Difference between revisions of "Danvers State Hospital"

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*The following fifty-six minute film entitled "Marie Balter Beyond Mental Illness" is a look at Marie Balter's life in and out of Danvers State Hospital, her issues, and how she conquered them.
*The following fifty-six minute film entitled "Marie Balter Beyond Mental Illness" is a look at Marie Balter's life in and out of Danvers State Hospital, her issues, and how she conquered them.
<videoflash type="vimeo">35647957</videoflash>
*[https://vimeo.com/322465359 https://vimeo.com/322465359]

Revision as of 03:24, 24 October 2021

Danvers State Hospital
Danvers State Hospital
Kirkbride Complex, circa 1875.
Construction Began 1874
Opened 1878
Closed June 24, 1992
Demolished 2006-2007
Current Status Demolished/Preserved. (Danvers Resivoir, Original brick shell of Kirkbride complex. (D, F, G Wings)
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Nathaniel J. Bradlee
Location Hawthorne Hill / Danvers, Massachusetts
Architecture Style Classical Revival
Peak Patient Population 2,400 est.
Alternate Names
  • Danvers State Insane Asylum
  • Danvers State Asylum
  • Danvers State Lunatic Asylum


Constructed at a cost of $1.5 million, with the estimated yearly per capita cost of patients being $3,000 the hospital originally consisted of two main center buildings, housing the administration, with four radiating wings. The outer wings (A and J) housed the dangerous patients. The administration building measured 90 by 60 feet, with a tower 130 feet tall. Connected in the rear was a building 180 by 60 feet, in which the kitchens, laundries, chapel, and dormitories for the attendants. In the rear is the boiler house of 70 feet square, with boilers of 450 horsepower, used for heating and ventilation. Water was pumped from Middleton Pond. On each side of the administration are the wings, west side was male, east side was female, connected by small square towers, with the exception of the last ones on each side, which are joined by octagonal towers. The former measured 10 feet square, and were used to separate the buildings. The original plan was designed to house 500 patients, with 100 more possible to accommodate in the attic. The buildings that make up the campus are the main hospital, the Bonner medical building, the gray gables, the male and female nurse homes, the male and female tubercular buildings, the repair shops, the mechanics garage, a work farm, a power plant, a gazebo, several homes and cottages, and some other buildings. However, by the late 1930s and 1940s, over 2,000 patients were being housed, and overcrowding was severe.

While the hospital was originally established to provide residential treatment and care to the mentally ill and the criminally insane, its functions expanded to include a training program for nurses in 1889 and a pathological research laboratory in 1895. In the 1890s, Dr. Charles Page, the superintendent, declared mechanical restraint unnecessary and harmful in cases of mental illness. By the 1920s the hospital was operating school clinics to help determine mental deficiency in children. During the 1960s as a result of increased emphasis on alternative methods of treatment, de-institutionalization, and community-based mental health care, the inpatient population started to decrease. Due to budget cuts within the mental health system the hospital was closed in June 1992.

In December of 2005, the property was sold to Avalon Bay Development. Demolition of most of the buildings began in January of 2006, with the intent to build 497 apartments and condominiums on the 77 acre site. By June 2006, all of the Danvers State Hospital buildings that were marked for demolition had been torn down, including all of the buildings on the lower grounds and all of the buildings on the hill except for the center-most sections of the Kirkbride buildings. Avalon Bay predicted that they would have properties available for rent/sale by Fall 2007.

However, on April 7, 2007, four of the new apartment complex buildings and four of Avalon bay's construction trailers burned down in a large fire visible from Boston, some seventeen miles away. The fire was confined mostly to the buildings under construction on the eastern end, and the damage to the remaining Kirkbride spires slightly catching fire due to excessive heat. An investigation is underway concerning the cause of the fire. Avalon Bay provided a live web cam of the construction at the old site of the hospital at their website; however, the pictures cut out at approximately 2:03 AM the night of the fire, and the web cam was disabled, possibly due to the fire.


  • The Danvers State Hospital was almost located in Winthrop, Massachusetts under the name "Massachusetts State Hospital", however it was decided that the Danvers location was better suited for the needs of the state.
  • The glacial drumlin the asylum sat on (Hathorne Hill) was at one time the site of the home of John Hathorne, one of the judges in the Salem witch trials. (Danvers was originally Salem Village at the time) Most of the witch trial incidents occurred in the general vicinity of this hill, not in present day Salem, MA. A possible cause of the witch hysteria was an outbreak of ergot poisoning resulting from the consumption of moldy bread products which were likely made with crops farmed around Hathorne Hill as well.
  • Large amounts of assorted medical equipment, paperwork, medical records, journals, canceled payroll checks, old job applications, and miscellaneous patient/employee information were left behind inside the different hospital buildings. Some of the paperwork dated back to the late 1800s. Even some personal possessions had been left behind by patients.
  • There are two cemeteries for the hospital's dead patients, one on the hill and a second at Middleton Colony. The graves at the cemeteries have been mostly identified (originals just marked under the regestration number of the patient) and new markers have been put up by the original stones, the new ones are respectfully marked with names.
  • The A and J wings were dubbed the "violent wards" that housed the criminally insane.
  • All the wings to the east of the kirkbride housed the females, and to the west, males.
  • The A wing was dubbed "the snake pit"
  • The "gray gables" held the male and female nurses before new homes for the different genders were built.

Images of Danvers State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Danvers State Hospital

Popular Culture and Media


  • Danvers State, Memoirs Of A Nurse In The Asylum By Angelina Szot and Barbara Stillwell
  • The Eye of Danvers, A History of Danvers State Hospital By Michael Ramseur
  • Nobody's Child By Marie Balter and Richard Katz
  • Art therapy at Danvers By Shaun McNiff
  • Project 17 By Laurie Faria Stolarz


  • Home Before Dark (1958)
  • Session 9 (2001)


  • Scared!, a ghost hunting and urban exploration show (2004, 2006)


  • This is a short documentary of a group of former patients who restored and memorialized forgotten cemeteries at the Danvers State Hospital.


  • This is a video done on the Danvers State Insane Asylum Laboratory Papers


  • The following fifteen minute video was created by Inside Story and Andrea Hall on the closing of the hospital.


  • The following hour and eighteen minute long video was shot in 1992 during the closing of Danvers State Hospital. The state was trying to sell the property for reuse as soon as possible after the hospital closure. This was a tour of prospective buyers and was conducted both through the closed sections and, at that time, still operating sections.


  • The following fifty-six minute film entitled "Marie Balter Beyond Mental Illness" is a look at Marie Balter's life in and out of Danvers State Hospital, her issues, and how she conquered them.


The former hospital property contains 2 cemeteries for patients. One contains 768 graves the other 93. Restoration efforts began on both in 1997 & continues today.