great job. Great story. A sad end to a beautiful and haunting giant.

Ridiculous to destroy a building with so much history yet understandable we need to move forward with the future. This story will no doubt serve as a reminder of the great Greystone

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