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Taunton State Hospital

1854- Present

Taunton, Massachusetts


   The Taunton Lunatic Hospital opened on April 7, 1854, and was the second state hospital, but the first Kirkbride hospital for the insane in Massachusetts. The hospital was built based on the new principles of Thomas Kirkbride's Linear Plan and Dorothea Dix's vision for the mentally ill. It was designed by architect Elbridge Boyden in a Renaissance Revival style, featuring an iconic center dome that rose 70ft from the center, providing panoramic views of Bristol County. Dr. George C.S. Choate became the hospital's first superintendent. 


   The original Kirkbride building was built as an "E," with the male wards to the West and females to the East, and could accommodate 250 patients. In its first year, it received 330 patients, which was more than the comfortable number it was designed for. This led to the expansion of the hospital in 1874 and again in 1892, with the addition of the infirmary wards Brown (Male) and Howland (Female). The new infirmaries would be connected with its famous curved breezeways on each side.


   In 1902, a male (Murray) and female Nurse's home was built (Learoyd 1902). Also, in that year, the original staircase was demolished and repurposed in the rotunda as a spiral staircase climbing up to the third floor. The fake dome ceiling on top was removed and opened for natural light to make the Front Centre building more cheerful. The hospital's name was changed to the Taunton State Hospital in 1909. A nursing program was also started, paving the way for modern-day psychiatric nurses. 


   Despite all these changes and additions, the hospital still couldn't keep up with the demands of patients. In the 1930s, the campus started to move away from the Kirkbride hospital and move West of the campus, adding a new surgical building (Besse 1935), female infirmary (Cain 1935), nurse's home (Gifford 1937), superintendent's house (Emory House 1934), and a Married Couples home (Dorn 1927). 


   In 1951, Taunton State Hospital hit its highest patient count at 2,356. A new admissions building (Chambers 1956) and a new Male infirmary (Goss 1963) were added to help take off the growing patient count with an extra 200 plus beds. 


   In August 1972, the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety determined that the hospital's wings were unsafe for live-in patients and needed to be moved out in five days, or they would shut the hospital down. This caused tremendous stress and pressure on hospital patients and staff in a short amount of time. They were moved to Murray, Cain, Goss, and Besse. 


   After the closure of the wings, the Front Center part of the hospital was still in use for activities, treatment, and meals for physically fit patients. Around this time, the trend of deinstitutionalization became more and more popular in America, taking a lot of pressure off the hospital but also dooming the famous Kirkbride.


    In the late 1980s, the entire Kirkbride Hospital was abandoned and left to decay. In 1999, the famous cupola started to lean to the left, and in fear of it collapsing, they hired a company to self-collapse it into the iconic rotunda. A large fire on March 19, 2006, destroyed the Front Center of the Kirkbride, dealing another major blow to this iconic hospital. 


   After standing for 156 years, the Kirkbride Hospital was razed in 2010 due to demolition by neglect. Although the original Kirkbride Hospital is now a memory, Taunton State Hospital is still an active mental health facility treating and helping patients with the same moral principles as it did when it first opened.


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