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


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.


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.


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.



Inside a Mental Hospital Called Jail

From The New York Times
By Nicholas Kristof
Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Cook County Jail has become a de facto mental health hospital, the county's sheriff says. John Gress for The New York Times
The Cook County Jail has become a de facto mental health hospital, the county’s sheriff says. John Gress for The New York Times

The largest mental health center in America is a huge compound here in Chicago, with thousands of people suffering from manias, psychoses and other disorders, all surrounded by high fences and barbed wire. Just one thing: It’s a jail. The only way to get treatment is to be arrested.

Psychiatric disorders are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and incarceration. And as more humane and cost-effective ways of treating mental illness have been cut back, we increasingly resort to the law-enforcement toolbox: jails and prisons.

More than half of prisoners in the United States have a mental health problem, according to a 2006 Justice Department study. Among female inmates, almost three-quarters have a mental disorder.

In the jail here, some prisoners sit on their beds all day long, lost in their delusions, oblivious to their surroundings, hearing voices, sometimes talking back to them. The first person to say that this system is barbaric is their jailer.

“It’s criminalizing mental illness,” the Cook County sheriff, Thomas Dart, told me as he showed me the jail, on a day when 60 percent of the jail’s intake reported that they had been diagnosed with mental illness. Dart says the system is abhorrent and senseless, as well as an astronomically expensive way to treat mental illness — but that he has no choice but to accept schizophrenic, bipolar, depressive and psychotic prisoners delivered by local police forces.

India, 42, suffers from manic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has spent almost all of her adult life in jails and prisons. John Gress for The New York Times
India, 42, suffers from manic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has spent almost all of her adult life in jails and prisons. John Gress for The New York Times

People are not officially incarcerated because of psychiatric ailments, but that’s the unintended effect. Sheriff Dart says that although some mentally ill people commit serious crimes, the great majority are brought in for offenses that flow from mental illness.

One 47-year-old man I spoke to, George, (I’m not permitted to use last names for legal reasons) is bipolar, hears voices and abuses drugs and alcohol. He said he had been arrested five times since October for petty offenses. The current offense is criminal trespass for refusing to leave a Laundromat.

The sheriff says such examples are common and asks: “How will we be viewed, 20, 30, 50 years from now? We’ll be looked on as the ones who locked up all the mentally ill people.

“It really is one of those things so rich with irony: The same society that abhorred the idea that we lock people up in mental hospitals, now we lock people up in jails.”

New exhibit tells story of NSH

From The Republican
By George Lenker
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

At one time, the Northampton State Hospital was the largest employer in the city.
So it’s no wonder that that now defunct and razed site holds an ongoing fascination for residents. This interest should be even more piqued by a new exhibit at Historic Northampton this month.

“Vanished: The Hospital on the Hill” tells the story of the Northampton State Hospital via the words of former employees, photographer Stan Sherer’s shots, and historical photographs from the collection of Historic Northampton. This exhibition, which runs Feb. 8-March 7, grew out of an oral history project in 1992. Sherer talked about the exhibit last week.

First tell me briefly about the oral history project that initiated this?

In the late 1990s, a group of employees at the Northampton State Hospital approached the Public History Program at UMass with a request to assist in having their stories preserved. Michael Moore, then a graduate student in the Public History Program, began the process of recording the oral histories of as many employees, and former employees, as possible.

When and why did you take photos of the hospital? What drew you to it?

After Michael was under way with this, I joined the project as a photographer. I felt a project like this needed photographs as well as text. There were so many stories to record and we needed to have the faces and the visual environment behind the stories.

Is there an overarching theme to the collection?

The overarching theme to the collection is each employee who was interviewed had complex stories and viewpoints. It was not a simple matter of the hospital being a good or bad place. We tried to paint the hospital’s complex history within the context of medical treatments of the times.

What is Michael’s role?

Michael’s role was the to interview the employees and gather their oral histories. The transcripts of these interviews were sent to the Massachusetts State Archive. Michael wrote the text for the exhibition and catalog. We received support from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities (now called the Mass Foundation). The exhibition toured the state from the early 1990s through late 1990s.

What has struck you most about both the words and the photos?

I was struck by the deep sense of caring and commitment from the people who worked at the hospital. Their work was terribly difficult and most did the best they could.

Why do you think preserving all this is important?

It has been 30 years since the closing of the State Hospitals. The plan was for many of the patients to be cared for by community services, live in halfway houses, etc. However, as the state budgets shrank, so did money for community services. Patients were living on the street, many unable to obtain their medications. As the years passed, prisons took over the role of the state mental hospitals. In many cases, a large percentage of the prison population is comprised of psychiatric cases. This exhibition draws attention to the fact that we have not come close to achieving adequate care of the mentally ill.

A Good Place to Take Girls

From Karelia Stetz-Waters
Monday, July 29, 2013

One of the things I liked most about attending Smith College in the mid 90′s was the abandoned mental asylum located just beyond the athletic fields.

What English major and aspiring writer doesn’t want to go to school in the shadow of a Gothic castle in which people were once shocked, water-boarded, and sent into insulin coma? The Smith girls brave enough to enter the asylum said the walls were smeared in blood. Eighteen, Gen X, and goth, this impressed me immensely.

It was also a good place to take girls.

The asylum had been the site of one of my first dates with my wife. I was 22 and knew nothing about women. She was 32, classy, tough, and athletic–a perfect combination. Plus, she was incalculably rich–in my barely-post-college estimation–that is to say, she had a real job. She was a catch. I had to impress her so I bought a bottle of cognac and took her drinking in the woods behind the asylum.

My wife married me, so the asylum date must have worked.

This summer, I thought I’d go back to pay homage. After all, my wife married me, so the asylum date must have worked. Plus the asylum was the inspiration for my first novel, Dysphoria, and I was still basking in the glow of graduating from aspiring writer to published author.

“They tore it down,” my friend said.

I took the news like the news of a sudden death. I didn’t believe it. Leaving my friends in town, I trudged across the athletic fields, hoping reports of the asylum’s demolition had been overblown. It had to be there. It was so massive, so dark, so unspeakable. It couldn’t really be gone.

But it was. It was worse than gone. It was gone, and in its place, someone had built an idyllic suburb, with water-saving landscaping, communal bike sheds, and green space. There was bark dust and Japanese maples and little children running through sprinklers.

The Wright Stuff

From BusinessWest
By Elizabeth Taras
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Northampton-based Builders Make a Living on the Cutting Edge

Ledwell and Wright
Mark Ledwell, left, and Jonathan Wright. Image care of BusinessWest
It’s called the “home of the future” by its designer, Bruce Coldham of Coldham & Hartman Architests in Amherst, but it’s being lived in today.

This would be the 2,700-square-foot structure in Hadley that was honored by GreenBuilder magazine with one of its ‘Home of the Year’ awards in 2011, the only house in the Northeast to be so recognized. There are many numbers associated with this dwelling — and that prestigious award — but the most significant is 33, or minus 33, to be more precise.

That’s what the house earned for a Home Energy Rating, or HERS, which means that it produced 33% more energy than it consumed for the previous year, said Jonathan Wright, founder and president of Northampton-based Wright Builders, which constructed the home.

“Through an extremely well-designed plan, a very tight building envelope, and PV [photovoltaic] panels, we went way past zero,” said Wright, referring to the term ‘net zero’ — a benchmark used to describe structures that don’t consume more energy than they create — and putting heavy emphasis on the word ‘way.’

The GreenBuilder award judges were suitably impressed, noting that “this home’s building science is well ahead of the curve.”

That term is one increasingly used in association with projects undertaken by Wright, a nearly 40-year-old company that specializes in residential, commercial, and institutional building, and has a hard-earned reputation for being on the cutting edge of new building processes and techniques, especially with regard to energy consumption and conservation.

“Before these certifications were around, we just considered it smart building,” said Mark Ledwell, Wright’s long-time partner and the company’s co-principal, referring to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other building benchmarks used today. “We’ve tried to keep abreast of the materials and new technologies and stay on the cutting edge; we want to make buildings that last.”

This philosophy has guided the company through every project in a broad portfolio that includes everything from a host of buildings at Smith College (one of the firm’s many clients in the education sector) to several components of the multi-faceted initiative taking shape on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital.

Habeas Corpus video

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Habeas Corpus video
Habeas Corpus video.

A sound installation by Anna Schuleit Haber at the former Northampton State Hospital (Mass.), for which the artist spent three years of getting permissions and building a team of volunteers to wire up the main building of the former Northampton State Hospital before its demolition, using the hollows of the architecture as if they were the hollows of an instrument.The building briefly, for 28 minutes, became a unified soundbody, reverberating and amplifying the sounds of J. S. Bach’s Magnificat (recorded by Philippe Herreweghe, Harmonia Mundi).

For Sale to Highest Bidder

From Kirby on the Loose
Sunday, July 7, 2013

Domino Cigarettes
Domino Cigarettes, listing #15279
Someone told me that the planning department was auctioning off articles from the state hospital, and I should check it out. I looked at all the items and it was damned depressing to see how little had been preserved for public resale. Pieces of iron with no particular usage, a group of broken down old seats, urinals, cigarette cartons, etc, etc and etcetera.

My friend and I were talking about the sale the other day and we both had the same reaction. What happened to all the beautiful antiques in the administrative building and the chapel? What happened to the large beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel? The great chandelier in the old admin building? What happened to the baby grand piano on the stage?

“Well” I said to him, “Maybe I could call Massdevelopment and…..”
“And what?” he asked. “In a better world you might get some answers, but…”
“This is not the better world.” I said, finishing his thought for him.

We were both part of a group of people that met in the late eighties to talk about reuse of the Old Main. At that time there were still a few patients living in the Haskell Building and Marjorie Senechal and a bunch of our people got the $10.00 tour of Old Main. We saw a multitude of uses for the buildings. Consolidate local state offices up there. The Center for the Arts made a determined effort to use the chapel, but the powers that be probably figured that if anyone got into one part of the building, they would be agitating to preserve more of it.

“The acoustics in that chapel were something,” said my friend. “I was standing in the back of the balcony and someone snapped their fingers on the stage, and you could hear it perfectly.”

Christopher Heights approved for tax break

From The Republican
By Jim Kinney
Monday, July 1, 2013

A city tax break for the $13.4 million, 50,000-square-foot Christopher Heights of Northampton Project in the Village Hill neighborhood has been approved by the state.

Developer Grantham Group will save $213,900 in property taxes over 15 years, according to a news release issued this week by the state Office of Housing and Economic Development. Grantham Group, based in Boston, already has four other assisted living centers in Worcester, Webster, Attleboro and Marlborough.

Economic Assistance Coordinating Council approved this and 18 other projects for participation in the Economic Development Incentive Program at meetings last week. The list includes manufacturing projects in Lee, Adams and Pittsfield. In total, the projects are expected to create 2,347 new jobs and retain 3,102 existing jobs, in addition to leveraging nearly $406 million in private investment and supporting construction projects across the commonwealth.

Grantham Group has said there will be 65 construction jobs. Once built, there would be another 40 permanent jobs at the facility. The facility will have will consist of 71 studio apartments and 12 one-bedroom apartments.

Grantham Group managing director Walter Ohanian said Friday that the company is still applying for low-income tax credits. If that application is successful he hopes to start construction in February.

Grantham has planned the project for a 1.3-acre site on the former state hospital grounds it will lease from MassDevelopment for 80 years. Forty-three of the 83 units will be reserved as affordable housing. MassDevelopment owns the former hospital site.

Artifacts up for bid

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sink and Urinal, listing #15293
Sink and Urinal, listing #15293
If you’ve ever wanted a urinal or a shower head from the former Northampton State Hospital, now is the time.

These and other mementos from the 19th century complex once called the Northampton Lunatic Hospital are currently up for bid, courtesy of the city’s Historical Commission. Proceeds from the on-line auction will go towards restoring the fountain that once sat in front of Old Main, the administrative building on the 500 acre campus that stood upon Hospital Hill.

Built in the 1850s, Northampton State Hospital housed 2,500 patients, employed 500 workers and operated out of 70 buildings at its height. It included a piggery, a bowling alley and underground tunnels linking the buildings. Former patients are reportedly buried in unmarked graves on the grounds.

The thriving hospital began downsizing in the 1970s as the state deinstitutionalized, placing people with mental health issues in community homes instead. It closed for good in 1993, and the long process of turning the land over to the city began.

MassDevelopment, a quasi-public agency, was chosen to market the land for commercial and residential use. One by one, the buildings were razed. In their place, a range of housing has been built. Defense contractor Kollmorgen, now called L3-KEO, moved its headquarters from King Street onto the former hospital campus and now occupies the lion’s share of the commercial and industrial space.

Even the name of the hill was changed by developers, who thought Village Hill would be more attractive than Hospital Hill. All that remains are the fountain, the reported graves and a bunch of artifacts that MassDevelopment turned over to the city. These include a urinal, an old clock, a cupola, auditorium chairs, window bars, doors and some game tables.

“It’s like they grabbed everything they possibly could,” said Sarah LaValley, a Planning Department staff member who serves as liaison to the Historical Commission. “We ended up with what could be salvaged.”

Remebering the New Frontier

John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier acceptance speech paved the way to the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. This law provided federal funding for community based programs to replace the centralized psychiatric care model, which we recognize as the constellation of state hospitals.

From The Republican
By Katherine B. Wilson
March 17, 2013

John F. Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act is worth remembering

JFK's New Frontier speech at 1960 DNC national convention
JFK delivering New Frontier speech at DNC national convention 1960. Image care of JFK Presidential Library.
Fifty years ago this year in a speech to Congress, President John F. Kennedy proposed “a national mental health program to assist in the inauguration of a wholly new emphasis and approach to care for the mentally ill.” Central to a new mental health program is comprehensive community care.

Later that year in 1963, Congress passed the Community Mental Health Act to provide federal funding for community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to research in and treatment of mental retardation. It was the last legislation President Kennedy signed into law before his assassination.

In Western Massachusetts, the Mental Health Consortium, a partnership of several health and mental organizations, was the recipient of federal funding under this legislation. It arrived in the Valley at the same time that Massachusetts began the closing of Northampton State Hospital.

This NIMH funding, along with funding from the Massachusetts’ budget, developed the foundation for the community mental health system in Western Massachusetts. For people in Springfield with mental illness, JFK’s final legislation ended the nightmare of being “warehoused” in secluded hospitals and forgotten institutions.

The law opened the door to a new era of recovery and the hope of moving back into their communities. Since then organizations like Behavioral Health Network have been helping people recover from mental illness and live full lives.

Further reading:

Historical Commission delays demolition of Shaw’s

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shaw's Motel, photo by Dale Ruff, The Republican
Shaw’s Motel, photo by Dale Ruff, The Republican
The Historical Commission voted Monday to invoke the demolition delay ordinance for Shaw’s Motel at 87 Bridge St., but left room for a new owner to knock the building down sooner than a year from now.

According to Sarah LaValley, the Planning Department liaison to the commission, the demolition delay ordinance protects buildings from demolition for up to one year. Established in 2005, the ordinance allows the Historical Commission to put a moratorium on demolishing buildings that are deemed to have historical significance.

Shaw’s was run for more than a half century by Josephine A. Shaw, who rented its rooms mostly to the poor and needy, some of them former Northampton State Hospital patients. She sold the 20-unit motel, along with houses at 7 and 9 Pomeroy Terrace, to her son, Donald Shaw in 2010. The properties were then put on the market for an asking price of $1.6 million.

Unremarkable Transformations

North Attendant's Building, Northampton State Hospital
North Attendant’s Building, Northampton State Hospital
The doors and windows of the North Attendant’s building have been removed in preparation for transformation. If to be demolished the loss of this 3 story rectangle is as unremarkable as its place in Northampton State Hospital and institutionalization history.

By 1919 the North Attendant’s home was all complete. Also known as the North Home and the Nurses’ Home, it was built to house 63 nurses, replacing two smaller buildings behind Old Main from the 1890s. The State Hospital under Superintendent Dr. John A. Houston was crossing the threshold of 1000 inmates. Through the Annual Reports the Superintendent and Trustees decry the poor funding, staffing and conditions of their own facility, even though two new buildings, including the North Attendant’s home have just been paid for.

From the superintendent’s report it will be noted that our condition of overcrowding continues despite the many patients, 92 in number, transferred to institutions in the eastern part of the State. We still believe that our hospital should care for all the patients of the district served by it, and we refer to the recommendations repeatedly made in former reports for suitable provision within the district for all the mental cases of western Massachusetts. This matter is so important that we feel it our duty to again call attention to it. The present conditions are not just to the institution nor to the patients who are here and the patients who are to come to us.

Northampton State Hospital Annual Reports. (1919, November 30), pp.7.

In the 1920 Annual Report the Superintendent details major staffing shortfalls, reporting that the State Hospital has been operating with nearly 100 fewer staff than prescribed. Only two doctors served the entire population.

All the routine activities of the hospital were conducted as usual, but under great stress, due to an extreme shortage of help in all departments. With a quota of 223 employees allowed us the average number on our pay roll throughout the year was only 127, and at times there were less than 100. Every one did extra duty. On the wards and in some other departments patients were given keys and conducted themselves as well as the employees, so well, in fact, that eight patients were placed on the pay roll.

Northampton State Hospital Annual Reports. (1920, November 30), pp.11.

Houston details the overcrowded conditions of the State Hospital in the 1921 Annual Report in another attempt for adequate funding.

Serious overcrowding makes it difficult to give our patients the care we should like to give. Too many of them are obliged to share a room with others. This is disquieting to the relatives and does not contribute to the comfort of the patients themselves. We realize that every State hospital has the same problem to deal with, and we accept the situation with what grace we may, hoping that in time adequate provision will be made for the care of all the patients of our district somewhere in this district, and not so far from their homes as are the institutions to which so many have been transferred in recent years.

Northampton State Hospital Annual Reports. (1921, November 30), pp.7.

And again regarding staffing in 1922, two years after the completion of the North Attendant’s building.

Despite frequent advertising and repeated applications to the employment bureaus, we have been unable to fill our quota of nurses and attendants. The quota of women nurses allowed us last year was 58, but the average number on the pay roll during the year was only 31. We have been fortunate in having patients comfortable and quite trustworthy, to help in the care of the wards and of other patients. Nine of them are now acting very acceptably as nurses and to their own pleasure and benefit, and four have done so well that they have been put on our pay roll.

Northampton State Hospital Annual Reports. (1922, November 30), pp.10.

Houston continues in the ’22 report…

The Department of Mental Diseases estimates our capacity at about 820, which is considerably larger than our estimate. The numbers we have been requested to maintain during each of the past five years have been, consecutively, as follows: 980, 990, 1,000, 1,010, 1,025, and for the coming year we are asked to make estimates for the maintenance of 1,060 patients. As a result of this constantly increasing growth in numbers, we have been seriously handicapped in the care of our patients. We cannot transfer our most troublesome patients, consequently a larger proportion of those who remain are of the disturbed class. The wards where easily distracted patients are cared for should accommodate only a very limited number of patients, but now our wards are occupied by anywhere from 40 to 60 patients, and many of these are obliged to sleep in corridors and day spaces. Naturally and inevitably they have an un-favorable influence on each other.

Northampton State Hospital Annual Reports. (1922, November 30), pp.11.

Like any building on Hospital Hill, the North Attendant’s home was as insignificant as staffing, funding and treatment were to the State Hospital system. Though the 1000 inmate threshold far exceeded the State’s own maximum for the facility, which in turn exceeded the staff’s estimate, the population would only continue to grow over the next three decades to reach 2500.

Preservation Committee votes to fund Fountain

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Community Preservation Committee voted Wednesday to recommend $412,400 in funding for six projects, including the Connecticut River Greenway, a baseball field and the restoration of an old fountain on Village Hill.

The committee oversees Community Preservation funds that the city has been collecting by way of a property tax surcharge since voters adopted the state Community Preservation Act in 2005. Money from the fund, by law, may be used only for projects related to conservation, housing, historical preservation and recreation. There is $980,000 available in Community Preservation funds for fiscal 2013, according to the city.

The committee, which received eight applications in the latest round, has opted to fund six projects. It allocated $75,000 to restore the Victorian-style, cast-iron fountain that once stood in front of the main building at Northampton State Hospital. Following the deinstitutionalization of mental hospitals in the 1990s, the buildings on the campus were demolished. A range of housing now stands at the site. The fountain will be reinstalled as a memorial to the patients and employees who lived and worked at the hospital.

Old Main fountain to rise again

From The Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Phoebe Mitchell
Saturday, August 25, 2012

The fountain that once graced the grounds of the Northampton State Hospital may soon be resurrected close to where it once stood next to the hospital’s main building as part of an effort to memorialize the historic institution.

According to Chairman David Drake, the Northampton Historical Commission has already endorsed the project, which is being spearheaded by a group set up by the Citizen Advisory Committee. The CAC was created in 1986 to provide a forum for citizen input on the redevelopment of the Northampton State Hospital property off Route 66.

Once located outside the building known as Old Main, the fountain is now in pieces and stored at the Department of Public Works, said Drake.

Joe Blumenthal, owner of Downtown Sounds on Pleasant Street, who heads the fountain project group, said Thursday members are putting together an application that will seek funds from the Community Preservation Committee to restore the fountain. He said the idea for the fountain project came from a group of people who had worked at the former state hospital.

Prospect Meadow Farm

Prospect Meadow Farm, a project of Service Net, is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary. Carrie Saldo visited the Hatfield, MA farm to learn more about its business model, which is in-part, focused on employment of physically, mentally, intellectually, and economically challenged individuals.

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.

Village Hill gathers steam

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Monday, November 21, 2011

After a period of stagnation, the ball appears to be rolling for housing development on Village Hill, reviving hopes for a new neighborhood.

Village Hill gathers steam, image by The Republican
Village Hill gathers steam, image by The Republican
Last week, city and state officials gathered at the former Northampton State Hospital campus for a ceremony marking the completion of 11 energy-efficient Craftsman and Victorian homes, all of which have been sold and are already occupied. The success of that phase has led to an agreement between Wright Builders and MassDevelopment, which owns the property, to build six additional single-family homes in a new section of Village Hill.

As recently as two years ago, the majority of the Craftsman and Victorian homes, which are at the top of the price range on Village Hill, were still awaiting buyers. Jonathan A. Wright, the president of Wright Builders, bought one of the homes himself. Over the past year, however, the homes, which cost as much as $700,000, have been in demand.

Patrick M. Goggins of Goggins Real Estate, the company that is marketing the homes, said the homes went fast once the dam broke on consumer confidence in the project. The relocation of Kollmorgen Electro-Optical to the south part of the property across Route 66 helped spark interest, he said.

Supermax prisons: 21st century asylums

From Al Jazeera
By Helen Redmond
Friday, August 5, 2011

Solitary confinement in the new dungeons of the US trigger mental illness in prisoners.

Supermax prisons: 21st century asylums via Al Jazeera
Lucy Flores, whose husband spent four years in Pelican Bay, at a rally in support of inmates on hunger strike (REUTERS)

The recent hunger strike at Pelican Bay supermax prison in California exposed for three weeks the carefully planned and executed barbarism of life in supermax America. The utter desperation of the human cargo behind the concertina wire, buried deep inside concrete coffins was gut wrenching and heart breaking. Hunger strikes are a tactic of last resort for the completely subjugated; a slow, painful, non-flammable version of self-immolation.

Brian Nelson, a survivor of 12 years in solitary confinement at Tamms supermax prison in Illinois, understands the conditions that drove the men in Pelican Bay to stop eating. Distraught and anxious, Nelson paced in his cell for more than ten hours a day – causing severe, bloody blisters on the soles of his feet. He tried to hang himself. In the year 2000, Nelson went on hunger strike for 42 days with four other prisoners to protest many of the same conditions that exist at Pelican Bay.

The demands of Tamm’s hunger strikers were similar, too: better food, shoes with arches, appropriate clothing, access to education, inmates with mental illness be transferred out, bilingual staff and abolition of the “renunciation policy” – the “debriefing policy” related to gangs that Pelican Bay prisoners demanded be abolished. Guards tried to break the hunger strike at Tamms by leaving carts of fried chicken and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on the wing. The delicious smells didn’t break Nelson.

Supermax prisoners’ daily lives are chock full of alienating and undignified experiences, so empty of positive human interaction, thousands are willing to risk death than endure such inhumane conditions. That alone speaks volumes about the reality of life in supermax prisons.

One of the most humiliating aspects of life for inmates are the frequent strip searches – forced to be naked, ordered to bend over by guards and spread the buttocks apart to have the anus inspected for contraband while coughing. Strip searches are the old normal. The photos of nude prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq shocked the world, but to be stripped naked for hours or even days is standard operating procedure in supermaxes.

Nelson explained: “Every time you leave your cell you’re strip searched … They do this to degrade and shock you…Sometimes the guards would make ‘homosexual’ comments like: ‘Hey baby, spread your cheeks’. Darrell Cannon, a survivor of a nine-year stretch in Tamms, described the strip search: ‘They tell you to open your mouth, raise your tongue, hold your hands up, they go through your fingers and toes and tell you to turn around and spread your cheeks up against the chuckhole … It’s degrading to have two other human beings looking at you like you’re some kind of specimen. It is extremely degrading.”

CHD to host free July 14th film screening

From The Center for Human Development

‘Open Dialogue’ a documentary about treating mental illness

CHD will host a screening of the documentary film “Open Dialogue: An Alternative, Finnish Approach for Healing Psychosis,” by filmmaker Daniel Mackler, on Thursday, July 14, 2011, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at its main office at 332 Birnie Ave., Springfield MA.

The screening is free and open to the public and co-sponsored by CHD and the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community. The film documents an alternative approach to treating individuals diagnosed with mental illness in Finland called “open dialogue,” developed by a group of innovative family therapists who meet with clients in crisis immediately and often daily until the crises are resolved, avoiding the use of anti-psychotic medications wherever possible.

A discussion with filmmaker Daniel Mackler will follow the screening. Mackler is a New York City writer, musician and filmmaker who spent ten years working as a psychotherapist before ending his practice last year. His writings focus on the causes, consequences, and significance of childhood trauma. His other documentary films, all focusing on psychiatric diagnoses and recovery, include “Take these Broken Wings” and “Healing Homes.”

Please RSVP to Marie Gilberti at (413) 439-2104 or Karen Cabana at (413) 439-2105

For more info about the film please visit the Western Mass Recovery Learning Center & the Center for Human Development.

Worcester State Hospital Exhibit

From Kirkbride Buildings
Monday, May 23, 2011

WSH via
WSH via

It’s too bad I just found out about this (since the opening has already taken place), but I’m sure you’ll still be pleased to learn about an exhibition of objects and photographs from Worcester State Hospital which is currently on display at the Aldrich Heritage Gallery in Whitinsville, Mass. The exhibit will be shown until July 29th. Hours are 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday—which is tough luck for those that work 9-to-5, but what can you do? It’s free and open to the public, so if you don’t work during the day or can get the time off, check it out. Please report back here if you do! Thanks.

According to a blog post on the Massachusetts Health and Human Service Division’s website, the exhibit is a dry run for a display inside the new WSH hospital building. The final display will reportedly incorporate items from other Massachusetts psychiatric hospital campuses as well.

Funding cutbacks worry counselors

From The Republican
By Beverly Ford (NECIR)
Sunday, March 27, 2011

Twelve days after Jared Lee Loughner shot his way into the American psyche outside a Tuscon, Ariz., grocery store on Jan. 8, a 25-year-old mental health counselor in Revere was kidnapped from a group home and savagely killed, allegedly by one of her clients. Nine days later, it happened again when a homeless 19-year-old with a history of mental problems reportedly stabbed a shelter worker to death in Lowell, just 30 miles away.

No one can say for sure whether either murder had anything to do with funding cutbacks that have decimated the state’s mental health budget, but on the front lines in the war on mental illness, counselors are concerned.

“If you have one woman (counselor) and five men with mental health problems, it screams to me of mental health cuts,” Barry Sanders, a social worker for more than 20 years, says of the group home north of Boston where Stephanie Moulton was working when she was kidnapped and killed on January 20. “Having these kinds of staffing levels is like playing the odds, rolling the dice with someone’s life.”

Across Massachusetts, mental health agencies are feeling the strain of cutbacks that have ripped nearly $85 million from the state’s Department of Mental Health budget since 2009.

“It’s been devastation. Complete and utter destruction and devastation. The entire mental health system is shredded,says Laurie Martinelli, executive director with the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health advocacy and research group.

Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Commissioner Barbara Leadholm takes a more diplomatic stance.

CAC meeting March 23

From the Mayor’s Office:

The next meeting of the Northampton State Hospital Citizens Advisory Committee falls on Wednesday March 23 from 5 – 7pm at JFK Middle School in the Community Room.


1.Approval of past meeting minutes:
December 2, 2009

2.Residential project updates:
-Wright Brothers

3.Other Business

CAC 2011 March 23 Agenda

Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising: The Voice of the Psychiatrized
(1980 – 1990)

Phoenix Rising
Phoenix Rising, Myths of Mental Illness

The Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto (PSAT) has made Phoenix Rising, an important zine published by ex-psychiatric inmates. From the letter Myths of Mental Illness by Carla McKague which led to the first issue:

The reason that all of us are here, .you and me, is a gigantic problem. Some of you are aware of the dimensions of the problem; some of you may not be fully aware. Let me start by giving you a little bit of an idea.

Right now, this moment, there are 50,000 Canadians in mental hospitals. Tomorrow, another 30,000 to 50,000 will be showing up either at out-patient clinics or at private psychiatrists’ offices. Every year 130,000 Canadians enter psychiatric institutions, and about two-thirds of them are coming back; they’ve been there before, and they’re back. At least one in ten Canadians can expect at some time in his or her life to spend time in a psychiatric institution. And, to switch to financial terms, the cost of maintaining those
institutions in Canada is approximately a million dollars a day. That’s the size of the problem we’re facing.

Now, I don’t know most of you sitting in front of me. I’m not sure why you’re here as individuals. I can make some guesses. Some of you are people who work professionally in the field of “mental illness”; you may be doctors, nurses or social workers who are concerned about the problem. Some of you are plainly and simply–and importantly–members of the
community who are aware that there’s a problem and would like to help do something about it. Some of you have had the experience yourselves of being patients, or have had someone
in your family have that experience. You’re probably concerned; you’re probably confused; you’re probably not quite sure what it is that’s happened to you, and why it’s happened,
and what you can do about it.