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Posts from the ‘Black and White’ Category

Medfield State Hospital

There seem to be two kinds of time management problems during the pandemic (at least, probably more). Some folks, think parents working at home, have zero time. They are multi-tasking every step of the way. Then there are those who, once their work is done, have time. Lots of it. And of course, no place to go that’s safe other than hikes. Hiking is a Godsend, to be sure. But you can’t hike all the time. I like to go for drives and Chris is willing to put up with them. So we drive.

We happened to be exploring around the Charles River Valley in Massachusetts and drove through the town of Medfield. We turned down Hospital Road because Chris used to work at Medfield State Hospital. It was her first job after nursing school. Driving by the Hospital grounds, we were stunned to find that not only was it still standing, but we could go onto the campus and walk around. The town and the state had turned it into a park, quite an interesting one.

The 19th century saw the rise of the “great institution.”  Massive structures were built for work (mills and factories), education (colleges) and the treatment or containment of those who were, or were thought to be mentally ill.  By the 20th century nearly five percent of the population of Massachusetts, as one example was housed in a state run mental health institution.  While some desperately needed care some ended up in those institutions because of family and or social/economic disadvantage.  Some received genuine care, some were warehoused.  

Medfield State Hospital was founded in 1892 and at its height could hold 2200 patients.  It was considered one of the best of the state hospitals.  People received treatment there, for the most part. On the Hospital grounds, one can see evidence of what was once a large, self-sufficient working farm.  Very ironically, the cemetery there was created to inter patients who died in the great pandemic of 1918.  The Cemetery is located at some distance from the campus itself, but is clearly marked and visible from the road. It is touchingly well maintained.

The Hospital closed in 1988.  Over the years, most psychiatric care moved to the community and away from the institutions.  These massive hospitals (there were about ten in the state) fell into ruin. They have largely either been fenced in, demolished or repurposed.  Medfield State was actually converted into a park by the state and the town.  It’s possible to go there, walk around (you can’t go inside and probably wouldn’t want to), walk your dog, and think. It’s hard not to think about being there, at times like these.

All images copyright 2020 and 2021 by James Hunt.  Click on the images for a larger view.