Princeton State Village for Epileptics

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Established 1898
Opened 1899
Closed 1998
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Architect(s) Charles W. Leavitt
Alternate Names
  • Skillman Village for Epileptics
  • New Jersey Village for Epileptics
  • New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute
  • North Princeton Developmental Center




History[edit]

Opened in 1898, when Acting Gov. Foster M. Voorhees signed a bill into law establishing the State Village for Epileptics. The village was designed to be a self-sustaining agrarian community, where epileptics could live together in a wholesome environment, learn trades, receive medical treatment, and leave behind the almshouses, insane asylums and even prisons to which they had been consigned in the past. Built on farmland bought by the state, the sprawling grounds included a farm with chickens, cows and pigs; fields for growing fruits and vegetables; a power plant; a firehouse; and even a sprawling theater where the residents staged operettas like "The Pirates of Penzance."

The village was considered a model of progressive treatment for epileptics in its early years. Through the Great Depression and World War II, however, the institution suffered from cutbacks, understaffing and overcrowding, so much that the press dubbed it "the snake pit of New Jersey." As the village deteriorated, however, new drugs were being invented - notably Dilantin, Luminal and Mesantoin - that helped control seizures, making the institution obsolete by the early 1950's. Many of the epileptics were reintegrated with their communities, and in 1953 the village was transformed into the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, a research and treatment center focusing on alcoholics, drug addicts, emotionally disturbed children and people with cerebral palsy.

The institution's final chapter began in 1983. Renamed the North Princeton Developmental Center, it narrowed in scope to treat developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders. In 1995, Gov. Christie Whitman declared the site surplus property. The last of the patients were transferred to other facilities and, in 1998, the center closed for good.

For years there were over 100 buildings on the Property, mostly in substandard, unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated and/or obsolescent condition. Ninety-two of these buildings were abated and demolished summer 2007. The remaining handful of buildings have been boarded up in anticipation of possible reuse as part of redevelopment. Efforts are ongoing to remediate environmental conditions at the site and repair or demolish the dam and restore the lake. The property’s environmental contamination must be remediated and brought into compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Cemetery[edit]

Over 600 patients are buried in 2 separate cemeteries on the property. Upper Cemetery was used from 1904 to December 1960 (about 467 interments). Lower Cemetery was used from December 1960 to June 1990 (210 interments, 174 Christian and 36 Jewish).