Kirkbride Buildings Blog

Archive for December, 2011

More on Worcester Clocktower Demolition

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Worcester State Hospital Clocktower
As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the Worcester Clocktower, I wanted to point out that some of the paperwork for the Clocktower demolition is available on the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs website: Environmental Notification Form (PDF). The document lists the estimated commencement date for demolition as “Spring 2012” and the estimated completion date as “Summer 2012”. So it’s very likely the Clocktower will be gone within a year.

The document also explains in more detail why the building is ineligible for national landmark status:

“In response to a Part 1 Historic Preservation Certification Application for the Clock Tower, the National Park Service determined that the Clock Tower does not qualify as a ‘certified historic structure’ for the purposes of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Citing the demolition activities that occurred following the 1991 fire, and those associated with the development of the new hospital facility, the NPS concluded that the Clock Tower, and the Worcester State Hospital campus as listed in the National Register in 1980, no longer retains architectural integrity.”

The only good news in the document is that some effort will be made to salvage material from demolition for an on-site installation commemorating the Kirkbride:

“As part of the on-going MHC consultation process, measures to mitigate the demolition of the Clock Tower are being explored. One such measure includes the salvage of architectural elements of the Clock Tower for possible future incorporation in an on-site installation commemorating the historic and architectural significance of the former Worcester State Hospital.”

Save the Clocktower Clock Tower?

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Worcester State Hospital Clocktower
Massachusetts’ Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) and Department of Mental Health filed paperwork with this month in preparation for tearing down the final remains of the Worcester State Hospital Kirkbride building. It’s been determined that reusing the structure would be too expensive.

The bulk of the building’s remains consists of the Kirkbride’s administration section, and is loosely referred to as “The Clocktower.” However, the actual clock tower is a separate substructure of the admin. It’s been proposed that a compromise between preserving the admin and tearing it down completely would be to keep the clock tower substructure standing while destroying the rest. The tower would remain as a “long needle” with the clock at the top. You can find out a bit more: Group Hopes to Save Clocktower.

It would be sad if that’s all that could be saved, but the phrase “better than nothing” comes to mind. If it happens, I hope the tower will be open to the public. It would be a better memorial if people could interact with it (i.e. go inside, climb to the top, and see the view) rather than just look at it.

Christmas Past, Present at Bryce Hospital

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

The Herald News of Alabama published an article today about the history of Christmas at Bryce Hospital: The History of Christmas Celebrations at Bryce Hospital. Although I’m sure things weren’t quite as rosy as the writer suggests, it’s an accurate series of vignettes revealing some of state hospital life’s more positive aspects. I think it’s safe to say those positive aspects came to the fore during the holiday season at every other Kirkbride hospital in the country too. I get the feeling though that earlier times were more truly festive, and things got less joyful when hospitals became severely overcrowded.

It’s too bad the article doesn’t include any pictures. It’d be nice to see some of the decorations and activities it describes.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Not to be a downer, but don’t forget there are people less fortunate than you, who won’t be spending the holidays at home this year.

More Worcester State Hospital Fire Photos

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Worcester State Hospital Fire
I found a whole slew of photos taken during the infamous Worcester State Hospital Kirkbride fire today. The pictures are part of D. M. Wenc’s portfolio which is available here: Worcester State Hospital Fire. They’re part of a series of Massachusetts fire photos Mr. Wenc and his father took  in the 1990s. They also have video footage of the conflagration that’s being made into a DVD. The DVD will be for sale at a later date.

There are lots of great photos in this collection. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. A lone firefighter watches the Kirkbride burn
  2. Billowing smoke pours out from a ward’s attic
  3. The rear of the Kirkbride in flames with the Clocktower visible in the distance
  4. Flames engulf the Kirkbride attic
  5. Firefighters drenching the building with water
  6. Dousing the flames
  7. Flames leap from a turret
  8. Firefighters continue to drench the building after the fire is mostly extinguished
  9. Firefighters climb up to the roof

I was particularly struck by that last photo, mainly because I’d never seen that structure before. It looks like a group of enclosed porches with some unusual windows. Those were long gone by the time I visited the building for the first time back in 2001. I’ve never seen them in older photos before either.

I was also a little taken aback by the indifferent and nonchalant expressions on many of the people’s faces. It looks like a lot of them thought the fire wasn’t a big deal. It probably wasn’t to many people. I suppose many thought the building was just an old eyesore. But then again, just because someone’s smiling in a photograph doesn’t mean they were having the time of their lives the entire day.

As beautiful as the photos are,  it’s depressing to see these pictures and think about what might have been. If it wasn’t for the fire, the entire Kirkbride might still be perched up there on the hill today.

You can find more photography by D. M. Wenc on his blog: Photography by D. M. Wenc. You can also follow him on Twitter. (Speaking of Twitter, did you know Kirkbride Buildings tweets? As do I, if you’re interested in following me.)

Support the Richardson Olmsted Complex

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Richardson Center Corporation Donation Request FormThe Richardson Center Corporation is requesting donations to help to fund them preserve and reuse the former Buffalo State Hospital Kirkbride building. If you believe in their mission, please send them a check for what you can afford. Donations of $50 or more entitle you to a special gift. $50 will get you one ticket to an open house event scheduled for January 26, 2012. $100 gets you a ticket to the open house, plus a photograph of the Buffalo admin by photographer Patricia Bazelon. $500 will get you the best gift of all: a 90-minute private guided tour of the complex for you and 20 friends.

You can view the email they sent out today here: Support the Richardson Olmsted Complex. Please fill out the form and send in a check to support the preservation of this amazing historic landmark.

The Lost Kirkbrides: Mount Hope Retreat

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Mount Hope Retreat

I was happy to learn that Thomasp94 recently discovered a Kirkbride building not listed anywhere online: Mount Hope Retreat (Kirkbride?)

It certainly looks like a Kirkbride to me. This imposing edifice was the main building at Mount Hope Retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. Mount Hope was a private, Catholic institution founded by the Sisters of Charity in 1840. Construction of the Kirkbride, however, didn’t begin until 1859. It was designed by the architects Long & Powell.

The building is described in The Institutional Care of the Insane in the United States and Canada:

The hospital consists of a main building and four extensive wings. The former is five stories high, with an attic surmounted by a dome 160 feet from the ground, which affords a magnificent view of the city, the bay and the surrounding country. In the center or main building are located the reception rooms, the parlor, the billiard room, the Sisters’ apartments, chapel, special private rooms, the dormitories for patients and the sewing rooms. The wings are appropriated to the exclusive use of patients.

Too bad it was demolished some time in the 1970s or 80s. For more about the institution, read the short history covering its full life-span at