Northampton State Hospital

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Northampton State Hospital
Northampton State Hospital
Established 1855
Construction Began 1856
Opened 1858
Closed 1993
Demolished 2007
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Jonathan Preston
Location Northampton, MA
Architecture Style Italianate, Gothic Revival
Peak Patient Population 2,500 est
Alternate Names
  • Northampton Insane Hospital
  • Northampton Lunatic Hospital


The Lunatic Hospital at Northampton was authorized in 1855 to relieve overcrowding in the Commonwealth's existing asylums at Worcester and Taunton, and especially to serve the population of the state's four western counties. It was planned for 250 patients, a population that was not expected to be reached for some time. Prior to improvement of the originally purchased 185 acres overlooking the town of Northampton one mile to the east. Built in 1856, the Northampton Lunatic Hospital was the fourth Kirkbride building to be constructed; it originally consisted of a single three story brick building, designed in a Gothic Revival style, and had the capacity for 250 patients. Following the Kirkbride design, the central administration floors were flanked by two patient wings, one for male and one for female. After many different expansions and additions to attempt to relieve overcrowding, the building seems to have become a confusing maze of rooms and hallways.

In 1864, Dr. Price was succeeded as superintendent by Pliny Earle, who served until 1886. Earle was recommended by noted advocate Dorothea Dix, who had made several personal visits to Northampton. While at Northampton, Earle attempted to apply the rehabilitative tenets of Moral Treatment despite the institution's ever increasing size. Earle, who was a great national voice for humane treatment of the insane. Amusement was another essential component of Moral Treatment. Together, work and amusement provided structure and a sense of normalcy by allowing patients to engage in everyday activities they might have participated in at home. Earle arranged for extensive programs of religious and secular readings, music, lectures, and dancing as part of the patients' treatment. other recreational activities included strolling through the grounds, bowling, games, and library privileges.

When Earle resigned in 1886, he was replaced as Superintendent by his assistant Dr. Edward B. Nims, who had served since 1869. By this time, the hospital was eagerly awaiting the opening of Westborough State Hospital (see form) at the old Lyman School to absorb some of their patients and was also planning expansion of their own institution. At this time there were approximately 475 patients, a number that remained fairly constant from 1872 to 1892. For the next sixty years, however, the patient population increased rapidly, reaching 657 in 1903, 1,559 in 1928, and 2,331 in 1952. Corresponding numbers of staff were 85 in 1893, 135 in 1903, 219 in 1928, 420 in 1935, and 509 in 1952. As noted in the overview, the increases occurred as the state absorbed responsibilities from the towns and as increasing numbers of aged senile patients were admitted to insane asylums.

At the turn of the century, the now renamed Northampton State Hospital housed 600 people in overcrowded living conditions. Infirmary wings were added to both sides in 1905 and frequent additions were made since, but the hospital remained congested and the old structure was decaying quickly. By the 1950's, the patient population had peaked at over 2,500; the hospital began to serve only as a roof over the heads of the most unfortunate people, and the original ideals of "moral treatment" of patients were long forgotten.

In 1961, more patients were being discharged than admitted, and a slow de-institutionalization process took place in 1978 and lasted 14 years. After many treatment reform efforts and legal battles, Northampton State Hospital finally closed it's doors in 1993. During the beginning of the 21st century many of the buildings surrounding the main Kirkbride were slowly demolished. And after many failed attempts from preservation groups, the Kirkbride was finally demolished in 2007. Then, to add insult to injury, Mass Development, the company developing the former hospital site renamed it from "Village at Hospital Hill" to "Village Hill Northampton". [1][2]

Time line[edit]

  • 1855 — A state commission announces that Northampton has been selected as a site for the state's third hospital for the insane. Later that year, 172 acres is purchased for $13,000.
  • 1858 — During the spring, construction of the Northampton Lunatic Hospital is completed. The cost of the project is $300,000.
  • On July 1, the first patient is admitted. By Oct. 1, there are 220 patients admitted.
  • 1903 — Title of the institution is changed permanently to the Northampton State Hospital. A new infirmary for women also opens. The patient population is up to about 650, and the number of employees is 135.
  • 1935 — A new heating plant, a new laundry building, a fourth ward building, a cafeteria, and a tunnel connecting the new complex to the old are constructed. There are now approximately 2,100 patients and 420 employees at the hospital.
  • 1952 — Dr. Jack R. Ewalt is appointed as superintendent. Ewalt is credited with making a number of changes to the hospital, including re-modeling of wards, adding a number of patient clinics and the opening of a beauty parlor, which supposedly had strong results in the rehabilitation of female patients. The hospital now has 2,331 patients and 509 employees.
  • 1978 — A federal court in December orders the hospital to be shut down. That step followed a request to the court to end the institutionalization of the mentally ill.
  • 1990 — The state Legislature passes a bill that makes 154 acres of the property and some buildings available for reuse. The bills passage capped a four-year effort led by State Rep. William P. Nagle.
  • 1991 — The state announces in June that the hospital will close in one year, which was eventually delayed to two years. The hospital is closing under a plan to move mentally ill patients into private care. The final closing meant that 129 patients will be moved and 315 jobs lost.
  • 1993 — On Aug. 26, the last 17 patients leave the hospital.
  • 1997 - Request for Proposals for redevelopment of 154 acres and buildings (Division of Capital Planning and Operations)
  • 1998 - The Community Builders selected as master developers
  • 1999 - Master plan from The Community Builders presented to the Division of Capital Asset Management (previously DCPO)
  • 2000 - The State Hospital:In Memoriam events, November. Also, MassDevelopment is added as a partner with Community Builders as master developers.
  • 2001 - Preparations for redevelopment and demolition projected to begin in August.[3][4]

Images of Northampton State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Northampton State Hospital


  • A sound installation by Anna Schuleit Haber at the former Northampton State Hospital (Mass.), for which the artist spent three years of getting permissions and building a team of volunteers to wire up the main building of the former Northampton State Hospital before its demolition, using the hollows of the architecture as if they were the hollows of an instrument. The building briefly, for 28 minutes, became a unified soundbody, reverberating and amplifying the sounds of J. S. Bach's Magnificat (recorded by Philippe Herreweghe, Harmonia Mundi).

  • The following is a thirty minute documentary on the history of Northampton State Hospital.


  • The life and death of Northampton State Hospital: The experience of work in an institution for the mentally ill, by J. Michael Moore


Used between 1858 and 1921 for patients with no family to claim them. Markers are no longer visible; area used as a hayfield. No map or plot book has been found. A 1997 DMH study from existing records confirmed 181 burials with 413 more possible (disposition "Northampton" or left blank). DMH will not release the names of those interred here. There is a bench surrounded by two yews. Plaque on one side of bench, "State Hospital Burial Grounds 1858-1921, Rest in Peace"; plaque on other side, "Dedicated in memory of those individuals known and unknown interred on this hillside. Bench erected 1959 by William J. Goggins, Jr Northampton State Hospital. Restored 2002 Northampton Historical Commission".