The Musconetcong Sanitarium for Tuberculosis Diseases † is a former tuberculosis hospital in the western mountains of New Jersey. Portions of the complex operate today as a psychiatric hospital.


History

Silesian physicist Gustav Brehmer observed that tuberculosis rarely occurred at altitudes above 1,600 feet in elevation, reasoning that the thinner air made the body healthier by making it work harder. 2 In turn, the lungs would have to work harder, making them more resistant to the disease. Brehmer opened the the first modern tuberculosis sanatorium in Gobersdorf, Prussia.

Brehmer believed that a combination of high altitude, fresh air and sunshine, exercise, and large food portions could cure someone of tuberculosis. 2 A student of Brehmer, Peter Dettweiler, believed that patients were “physical and nervous weakling(s)” and “need(ed) more rest than one ordinary takes.” Dettweiler also believed in patients having permanent or continuous fresh air treatment, with residents sitting outside most of the day in reclining chairs on protected verandas.

The campaign against tuberculosis in New Jersey began with a report by the State Charities Aid Association in 1901. 2 It criticized the treatment at the time: placing the ill in almshouses, which wasn’t much of a treatment as much as it was a way to remove the affected from society.

In response, the state of New Jersey began planning for a state owned and operated tuberculosis sanatorium in 1902. 2 It needed to:

  • Be in the open country and at a higher elevation.
  • Face the south for sunlight.
  • Be close to ideal passenger railroad routes.
  • Include ample land for cultivation.
  • Have a good water supply outside of urbanized areas.

Much like other sanatoriums, New Jersey opted for a Spanish Mission-styled hospital, with a stucco exterior and a red tile roof and with a central administration building with flanking wings perched on the south side of a mountain overlooking a valley. 2 The state also constructed separate buildings a dining hall, recreation, power, laundry and greenhouse.

Construction

The governor of New Jersey appointed Dr. Charles Kipp of Newark as the primary manager of construction of the new Musconetcong Sanitarium for Tuberculosis Diseases. 2 The original construction costs were projected to be $300,000.

Approximately 500 acres on Mt. Kipp in the Musconetcong Mountains was secured. 2 Located at 950 feet above sea level, the site featured southward vistas of the Lebanon and Clinton valleys, and was far removed from any major cities.

George B. Post and Sons of New York City was selected as the architect for the complex. 2 Post had been a noted designer of hotels and commercial properties in NEw York City.

The new hospital, which opened in 1907, 1 2 included only the Administration Building, the East and West wards and Service Building. 2 The wards contained a total of 280 beds. The Service Building contained a boiler, electric plant, engine room, dining hall, kitchen, storerooms, machines to clean linens and to sterilize equipment, and offices for the doctors employees.

Expansion

By 1921, the bed capacity at the Musconetcong Sanitarium for Tuberculosis Diseases had been reduced to 246 because some beds had to be reserved for employees. 2 Additionally, one wing of a pavilion was devoted to occupational therapy. Nevertheless, the sanitarium expanded with new structures, some temporary. The complex consisted of:

  • An Administration Building with two patient wings, each with 52 beds.
  • A two story Infirmary Building with 13 beds on each floor.
  • Four ward buildings of wood construction.
  • Central recreation, lavatory and school building.
  • Two-story housing structure with room for 16 employees.
  • Service Building with a dining room, serving room, kitchen, bakery, butcher shop and pasteurizing plant on the first floor and laundry, ironing room and sterilizer on the second floor. Bedrooms for nurses were located above the dining room.
  • Power house with garage.

A residence for the fire chief and engineer was planned, as both left after 9 p.m. for their houses outside of the sanitarium. 2

Designed to treat up to 500 “curables” annually, the Musconetcong Sanitarium for Tuberculosis Diseases had treated 10,313 by 1929. On any given day, there were 326 male and female patients and 114 children.

To accommodate the patients, the English Pavilion for children had been erected, along with a Nurses Home, Engineering Office and Canteen, and a larger Employee Dormitory. 2 A third story was also added to the Administration Building for additional offices, clinics, and staff quarters, and the Infirmary Building was enlarged. A new Recreation Building and School was being built behind the Administration Building.

By the 1940’s, the open air porches were considered no longer essential to the well being of the patients. The porches on the Administration Building were enclosed to create more room for beds. 2

New Mission

The development of the drug streptomycin at Rutgers University in the 1940’s 2 led to a dramatic decline of tuberculosis rates and deaths in the United States. 

With tuberculosis in a slow decline, the sanatorium’s mission was broadened in 1950 to treat those with all chest diseases. The facility was renamed to the Musconetcong Hospital for Chest Diseases.

By 1960, Musconetcong had only 335 beds. The last county sanatorium in the state closed not long after, with all of the remaining patients transferred to Musconetcong.

Many sanatoriums became geriatric facilities, as the remaining sanatorium patients by the 1960’s were elderly. 2 The young had returned to their homes and jobs, while the elderly, who had often been institutionalized for decades, had no jobs or homes to return to. Other facilities became schools or minimum security prisons or were abandoned outright.

The Musconetcong Hospital for Chest Diseases was converted into a 288-bed 1 state-sponsored nursing home in 1977 and was renamed the Musconetcong Gero-Psychiatric Hospital. 2 The Employee Dormitory, English Pavilion and Infirmary Building were shuttered immediately after.

Musconetcong began admitting seriously ill 18 to 65-year-old patients of all ages in 2001 5 in a new building that was built on the site of the English Pavilion, which was razed. The Employee Dormitory was torn down for a parking lot.

Closure

On July 1, 2011, 5 the state ordered Musconetcong to close within a year. 3 Governor Chris Christie’s 2012 budget called for one state psychiatric facility to close to save the state an estimated $9 million. The budget also called for the implementation of a drug and alcohol treatment facility for homeless war veterans at Musconetcong at a cost of $2.3 million. 8

Musconetcong stopped admitting patients in October. 4 Patients who needed institutional care were sent to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, which was housing 480 patients, 20 short of capacity, 4 or to other state and private psychiatric hospitals and wards, many of which were at capacity. 3

“As we continue to phase down, clinicians are finding it more and difficult to secure adequate services in the community to meet the needs of our patients,” he said. “Consequently, the treatment teams at Hagedorn are being encouraged by the division to consider less than optimal and perhaps less than adequate discharge plans for Hagedorn patients. We’re being pressured to discharge to substandard placements that we would not have considered months ago.” 4
– Ronald Schroeder, clinical psychologist at Musconetcong

Veterans Haven North, a long term drug and alcohol treatment facility for 100 homeless veterans, opened in July in a building on Musconetcong’s campus. 6

State Senator Richard Codey, a long term mental health advocate, went undercover several times in 2017 to investigate concerns of psychiatric care and social services. 7 Codey discovered serious overcrowding and unsafe conditions at Greystone Psychiatric hospital. In response, Codey called for the reopening of Musconetcong to help relieve the immediate situation.


Gallery

Historic American Engineering Resource

† The actual name of the location has been modified to protect the location as much as possible from vandalism.

Sources