June 24th, 2008
I like all Kirkbride buildings, but definitely not equally. I have my favorites. Below is a list of the five I like most. Before we get to the list though, here’s a little disclaimer: this list is based solely on aesthetics and does not mean that these are particularly good examples of Kirkbride buildings, or that these were the best hospitals in terms of treatment, recovery rates, staff, etc. Also, I’m only counting the buildings I’ve been to. There are other Kirkbrides I would have considered, but they were demolished decades ago and I don’t want to evaluate them on photographs alone.
And now, without further ado…
5) Taunton State Hospital
There’s an amazing sense of calm and simple beauty inside Taunton, something that’s probably greatly enhanced by the lack of serious vandalism…well, before the fire anyway. It’s small by Kirkbride standards and it’s architecture is pretty tame compared to the larger buildings that came along after it. But it’s still an indescribably beautiful building on the inside. The breezeways in particular are (or were in one case) something very special.
4) Weston State Hospital
Weston’s hand-cut sandstone with all the little detailed carvings gives it a singular character among Kirkbrides. It’s design is pretty unique too. Another thing Weston has going for it is that there were few major alterations to the exterior of the “core” building. Just looking at it evokes an amazing feeling of history that compliments its beauty.
3) Hudson River State Hospital
This is another unique place with some really beautiful features, and like Weston there weren’t a lot of major alterations to the exterior. It also has a much more varied set of component parts than your typical Kirkbride. That makes it more interesting than the buildings with carbon copy wing sections. The stained glass windows and the large common areas with all the arches are especially attractive aspects of the interior.
2) Buffalo State Hospital
This Kirkbride has such a robust and powerful “personality”. And even though I don’t usually subscribe to the “bigger is better” philosophy, I have to admit that the size of this building does impress. The two towers over the admin are especially awe-inspiring. There’s some variety in the wings too, sort of like at Hudson although not to the same degree. I still haven’t been inside yet, but from what I’ve seen in pictures it’s pretty amazing, and a match for the imposing exterior.
1) Danvers State Hospital
The first Kirkbride I learned about and still my most favorite. Even after finding out about all the other Kirkbrides in the country, this one still gets first billing in my mind. I can’t think of another Kirkbride—or building of any kind—that matches it for a strange mixture of old fashioned charm and a strikingly original, but still beautiful design. By the time I got to see the inside, it was a wreck and a disappointment to some degree. But the exterior is something that I can never grow tired of looking at. It’s such a heart-breaking shame that most of it was torn down.
Everybody’s got their favorites, and those are mine. If you can’t believe I didn’t include yours, or want to share your own top five, feel free to comment. I’m definitely interested in hearing other opinions.