Litany

Last Friday the State Library of Massachusetts generously posted their archive of digitized Annual Reports for Northampton State Hospital. These reports were originally published by the State Hospital as an update for the State Government in Boston and to the greater community, but by 1941 the reports became more of a typed memo than a publication.

Each reports begins with an introduction by the board of trustees and then a letter from the Superintendent covering any significant events of the year. The most recent Annual Report available is from 1970. While we can never consider the Annual Reports, which were the voice of the State Hospital Administration to, in any way, be representative of the patients incarcerated behind the walls of the asylum, the frustration of Superintendent Dr. Goodman is clear.

His letter opens:

To the Trustees of the Northampton State Hospital:
As the years go by there are more demands for services by the communities served by the Northampton State Hospital.

We are requested to open a Drug Addiction, an Alcohol Unit and to “Unitize” our hospital (separate units for each area in our region). All this is to be done with our present facilities and personnel.

In addition to the above we are required to furnish eighty (80) square feet of bedspace for each Medicare and Medicaid patient. This is difficult with present facilities. The six hundred (600) patients over sixty five years of age will take up almost twice the space they now occupy and leave little space for the remaining twelve hundred (1200) patients. Our rated capacity far exceeds our true capacity.

Yet this is only one of the deficiencies we must overcome to obtain federal funds for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Besides the lack of space for geriatric patients and unitization we are required to furnish adequate toilet and bathing facilities and a staffing pattern acceptable to the Department of Public Health.

In the past we have been given insufficient funds in our budget to make repairs or replacements (except on an emergency basis) and now we have also been asked to keep personnel requests to a minimum. Sufficient personnel must be granted in order to function properly.

Most of our buildings are old an obsolete. The original four hospital buildings are 112 years old and are still in use.

The buildings are unsafe, unsanitary, overcrowded fire traps with poor lighting, heating and ventilation and must be replaced.

We require a maximum security building to house the court cases in this region. This building could also contain a unit for drug addicted patients and an alcohol unit.

We need an occupational and industrial therapy building since so much stress is placed on vocational rehabilitation.

We also require trained personnel as supervisors or directors of rehabilitation which have not been allowed in the past.

We require more personnel to move patients into community placements in order to cut our census and to provide the necessary bed space for patients now in the hospital and to be admitted.

We require adequate apartments for doctors. Many of our doctors live in antiquated buildings without housekeeping facilities and poor toilet facilities.

We must have attractive units for housekeeping in order to compete with other hospitals that not only offer excellent living quarters put pay higher salaries.

For many years we have mentioned our need for more personnel and new buildings. We have pointed out the hazard of fire in the old building. We have complained about the poor ventilation; poor lighting, poor heating, limited toilet and bathing facilities and overcrowding.

Repairs and replacements must be done now and not in a long range program.

With all the handicaps we will endeavor to continue our programs of treatment and offer the best possible care with what we have.

Story continues…
Northampton State Hospital Annual Reports

References

Exterior of Shaw's Motel, abandoned.

Shaw’s Motel, Hamp’s Last Gleaming

Door of Shaw's Motel.
Shaw’s Motel Units. Private Kitchens Baths.

Shaw’s Motel at 87 Bridge St. in downtown Northampton was once a refuge to the homeless mentally ill, abandoned to the streets from their incarceration at Northampton State Hospital. Today mold and graffiti silently gesture to its nearly forgotten past in the silent dialect of decay.

JoAnn Shaw of Shaw's Motel in Northampton MA, image from PBS Frontline, A Place for Madness, 1994. Northampton State Hospital
JoAnn Shaw, image from PBS Frontline, A Place for Madness, 1994.

Donald and Josephine (who preferred JoAnn) Shaw,  purchased the lot in 1949 and opened the motel in 1951 as the Blue Tourist Door, changing the name to Shaw’s shortly thereafter. The Shaw’s first de-hospitalized guests were from the VA in Leeds, a few miles north of Northampton on Rt. 9, seeking to house a few discharged clients.

One and a half miles up the street, Northampton State Hospital, crumbling beneath the weight of poor policy and worse funding for a century, finally began to fall. Conditions within the overcrowded institution had been documented as being terrible as early as the turn of the century. Through annual reports the state hospital’s own trustees begged the state for more funding even to properly house patients, nevermind treat them with what little psychiatry could offer at the time. The hospital was expanded continuously but there was never enough space or staff to do more than warehouse the mentally ill.

Patients were released to the streets from the late 60s and continuing to the close of Northampton State Hospital. Some had been hospitalized for decades and possessed little or no life skills. The tide of newly homeless patients drew the attention of Life magazine, which ran Emptying the Madhouse in May 1981.

JoAnn Shaw rose to the occasion by becoming a kind mother to the de-hospitalized homeless who often didn’t have or were not in contact with their families. Shaw would make sure medication was taken, calling police when it wasn’t. The police were called to Shaw’s more than a dozen times every year from 1986 through 1998. Shaw was featured in Frontline’s 1994 expose A Place for Madness on the closing of Northampton State Hospital.

 

Frontline, A Place for Madness, January 18, 1994. See part 2 on the gallery page.

Northampton was not always sympathetic to the Shaw’s work nor the struggles of their residents. Repairs to damaged rooms, stolen motel property and unpaid rent added to the financial burden of running Shaw’s. JoAnne Shaw recounted the difficulty of paying taxes in a 1994 interview with the LA Times. “It’s like that guy in City Hall told me: `Mrs. Shaw, if you want to run the business with your heart, that’s your business. But we want our money.’” – LA Times.

Have a Gay Time

Shaw’s was home to some of downtown Northampton’s more fabulous personalities. Edward Gay or The Dress Man, as he was known around town, passed quietly on April 30, 1994 in his single room after 13 years at Shaw’s Motel. An Amherst native, Eddie had moved to New York City in the 50s to write jokes, opening Eddie Gay’s Gag Service at 242 West 72nd St.

“One subscriber to Gay’s Gags wrote Eddie on Nov. 18, 1965, asking for a one-year subscription. “And please rush it. I am expected to be a very funny man about two weeks from now.” It was signed John Asher.” DHG Dress Man

During his years at Shaw’s Mr. Gay had never discussed with anyone, even to JoAnn Shaw, his illustrious career. It was only because the executor of Gay’s estate used to work with Edward’s mother Edna, who bragged about her son’s career in NYC was any of his former life brought to light. In remembrance of Eddie, Pete Nelson a local author and songwriter wrote Ballad of Eddie Gay.

1790

Even before Shaw’s Motel, 87-89 Bridge Street had been an important part of Northampton’s history for hundreds of years. The original house was built by Shubael Wilder in 1790, who served as a drummer in the Revolutionary war. By the outbreak of Shay’s Rebellion in 1786 Shubael had earned the rank of captain and marched on the Springfield armory. By the 1800 census Shubael Wilder lived in a household of 9 people: 3 males, 6 females, mostly young.

Shubael’s wife, Sarah Wright was a direct descendant of Samuel Wright, Deacon and one of Northampton’s settlers since around 1655. Here are images the building in 1890, which looked very different before modern additions.

This image is from the 1930s when in address was owned by Persis Crafts, the curator of the Northampton Historical Society from the 1930s to 60s and great-great-great granddaughter to Shubael Wilder.

1999

Police calls to Shaw’s Motel and the associated newspaper bylines fell sharply in 1999. Instead of dozens of police incidents there was but four and a handful of bylines. The motel continued to operate quietly until abandoned in 2010, when it passed from JoAnn Shaw to her son Donald.

On April 21, 2013 a fire was set by a still unknown vandal. Donald Shaw had tried unsuccessfully for three years to sell the property, but in 2015 found a buyer in Matthew Campagnari. Today condos are planned for the site, pending a one year demolition delay placed on the site by Northampton Historical Commission to ensure the new development conforms with the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

 

Shaw’s Motel was the first waypoint in the exile of the mentally ill from abandonment within the state hospital system to abandonment on the streets. Like the people JoAnn Shaw saved, the motel’s wooden walls sour and mold abandoned for all the city to see, and forget, again. The Motel was demolished in December 2016.

Sign for Shaw's Motel. Airconditioned.
Abandoned sign for Shaw’s Motel.

Credits

References