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Norwich State Hospital for the Insane

Norwich State Hospital for the Insane 

Every so often one may find themselves in a place where the environment itself has been deeply affected by the history which it endured. Even the trees here seemed altered, different from those in the forest just beyond the old boundary fence - It was as if they whispered among themselves, recounting secrets just beyond the edge of human hearing.

Pitted metal bars framed countless windows that overlooked the decayed grounds of the long-abandoned asylum. Upon our visit, this old campus was little more than a gathering of sad and rotten buildings, but if one were to have peered out those same windows some seventy years earlier, they would have seen a massive city operating unto itself, with a populace in the thousands. That was long ago though, and the patients who once lived here have long moved on. Little remained, save for shadows - an ever-present substance that came to dwell in each corner and corridor of the former Norwich State Hospital for the Insane.

This campus opened its doors in the towns of Preston and Norwich, Connecticut, in the autumn of 1904. At the time the initial patient count at the facility was under 100. However, not unlike numerous institutions of its day, the patient population at the hospital grew exponentially, and by 1930 the Norwich Hospital had stretched itself out from a single hospital center to a campus of over twenty buildings.

After peaking in population through the 1950s and 60s, the residents of the campus began to steadily decrease. This depopulation was due to various factors, but was driven primarily by advancements in psychiatric medications, and the increasing taboo which the nation was feeling toward larger state mental hospitals. During this time the facility began constructing new, modern, buildings on a plot adjacent to where the original hospital center stood. Every time a new building was opened, a building from the old campus would be closed down. By the 1970s only a handful of original buildings were in active use. When the Norwich Hospital finally shuttered in 1996 only two of the original campus buildings were still in use, and the remainders of the old campus were already falling into disrepair.

It was the beautiful architecture of the old asylum campus that drew us to this property, and it is exclusively these buildings that we documented during our visit. Though the newer campus certainly has its own tales to tell, we felt those modern buildings lacked the level of character and history which was found on the original hospital grounds. Sadly, if you visit the property today you will find little more than a grassy field where the historic asylum once stood. Demolition began on the property in 2011, and over several years, every building on the old campus was razed with the exception of administration, which is currently mothballed to be utilized in the future development of the grounds, whatever and whenever they may be.




 










A wheelchair looks outward from the second floor of an enclosed porch. A view from which it may well have watched the rise and fall of the hospital, now overgrown and mostly forgotten.



A carpet of moss.


A ward rots away. Even after decades of disuse, discolored linens remained on several of the beds.





Historic photography courtesy of Christine Rockledge/Images of America: Norwich State Hospital




Over time, radio and television became utilized less to entertain patients and more to distract and pacify, especially during times of overcrowding and under-staffing, which came to plague institutions such as Norwich.










At least one piano can be found in nearly every abandoned mental institution, often left behind when institutions close down simply because of the difficulty of removing it. When abandoned along with the buildings, they become significant relics, in no small part due to the role that music played in patient therapy, as well as the daily life on a ward. In just a few years’ time, the pianos become ruined by humidity and temperature, reduced to sad reminders of times gone by.






A patient activity board stands against a wall in a common room. Most of the activity notes have long been lost to the ages, but some remain, such as “supper” from 5–6 p.m. and “evening news” from 6–7 p.m. Faint glimpses at the daily lives of those who were here before us.














Though surely a trying environment at many times for both patients and staff, it was also clear from items left behind that the hospital did attempt to do right by those they were tasked with caring for. Here we find a large wooden box, decorated to look as a brick chimney topped with snow. On the side reads “Christmas Gifts for patients. Norwich Hospital.” The old campus, though troubled, surely must have been a sight during the holiday season.


Historic photography courtesy of Christine Rockledge/Images of America: Norwich State Hospital



While wandering the many halls and wards of Norwich it was easy to become distracted, to begin to forget just why you were here, and the people who called these chambers home before it all fell to ruin. This never lasted long though, as the hospital was quick with reminders.









Here you can see the admin building with new windows and a sealed lower floor. Hopefully, when the site is eventually redeveloped, the preserved admin building may serve to help tell the story of what once stood on these grounds.






This is an older video of ours, filmed in 2011. When viewing, you may notice that it has a different feel to it than our current-day films. This is because the style of our cinematography has progressed over time, and our equipment has changed and improved throughout the years. We have chosen to leave our older videos available for viewing online to illustrate the evolution of our work, and to showcase locations which are otherwise unable to be seen.