Of all the abandoned buildings and places that once catered to the needs of the public, hospitals and insane asylums are among the most chilling. Despite traditionally being places of healing and treatment, grim reality saw to it that many who came under the care of these early institutions never saw the outside world again. If you fancy some online urban exploring, here are six decaying hospitals amd insane asylums to check out.
Severalls Hospital, Colchester, UK
Severalls Hospital opened in 1913 as an Edwardian-era lunatic asylum housing up to 2,000 patients around an “Echelon plan” – an interconnected network of wards and offices within easy reach of one another. In the days of chillingly primitive mental health care, doctors “experimented” with impunity at Severalls. Such “treatments” included electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and lobotomies as late as the 1950s. In her book Madness in Its Place: Narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913 to 1997, Diana Gittins paints a sinister picture of Severalls insane asylum and the activities within. These therapies were even used as “cures” for normal character traits, such as teenage moodiness and “youthful defiance”.
Swanbourne Hospital, Perth, Australia
The abandoned Swanbourne Hospital opened in 1904, formerly known as the Claremont Mental Hospital. The building remained active until 1987, after which it fell into dereliction and urban decay took hold. But unlike many of its contemporaries, including some of those featured in this article, the former insane asylum remains in eerily good condition. The Swanbourne Hospital even boasts its own theatre and ornate plasterwork that has somehow managed to survive more than two decades of abandonment.
Hospital for the Incurably Insane, Norfolk, Nebraska
The Hospital for the Incurably Insane was established in 1885 on 320 acres of land provided by the city of Norfolk. Successive name changes over the years have gone back and forth between the “incurably” to the “chronic” insane, without disguising that most patients “treated” here would never leave via the front door. Between 1917 and 1963, 902 individuals were sterilized in Nebraska, roughly 18% of them deemed mentally ill. It has been posited that several occured in the ramshackle buildings shown above prior to 1921. While these buildings are now abandoned, the site still serves as a mental health and substance abuse facility for adoloscents and young adults, less chillingly renamed the Hastings Regional Center.
Nocton Hall Hospital, UK
The imposing Nocton Hall began life as an 18th century manor house. After the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917, Nocton Hall became a convalescent home for young American officers until 1919, then stood empty until World War Two. In 1940, the hall and 200 acres of parkland were aquired by the Air Ministry and became an RAF hospital. Over the next five decades, the Nocton Hall served as an army “clearing station” for the Americans, an officers’ club for the British, and latterly a 740 bed hospital under RAF control until 1984. U.S. forces took over again during the Gulf War of 1991/92, with up to 1,300 medical staff on site. After 1995 Nocton Hall fell into abandonment and two servere arson attacks during the last decade have reduced the grand building to little more than a shell.
Renwick Smallpox Hospital, New York, USA
Renwick Smallpox Hospital opened in 1856 on Roosevelt Island (formerly Welfare Island), between Queens and Manhattan. Its isolated location made it an ideal place to treat smallpox, largely among New York City’s more destitute citizens, although paying patrons were also admitted. Accessible only by ferry and with home to a prison and insane asylum, in addition to the smallpox hospital, this sinister institution brings to mind the recent Martin Scorsese film, Shutter Island.
The 100 bed gothic hospital was designed by architect James Renwick Jr., whose works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Grace Church. As of 1872, 7,000 patients were treated annually, with an average of 450 deaths – perhaps not a bad record in the context of the times. Renwick Smallpox Hospital was abandoned after 1973 and fell into ruin. A ill-fated restoration effort was attempted in 1975 but the structure has since fallen into decay, with no roof, internal walls or floors remaining. With little of the original building left to preserve, Renwick has now, ironically, been designated a historic landmark.
Old Mercy Hospital, Liberty, Texas
Old Mercy Hospital is located on Travis Street near the Courthouse in Liberty, Texas. Information about this abandoned building is somewhat sparse, although it was apparently run by Catholic nuns and contains a reasonably intact chapel (bottom). Old Mercy Hospital was closed more than 30 years ago and used as a nursing home until final abandonment in the 1980s. Despite its historical significance and fairly intact condition, Old Mercy has been branded structurally unsafe and plans are reportedly afoot to demolish the abandoned hospital.