Worcester State Hospital – An Abandoned Asylum in Massachusetts

Worcester State Hospital

Worcester State Hospital was a mental hospital located in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. It was the oldest asylum in Massachusetts and one of the first built in New England. Like many similar facilities throughout the United States, the advent of new medications and treatments for mental health issues in the second half of the 20th century saw a reduction in patients and eventual closure of the hospital.

The Worcester Insane Asylum opened on 12 January 1833 and was the first such facility in the state. During the first year alone, 164 patients were received and within years, it was obvious that a bigger facility was required. Superintendent Merrick Bemis was vocal in his calls for a new asylum and a location on Belmont Street was chosen.

At that time, the Kirkbride Plan was favoured among designers of mental health facilities. The theory of Thomas Story Kirkbride promoted privacy and comfort for patients. It featured a central administration building with staggered wings extending from the centre.  The staggered design meant that each connected wing received sunlight and fresh air, a key factor in Kirkbride’s theories on treating mental health patients. The first such facility was the Trenton State Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. The first in Massachusetts was the Taunton State Hospital. Other notable Kirkbride Plan buildings in Massachusetts include Danvers State Hospital and Metropolitan State Hospital, both near Boston.

Worcester State Hospital Postcard

A postcard featuring the hospital from 1905.

The new asylum in Worcester began construction in 1870 and was completed in 1876. It had cost over a million dollars to build. The building was considered state of the art at the time and was designed by Frank W. Weston, an English architect and recent immigrant to Massachusetts. He was more notable as a designer of  homes in the Boston Back Bay area but his other notable works include the Essex Town Hall and TOHP Burnham Library in Essex and the Hotel Agassiz in Boston, both highly regarded to this day.

Abandoned Asylum

A view of the hospital from above.

Worcester State Hospital was initially known as Massachusetts Insane Asylum and also went by Bloomingdale Asylum and Worcester Lunatic Asylum over the years. In 1901, a satellite facility was opened in Grafton, Massachusetts for the treatment of non-violent patients in a more rural environment which it was believed would be of benefit to them.

The number of patients at the hospital continued to grow after World War II and it was decided to add a new building. The Bryan Building, as it became known, was opened in 1958 and it eventually become the main facility, taking over a number of operations from the ageing Kirkbride complex. As the hospital population began to decrease again with the advent of new medications and treatments, the original building was deemed obsolete and was closed in 1985 and left abandoned. A massive fire in 1991 caused extensive damage to the roof. The left wing was completely destroyed and the right wing was partially damaged.

Abandoned Mental Facility

The administration building as it looked while it was abandoned.

Operations continued at the Bryan Building until 2012 as work was undertaken on a new facility. This new hospital would replace a number of facilities in Massachusetts including Westborough State Hospital and Taunton State Hospital, as well as the remaining Bryan Building on the site. Most of the buildings on the grounds were torn down in 2008. The Administration Block remained and formed an important visual feature for the new hospital. It serves as a memorial dedicated to the effect Worcester had on American Psychiatry.

Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH)

An artists impression of the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH) before construction with the historic building on the right.

Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH)

An aerial view of the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH) under construction. You can see the original administration building with its iconic clock tower.

The Worcester Recovery Center & Hospital (WRCH) opened in October 2012 and features three recovery stages named House, Neighborhood, and Downtown. Like the theories of Kirkbride in the original facility, this new school of thinking is designed with the wellbeing of patients in mind however, where Kirkbride Plan focused on removing mental health patients from society, the new facility focuses on ways to reintegrate them with society.

Worcester State Hospital Farmhouse

The Worcester State Hospital Farmhouse remains. It is an example of the Georgian Revival style of architecture.

Aside from the preserved Administration Block, only three of the original buildings remain. Plans are in place to demolish the Bryan Building and Hale Building and replace them with a biomedical facility while the Worcester State Hospital Farmhouse, a Georgian Revival building, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017 and remains in operation as part of the new hospital.

Location: Worcester, Massachusetts, USA 🇺🇸
Abandoned: 1985



8 thoughts on “Worcester State Hospital – An Abandoned Asylum in Massachusetts”

  1. My sister and I learned in 1997 that we had an uncle who we had never known or heard the family speak about who had died in 1977, and was incarcerated at Worcester State Hospital for the majority of his adult life. My sister said she had read in the newspaper that a patient named Harry Musi had gotten into a fight with another patient. Since ‘Musi’ was my mother’s maiden name, she asked my mother if he was a relative, but she denied knowing him. I learned thru my niece who was a psychology major that they had done experiments giving LSD to the patients? I wonder if there are any records of the patients like my uncle, which would give me an idea of his diagnosis, I assume it was adolescent-or young adult onset schizophrenia which usually affects young males. Any chance I can get a better view of his experiences there at the hospital?:I have looked at census records, well a few, and I found out he had listed his job as sweeper, and had only completed 8th grade, like my aunt, who ended her education to go to work to help support the family, as it was the depression,(and my grandfather also worked on the roads during the depression.) From the census records I learned also that my uncle Harry had also been arrested, but I don’t know what the charge was.

  2. I did some psychiatric training at Worchester State Hospital. The truly insane were in cells in the tunnels under the hospital that ran form one end to the other buildings. Those patients were usually unclothed and ignored/left psychotic, except to feed them and were considered "lost." They would never again come out (unless they let them out when they closed in 1991,) and it was thought they would stay there until they p[assed away. It was as evil a place for the mentally ill as the Belchertown Hospital in North Adams MA for boys. (They called that the home for "feeble minded" children. But they would pull out teeth if there was a cavity, or if the child bit, with no pain killers. And that was not even the cruel part of what these places did.

    1. As a kid mom took us to “Napa”. That didn’t mean wine country, though– it referred to a town in Napa county, that is, Imola. Site of the insane asylum. The patients were treated like zoo animals. No clothes. Acting psychotic. Crammed together like monkeys in a cage. As children “you belong in Napa” meant “I think you’re crazy”. Kids. Anyway a creepy place, long closed up. Though there are huge advances in care for those with such problems, we still have a very long way to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *