Ghosts of healthcare in the valley

From The Daily Collegian
By Nick Losso
Sunday, January 22, 2012

A few years ago I heard about an abandoned school near Amherst. It was a massive campus that once served intellectually handicapped children in the town of Belchertown. The girl I was dating at the time told me about it. She had a dial she had taken from one of the buildings on the bookshelf in her bedroom; an old piece of machinery that seemed like it would fit in perfectly in the underwater metropolis Rapture. I was excited about the idea of exploring the decaying and abandoned buildings.

I have since learned that this place was the Belchertown State School, which lies only a few miles from Amherst center. This massive institution once covered almost 900 acres and housed about 1,100 residents. The grounds included a farm, a power plant and, at one point in time, a large carousel.

Not far to the west of Amherst stood the Northampton State Hospital, a facility for the mentally ill and another institution run by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. I never knew much about these places until last year, which is amazing to me, given their size and proximity to Amherst. As I found out more about them, I became fascinated with the history of these institutions and how we, as a society, have chosen to respond to those experiencing mental illness or intellectual handicaps.

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