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The "Village", as it was called, is located in the northwest corner of the city of Taunton, Massachusetts U.S.A. It covers about 1 square mile with the center being School Street. A large portion of the Village population was Portuguese when I was growing up.

This blog covers a lot of the history of the Village, much to do with my years as a child there: 1940 through the late 1950's. I do have many wonderful photos and information prior to that that and will share those as well. Always looking for MORE PHOTOS AND MORE STORIES TO TELL.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014


As a child growing up in the Village in Taunton, we often heard such taunts as," you will end up at Hodges Ave.!"  We did not have to guess what that meant…we knew.  It referred to the Taunton State Hospital on Hodges Avenue where mentally ill patients were placed.  The hospital was not far from the Whittenton part of Taunton, a hop, skip and jump from the Village.  It was also not far from the old Mill River mills and Reed and Barton factories.  Interestingly, the haunting movie, Shutter Island, was filmed at those old mills.  The movie was about a mental institution back in the 1940's from the book of the same name by Dennis LeHane.

                                                  Taunton State Hospital in the Snow

My favorite authors as a teen were Edgar Allen Poe and the Bronte Sisters.  I had grown beyond The childhood Bobsey Twins and was in my dramatic gothic period.  Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Nevermore…bring them on!  Maybe the spectacle of those Victorian buildings silhouetted against the sky at the State Hospital that I passed so often, imprinted itself on my young mind.

It was after creating the last two posts that I decided researching this hospital seemed a logical direction to take.  As we know, many of those resting beneath the metal markers at the Pauper's cemetery were from Taunton State Hospital.  This post taught me much I did not know about the hospital. As with the rocking chair gravestone memorial there is a good bit of psychic interest and legend abounding on the Internet about Taunton State.  I will not be dealing with that, except to say one must take it with a ton of salt.  Many places of concentrated suffering and abandonment retain that sense which can often be felt, especially in active imaginations.

A student nurse there in the late 1950's, I had personal experience within those walls and will share it among and between the lines I write. Taunton State Hospital is a vital part of Village and Taunton history and cannot be ignored.  It is also part and parcel of state and national history.

                                       Here we go….beyond those stern foreboding walls.

Taunton State Hospital (or Lunatic Asylum as it was first called) opened its doors to patients in 1854. It's location in Taunton was not welcomed by Taunton residents to begin with, as can be imagined. However, it soon became a place at which many folks from Taunton found employment.  At one point in its history, the hospital contained forty buildings.  Not only physicians, nurses and attendants but all types of employment opportunities were available.  There were kitchens, a chapel, bakery, laundry, pharmacy, greenhouses, to name just a few. There would have been a massive grounds and maintenance department and residences for nurses and many physicians and staff.

It was only the second state hospital for the mentally ill to be built in Massachusetts. Its initial purpose was to handle the overflow from Worcestor State Hospital, seen in the photo below.

The Taunton institution, too, became full to capacity in a short time. Remember, the care of the mentally ill prior to the advent of psychotropic medications was of a totally different kind. It relied on incarcatation and restraint for those patients many of whom far beyond reach of the help then available. Often it was the poor that were treated in such institutions,  but not exclusively.  One of of the hospital's famous and infamous patients was Jane Toppan an unlicensed nurse who from1860 to 1901 murdered 31 people under her care at such hospitals as Massachusetts General. She is  buried among others from Taunton State in the Pauper's cemetery on E. Brittania St.  She was also the inspiration for many novels, plays and even movies.  A famous patient was Thomas Hubbard Summer, 
a sea captain who developed a celestial navigation tool known as the Sumner Line.  
 The legend that Lizzie Borden was a patient there proved to be untrue.

Wikopedia has a lengthy section regarding Taunton State and provided me with 
significant information.Many of the photographs however, come from groups which specialize in gaining access to and photographing abandoned sites in the U.S. 
 Their photographs are invaluable, especially in this case, as so much of the institution is now gone.  This group entered over a 15 ft fence at four in the morning.

                     Here we see in one of their photographs that silhouette so
 familiar to us who grew up in Taunton.

Below is a photograph from the past of a lovely curved staircase at Taunton State.  The treatment of the mentally ill in those early years when the hospital was built was thought to be progressive and labeled the "Moral Treatment".   The groups that under cover of darkness enter the grounds of places like Taunton State may be compared to archeologists as they search the ruins with their cameras for the debris of lost memories.  Declared a National Historic Site, eventually the State sold off architectural features to people and companies all over the country, leaving nothing at the site of the hospital's ruins.  I imagine this photo  below contains just such valuable collectables.

                                           Taunton State Hospital- Interior photograph

The hospital was built in a rare and unique neoclassical style. It is also a "Kirkbride" hospital.
Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride advocated a hilly location which would allow fresh air and sunlight to permeate the institution. None of the Kirkbride hospitals exist today. The Taunton hospital sits on a former 154 acre farm along the Mill River.  The architect, Eldridge Boyden,  built spectacular architecture including Holy Cross College, whose buildings still stand today. The hospital was noted for its beautiful Dome. The construction cost $151,742.48.

 One could certainly say, as does the creator of online Abandonded Places, that what happened to Taunton State Hospital
could be called "demolition by neglect."

Here is another spectacular stairwell at the hospital.

 One of its most wonderful features were its beautiful  breezeways connecting the wards to the infirmary.  The distinct cupolas and cast iron characters gave it a unique personality.Below is the
ruin of one of the breezeways.

In 1975, the main patient care portion of the hospital was closed.  In the early 1990's a $12 million grant was set up to provide renovations.  In 1994, the site had been added to the National Registry of Historic Places…imagine.  But, this architectural beauty was destined for abandonment and collapse.  In 2006, a huge fire caused massive damage, the famous and well known Dome collapsed in 1999.

The Dome in its Day

                                          In 2009, the rest was nearly all demolished.

This was the nurse's residence at Taunton State.
Although my family was in the Village in Taunton 
I spent many a night here
while on my three month rotation.  I was 18 years old and 
this experience was a great big dose of fast maturing.

Below is a photograph of an abandoned common room at the Hospital.  I remember we students worked on a woman's ward with just such an open, sunny room. Benches and chairs circled the room. It was here, on my first day, that I found the mother 
of a friend in the Village sitting quietly in a chair against the wall.  
She never said a word, only sat deep within her own thoughts.  
This was not one of the most difficult wards, it was quiet except 
for the shuffling gait of patients going to and fro.

                             Another aspect of such a ruin holds its own musical memories.

This was all in another era of medical care, the years I was there.  We student nurses were given a large ring of keys that were threaded on a belt worn under our all-encompassing starched aprons. It is amazing the sense of power that those keys gave to a person. We were under stern orders to lock each door after us which we unlocked. Who knows but my keys
 unlocked this old rusted hospital lock below.

  We never went to the "back wards".  For some reason I did go once and it was a disturbing place, with much noise and suffering. That trip required much unlocking and locking.  I felt I was a matron in some novel by Dickens. Perhaps this photo is of one of those "back wards."

Perhaps, though, my most dramatic experience took place in a tunnel like 
this one under the buildings. We students were shepherding a large group of patients
 over to an auditorium to see a movie. 

 It was night and suddenly all of the lights went out!  
It most likely took place at one of these tunnels. 
The lights came back on after a few very long minutes…
I am sure the patients were as afraid as we were!

Today those state hospitals no longer exist in the same way.
Many people lived whole lives at these
Institutions until such time as the fabled de-institutionalization
process began in the state and then across the country.
 Some had been there so long there was no place for them 
to go when released back into a frightening and lonely world..

                                               South wing at Taunton State Hospital

There was a great move to save the hospital, but neglect allowed precious architectural pieces and buildings to fall to powder and disappear.  We can thank those photographers who at least saved pictures of what once was.  At one time, this hospital was state of the art, and Harvard medical staff were part of it all.  Young student nurses provided a glimpse of another life for patients.  Like so much of the Taunton landscape it lives only in memory.  

There was despair here and loneliness and anguish, but there would have been caring, shelter, and a sense of family for so many.  I salute those who cared for so many over the decades.

People are storytellers, but places are, too.  Taunton is a treasure of architectural and historic homes and buildings. Once Taunton State Hospital was among them.  Many, such as the Taunton Public Library which is fast fading, are also being lost to the practice of "demolition by neglect." Never to be replaced. There must be a way of truly recycling these places and keeping their histories sharp and present.

                           Meanwhile, in closing this post I invite you to watch this poignant film.
                            You Tube: Abandoned History: Taunton State Mental Hospital

There are so many sources for this post. If you are interested, go on any of them or just use your search engine for others.  Wikipedia, as mentioned is one, and also is a source for the story of Jane Toppan.
Here are a few others.


On Pinterest and Tumblir there are many photographs of Taunton State, some of which I have included in this post.  Some of the photographs are from the archives of The Library of Congress.


  1. Thank You for sharing this. I too lived nearby but never crossed to the other side of that wall. It is nice to know that it was once a beautiful place with caring staff. My grandfather spent the last six months of his life there, but I was never allowed to visit. He died on my 12th birthday in 1963. I had always assumed that this was a horrible place.

  2. I hope that this post gave you some peace about your grandfather.
    Thank you for sharing that comment.

  3. I grew up at 48 Hodges Ave. and my mother worked at the hospital as a housekeeper for years. The grounds were lovely, especially great for kite flying. I remember that Saturdays, some patients could walk to the (always open) gate; some were allowed to the end of the street; some could walk all the way to town. Sad to hear it's gone.

  4. My mother was a Supervisor at Taunton State Hospital in the 70's. We lived just up the street on Chester Street. Many nights I remember going to pick up my mom--she worked the 2:30 to 11 pm shift..Some nights were eerie other nights I did venture up to the nurses station on the floor she would be working on. The staff was always great..The architecture amazing..but still had a feeling in the air of what lay behind all the locked doors. She had been a Captain in the US Army Nurse Corp stationed in England. I remember the great Blizzard of "78. She got snowed in at work..and an Army truck finally picked her up and brought her home long enough to shoer and change..To see her get out of that very high Army Truck was amazing!!! and she made that look soo easy!

  5. I don't have any of the profile link you have listed--Just commented--You may use my name if needed--didn't want to be anonymous!! Luci Skwarto

  6. I think you mean Kirkbride not Kingsbridge. It was named after Dr Thomas Story Kirkbride who was the founder of this type of asylum layout. Other Kirkbride hospitals in Massachusetts are/were Danvers, Tewksbury, Worcester, and Northampton State Hospitals.

    1. You are absolutely right! Sometimes my typing gets ahead of my spelling function: thank you so much for telling me…I am changing it on the post.
      Appreciate your sharing, also your wonderful story about your Mom's wedding gown during the war on I'm From Taunton!

  7. I have a sister who did her nursing training at TSH in the 1950's, between 1954 and 1956! We lived within walking distance of the hospital, and there was a small brook that ran behind the hospital and along Hopewell St, that sometimes was used as a shorter route home! I also had a brother who worked there a little earlier in the 1950's,before entering the military service. He had a lot of stories to tell, and he met several interesting patients who had their full faculties and yet they were there. My own Dad worked there in the early days of his marriage to my Mother. Also, as kids, we used to walk through the grounds from Hodges Ave. to W. Brittania St., and back home. The patients used to yell "hello, have you come to see me today?" when we walked by. It was sad, yet we always replied to them and just waved to others. A very different time! So sad that all of those beautiful buildings were left to rot and get knocked down, what a beautiful college campus that would have made, and it would have taken away some of the stigma that has always been associated with the hospital. Keep up the good work. I just discovered your posts, and am enjoying reading them. We might even know each other!

    1. How good to hear that children of that day were kind to those patients. I did my psychiatry rotation there around 1959. There were many patients who never had visitors. It was a community unto itself. And it was a beautiful campus, how said there was no foresight to try and save those incredible buildings, you are so right!

  8. My mother Angelina Mello worked at taunton state as an attendent nurse. I remember asking her how come she was black and blue, her answer was that she worked in the violent ward. I also remember going in there (scared to death) to pick up her car when I attended THS. It was a 49 Studebaker.