Westborough State Hospital is an abandoned state mental institution in Massachusetts. Regarded as the second homoeopathic state hospital in the nation, the campus was impacted by the effects of deinstitutionalisation in the latter half of the 20th century and abandoned in 2010. Westborough was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Westborough Insane Hospital was established by Chapter 322 of the Acts of 1884, and its trustees were directed to reuse the structures recently vacated by the Lyman State Reform School for Boys. 3 One of the primary buildings that were to be reused was a long, three-story brick structure designed in 1848 by Elias Carter and James Savage, and expanded upon in 1876 by the Worcester firm of Cutting and Holman.
The State School had been developed on the former 180-acre farm of Lovett Peters, along with adjacent property owned by the Rice family. 3 It was generally the location of Westborough’s first settlement, and part of a 17th-century land grant to Reverend Charles Chauncy. 24
George Clough, Boston’s first City Architect, was hired to remodel the main building, which had once housed 400 to 500 boys. 3 It had been declared inappropriate for the reformatory’s purposes due to its extensive size and jail-like appearance. To make room for 325 inpatients, Clough demolished the center of the circa 1876 addition and replaced it with a gambrel roof section that included a congregate dining room on the first floor and a chapel on the second floor, and a rear wing that housed wards. The congregate dining room was the first in the state and allowed patients to interact in an environment that was similar to that of a hotel. The model was duplicated at Foxborough, Medfield, and Metropolitan state hospitals.
Initially, $150,000 was allocated towards construction but had to be supplemented twice to provide increased space for an additional 80 patients and to construct outbuildings and provide furnishings. 3 Work began on May 18, 1885, and was completed by December 1, 1886.
The first 204 inpatients, nearly all of who were chronic cases and who were able to pay for their treatment, were transferred from Worcester Danvers, Taunton and Northampton state hospitals. 3 In total, a little over 550 were admitted to the institution.
Homeopathic treatments at Westborough Insane Hospital deviated from accepted norms at the time, which emphasized rest, special diets, and hydrotherapies, such as spray baths, tub baths, cold sponging, and wet packs. 3 Specific drug therapeutics, such as hypnotics and sedatives, were avoided while antispasmodics, to control mania and restlessness, were occasionally delivered. Westborough was the second homeopathic state hospital in the nation.
By 1895, the recovery rate at Westborough was regarded as the highest in the state. 3
The hospital began holding clinics for Boston University Medical School students in 1887 and organized a nurses’ training school in 1890. 3
In 1889, Worcester architect Stephen Earle was hired to design a mortuary and again in 1890 to design the Osgood Cottage for Convalescent Patients. 3 A laundry, boiler house, and bakery building were erected behind the Main Hospital Building in 1891 followed by an electric generating plant for lights, heating, and ventilation in 1895.
In the early 20th century, several buildings were built specifically for acute or chronic cases. The Hospital for Acute Cases, designed in the Colonial Revival style by Rand, Taylor, Kendall & Stevens of Boston, was created in 1897. 3 It later became Talbot Hall. Two colonies for quiet chronic patients, designed by Kendall, Taylor & Stevens, were built on the south shore of Lake Chauncy. The Richmond Colony was erected in 1903 followed by the Warren Farm Colony for female patients along the western shore of Chauncy Lake on Heath Hill in July 1911. 18 The Richmond Colony was then converted for use by just male patients. The cost of Warren and a new building for tubercular patients was $63,000.
The Codman Building was designed in the Colonial Revival style and built in 1903, followed by the Superintendent’s Residence in 1904, three female nurses’ houses in 1904, and three male attendants’ houses in 1906. 3 A rear west wing for the Main Hospital Building, for chronically disturbed patients, was designed by Kendall, Taylor & Stevens and developed in 1906. It connected to the Main Hospital building by a narrow corridor. J Ward, to the northwest of the Main Hospital Building, and a kitchen behind the Main Hospital Building, were built at the same time.
Farming operations vastly expanded during the time, with Westborough’s acreage extending to 650 acres. 3 The hospital believed that farm work provided relevant therapeutic opportunities, and provided a lower cost food source for patients. A stable, piggery and greenhouse were added circa 1910.
Westborough Insane Hospital was renamed to Westborough State Hospital in 1907 as a result of a statewide renaming initiative. 3
By the 1930s, Westborough featured bacteriological, chemical and pathological laboratories, X-ray, physiotherapy and surgical departments, hydrotherapy and occupational therapy for patients. 3 There were also outpatient clinics in Boston, Framingham, Marlboro, and Waltham. An auditorium, designed to match the neighboring Codman Building in the Colonial Revival style, was built in 1931-32 at the cost of $85,000 and included seating for 1,000, a bowling alley and a pool room. 16 It was followed by a $59,000 laundry building and a $257,000 nurse’s home in 1934. 14
By 1945, Westborough was bursting at the seams. Its resident population was 1,730, well over its capacity of 1,332, and there were only 239 staff members, including nurses, with 210 vacancies because of World War II. 3 Many of the buildings were overcrowded and some, such as the female ward, were noted as firetraps. 12 By 1950, there were 2,100 patients and 800 staff. The state had recommended that the following be done to rectify the severe overcrowding situation:
- Construct a new admission and treatment building, a new structure for disturbed female patients, a new building for tubercular patients, five cottages for officers, and a new power plant.
- Renovate the male and female wards of the Main Hospital Building.
Towards the goal of modernizing the campus, a new $565,000 power plant was finished in 1948, 13 followed by the Hadley Building for admissions in 1950, and the Daniel and Hennessey buildings in 1967. 3 The Dr. Morris L. Sharp Building was dedicated on September 13, 1973. 9
Deinstitutionalization, the process of replacing long-term psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services, began in the late 1950s. The movement towards deinstitutionalization was born out of a socio-political change for community-based services and open hospitals and the advent of psychotropic drugs and financial rationales. 4
Westborough’s resident population was gradually reduced by releasing stabilized patients, shortening inpatient stays and reducing admission and readmission rates. Programs were implemented to minimize the reinforcement of dependency, hopelessness and other maladaptive behaviors.
[Westborough] represents in microcosm the history of the treatment of the mentally ill in this country. The hospital changed from a huge institution to one with a dwindling population under deinstitutionalization to a core center that today operates mainly as an outpatient facility.
-Professor Roger Panetta 5
By 1970, Westborough’s patient population had decreased to 1,200. 15 Farming operations began to cease afterward over their cost inefficiencies. The piggery closed in 1970, followed by the elimination of all farming operations in 1972.
In 1977, Westborough was one of a number proposed sites for a medium security prison as part of a $13 million, 600-bed expansion plan. 6 The other locations included Otis Air Force Base, Westover Air Force Base, and Gardner State Hospital, Bridgewater State Hospital, Foxboro State Hospital, Grafton State Hospital, and the Shadowbrook Seminary. All sites were either closed or underused. The prison proposal for Westborough was ultimately rejected. 8
It was then proposed to close the state-run Cushing Hospital, which had 450 mentally ill geriatric patients in Framingham, and relocate them to Westborough. 17 The hospital was set to shut down later in the year because it failed to meet safety code requirements for accreditation, 22 but the state opted to allocate money to bring Cushing up to code. 23
In 1978, Anheuser-Busch proposed building a Busch Gardens amusement park on the site of Westborough and the former Lyman School for Boys nearby. 25 After the proposal was abandoned, Donald J. Collins, a former vice president of Anheuser-Busch, formed MEG Enterprises to develop restart the plans for the commercial attraction. The $300 million to $500 million project, to be completed over a ten-year period while Westborough was phased out, would also involve the construction of 2.5 million square feet of office space, a 600-room hotel and conference center, and an 18-hole golf course. The amusement park proposal was unable to receive full financial backing or state support.
In February 1980, the state recommended that Cushing and Westborough merge their administrative staff to capture $3 million in federal funds for the combined facility under a Medicaid payment plan. 15 Under the program, the facilities would continue to operate independent locations but be managed from Cushing. The idea received lukewarm support and was eventually dropped.
At the time, Westborough had 385 patients and 650 staff, which declined to 300 patients by June 15 and 260 patients and 397 staff by 1984. 3 Most of the remaining patients had severe mental illnesses and were not able to be treated with outpatient-based programs. 5
The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center opened a 15-bed Special Acute Adolescent Diagnostic and Treatment Unit in the Daniels Building in May 1988. 11 In April 2001, the state awarded Westborough $188,000 to renovate the Codman Building. 26
The Zara Cisco Brough Princess Whiteflower Center for Girls, a new detention center for females, opened on June 5, 2007. 27 The $20 million facility, named after a local Nipmuc Tribe leader and activist, featured separate school and classroom space, an intake area with a medical office, a gymnasium, an outdoor recreational space, and a visiting room. It replaced the circa 1890 Pelletier Center.
Westborough State Hospital was set to close on the day that the new Worcester State Hospital in Worcester was set to open in 2012. 1 2 But because of a $13 million deficit by the state Department of Mental Health, Westborough’s closure was accelerated to June 30, 2010. 2 The hospital was one of the most expensive to operate in the state, at $42.7 million per year, with each of the 162 inpatient beds costing $248,000 a year.
Admissions began redirecting patients for its 16-bed inpatient unit on August 30, 2009, and in September, the hospital started relocating those in the adolescent units, intensive residential treatment programs, and adult deaf units. By December, the hospital began the search for community placements for adult inpatients, and Westborough State Hospital was closed entirely by 2010.
The town of Westborough purchased most of the 95-acre hospital site from the state for $2.2 million in 2014. 19 It intended to subdivide 36½-acres of the campus and sell the buildings to developers and place the remainder of the land into a conservation easement. The state financed the sale with a 10-year, zero interest loan, and required that the town split the proceeds of any future sale of the property with the state.
The state retained 12 acres where it operated the Zara Cisco Brough Center and an adjacent six acres where it planned to construct a boys’ detention center 20 in Allen Hall. 21 The Sharp Building was also retained for use by the Department of Developmental Services.
The town received three bids for the 36½-acres in December 2016 and awarded a bid for redevelopment to Pulte Homes for $7 million. 20 The company intended to construct 700 residential units targeted at those aged 55 and older.
Demolition permits were approved on September 4, 2018, for the demolition of the circa 1905 Queen Anne-styled Superintendent House, the circa 1890 Stephen C. Earle-designed Osgood Cottage, and three circa 1904 Craftsman / Colonial Revival style residences designed by Kendall, Taylor & Stevens along Hospital Road.
Main Hospital Building
The Main Hospital Building was constructed in 1848 as the central structure at the Lyman State Reform School for Boys. 3 It was designed by Elias Carter and James Savage in the Greek Revival architectural style and erected at the cost of $52,000. It was dedicated on December 4, 1847. The main building for Lyman was expanded in 1876 by Cutting and Holman of Worcester. The structure was deemed unfit for the reform school over its mammoth size and institutional appearance and function, and the school was relocated to a new campus in XXXX.
George Clough, Boston’s first City Architect, was hired to remodel the main building, which had once housed 400 to 500 boys. 3 It had been declared unfit for the reformatory school’s purposes due to its massive size and jail-like appearance. To make room for 325 patients, Clough demolished the center of the circa 1876 addition and replaced it with a gambrel roof section that included a congregate dining room on the first floor and a chapel on the second floor, and a rear wing that housed wards.
Initially, $150,000 was appropriated towards construction but had to be supplemented twice to provide increased space for an additional 80 patients and to construct outbuildings and provide furnishings. 3 Work began on May 18, 1885, and was completed by December 1, 1886.
In 1891, a powerhouse, laundry, and bakery, designed in the Queen Anne-style, was added to the rear of the Main Hospital Building. 3 The front of the building was replaced in 1936 with a Colonial Revival-style structure to house a cafeteria and kitchen.
The auditorium was constructed in 1931-32 in the Colonial Revival-style to match the neighbouring Codman Building. 3 Finished at the cost of $85,000, it included seating for 1,000, a bowling alley and a pool room. 16
Child’s Building was constructed in 1908 in the Colonial Revival-style. 3 It was expanded with three-bay wings circa 1930.
Daniel and Hennessey Buildings
The Daniel and Hennessey Buildings were constructed in 1967. 3
The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center opened a 15-bed Special Acute Adolescent Diagnostic and Treatment Unit in the Daniels Building in May 1988. 11
In the early 20th century, several buildings were built specifically for acute or chronic cases. The Hospital for Acute Cases, designed in the Colonial Revival style by Rand, Taylor, Kendall and Stevens of Boston, was constructed in 1897. 3 It later became the Talbot Building.
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- The J Ward later became the Robert Kennedy School. 29
- Psychotic inmates were held at the Framingham State Prison at Westborough. 7
- There was a request for $2.8 million in state funding for a Geriatrics Building in 1963. 10
- $1.89 million was expended for a tubercular building in 1949. 17
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- O’Connell, Scott. “Westborough State Hospital to close by next summer.” Westborough News, 31 Jul. 2009.
- Hammel, Lee. “Westboro State Hospital set to close.” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 26 Oct. 2010.
- Jenkins, Candace. National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. Westborough Insane Hospital. Sept. 1993.
- The Rockland Campus Plan. New York State Office of Mental Health, 1989.
- Cornachio, Donna. “Changes in Mental Care”. New York Times, 3 Jan. 1999. Article.
- “State hearing set tomorrow on 4 new prison site proposals.” Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield], 19 Apr. 1977, p. 11.
- “Dukakis to sign hospital-costs bill.” Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield], 8 Oct. 1976, p. 4.
- Michelson, A.A. “Legislators vote down Shadowbrook as jail.” Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield], 29 Apr. 1977, p. 1.
- “Daily Schedules – Sept. 13.” Boston Globe, 13 Sept. 1973, p. 23.
- “Education Boost Sought by Peabody.” Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield], 2 Jul. 1963, p. 1.
- “Adolescent Psychiatric Unit Open House.” Boston Globe, 8 May 1988, p. B103.
- “Report Brands Many State’s Institutions as “Firetraps”.” Boston Globe, 24 Oct. 1945, p. 11.
- “Beacon Hill.” Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield], 13 May 1948, p. 11.
- “Huge Hospital Job Begun in Westboro.” Boston Globe, 18 Apr. 1934, p. 7.
- Harrison, Marcia. “Hospitals eye money-graining merger.” Boston Globe, 20 Feb. 1980, p. 53.
- “Assembly Hall Started at Westboro Hospital.” Boston Globe, 25 Nov. 1931, p. 8.
- “Highlights of Gov. Dever’s State Hospital Program.” Boston Globe, 15 Aug. 1949, p. 7.
- “New Buildings at Westboro.” Boston Globe, 2 Aug. 1911, p. 16.
- Haddadin, Jim. “Town moves to sell part of Westborough State Hospital site.” MetroWest Daily News, 26 Feb. 2016.
- Thompson, Elaine. “Company plans 700 housing units for Westborough Hospital land.” MetroWest Daily News, 9 Dec. 2016.
- A Technical Assistance Report. Urban Land Institute, Mass Development, 2014, p. 8, A Technical Assistance Report.
- Cash, William R. “Help is sought to save hospital.” Boston Globe, 3 Mar. 1977, p. 47.
- Cash, William R. “Cushing hospital to remain open.” Boston Globe, 4 May 1977, p. 42.
- Keller, Constance B. Massachusetts Historical Commission. Westborough State Hospital. Nov. 1978.
- McNamara, Ellen. “Big Park Plans For a Small Town.” Boston Globe, 11 Jan. 1981, p. 1.
- “Massachusetts Capital Asset Management Division Awards Contract for Renovation Services.” US Fed News Service, 12 Aug. 2009.
- “Department of Youth Services Opens New State-of-the-Art Facility for Young Women.” US Fed News Service, 5 Jun. 2007.
- Rosinski, Jennifer. “New lock-up facility for girls on old hospital grounds.” Boston Globe, 19 Jun. 2007.