Metropolitan State Hospital

Waltham, Massachusetts
The abandoned Metropolitan State Hospital is located in Waltham, Massachusetts. This hospital was established in 1927 as an insane aslyum.
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About This Location

The Metropolitan State Hospital is a now abandoned hospital campus located in Massachusetts. This hospital was established in 1927 to help the mentally ill. It was a large campus that spanned across parts of Waltham, Belmont, and Lexington, Massachusetts. Today, the Administration Building in Waltham is the only remaining hospital building.

Establishing The Metropolitan State Hospital

The Need For The Hospital

The Metropolitan State Hospital was established as a result of state legislation officially known as Chapter 451 of the Acts of 1900. This legislation required the state to take full responsibility for caring for the mentally ill, which in certain circumstances had only been managed locally before. The insane and aged senile patients from locally funded facilities would now go to state-funded facilities.

When the 1900 legislation went into place, the Department of Mental Diseases had a lot of work to do. The most urgent need was to care for the many people in the metropolitan Boston area who were dealing with mental health issues. The state acquired the largest local facility, the Boston Insane Hospital, in 1908. After this acquisition, more capacity was still needed.

In 1908, the state decided another hospital in the metropolitan area was needed. The state requested $100,000 to purchase 281 acres of land in Waltham, Belmont, and Lexington, which would become the future home of the Metropolitan State Hospital. The purchase was approved in 1914 and was authorized in January 1915.

The campus of the hospital was roughly bounded by Trapelo Road, Concord Avenue, and Beaver Brook. State Route 2 runs north of the campus, while the Boston and Maine Railroad is about a mile southeast of the campus. The Metropolitan State Hospital was the first hospital developed during the automobile age, so it did not require direct access to rail. The Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center, which also served disabled people, was established in 1888 and is located just down the road from the Metropolitan State Hospital.

Building The Hospital

By January 1915, the state had the land needed to build a new state hospital, but things were not that simple. There were a lot of back-and-forth debates and progress was also stalled when World War I diverted state attention and funds. Finally, through Chapter 22 of the Resolves of 1926, the Legislature once again asked the Department of Mental Diseases to formally consider the need for an additional hospital for metropolitan-area residents. The Department stated in its 1926 Annual Report that “the Department is strongly of the opinion that a State Hospital caring for mental patients should not exceed a capacity of 2,000.” In 1927, after many plans were considered, $1,500,000 was appropriated to build the hospital.

George M. Kline, the commissioner of the Department of Mental Diseases, looked at hospitals and visited specialists across the nation, but he could not identify a model that worked. In order to allow for effective planning of admissions, he also conducted surveys of patients across the Massachusetts system. Kline sought to make the Metropolitan State Hospital the first “to be built in accordance with ascertained needs of patients and needs of the community for the care of the mentally ill” rather than by “rule of thumb.” The individual chosen to develop a plan that brought together the greatest elements of the previous congregate Kirkbride and dispersed cottage/colony systems was architect Gordon Robb of 87 Beacon Street, Boston. The Department of Mental Diseases and Mr. Kline were thrilled with his designs. Construction of the campus began in 1926 and continued until 1935.

Opening The Hospital

From among the thousands of metro area residents who had been admitted to other hospitals by 1929, the Department started choosing patients to attend the Metropolitan State Hospital. On December 26, 1930, 36 men from Grafton State Hospital became the facility’s inaugural patients. Soon after, more people from Westborough, Danvers, Worcester, and Medfield hospitals joined them. They took part in maintenance activities as a component of work-therapy programs right away. While women interested themselves in general housework, cafeteria, laundry, and occupational therapy, males typically worked on the small farm and in the development of the grounds. Additionally, personnel from other hospitals were chosen as the employees of the new hospital. Things started out being pretty successful all things considered.

After only one year of operation, the continuing treatment class at Metropolitan State Hospital could house 1,150 patients. There were 1,230 patients overall at the end of 1932. The Medical/Surgical Building’s completion in August 1934 increased the capacity to 1,560. According to the Governor and Council’s Report, there were 1,995 residents, which was 410 more than the facility’s allowed capacity of 1,560. In addition, 281 patients were “on parole.” As was common throughout the system, there were 183 open positions among the workforce of 234, which reflected the manpower shortages caused by World War II. In addition to serving inpatients, the fully equipped Medical/Surgical Building also received patients from the nearby Fernald School, which was previously served by Massachusetts General Hospital. Needless to say, things were getting pretty crowded and chaotic at the hospital.

Struggling To Thrive

Too Many Patients

Over the decades, the hospital began to struggle with overpopulation issues. There were not enough staff to properly deal with the number of patients. Additionally, patients had poor living conditions due to cramped dorms leading to fire hazards and lack of proper maintenance leading to problems like mosquitos getting into the rooms because of the window screens being broken. Another issue was some very young children were found living at the hospital which was not suitable for them.

The Dismembered Body Of Metropolitan State Hospital

Patient Anne Marie Davee of Metropolitan State was murdered in 1978 by Melvin W. Wilson, another patient. Seven of Davee’s teeth, which Wilson preserved after dismembering her body, were found in his hands by hospital staff. No action was taken against Wilson despite this discovery and its obvious ramifications until Massachusetts State Senator Sen. Jack Backman (D-Brookline) oversaw a Senate investigation into the case and 19 other complaints of carelessness by state mental health staff. Wilson took investigators to at least three graveyards on August 12, 1980, where Melvin put parts of Davee’s remains. A large portion of the case’s physical evidence had either been lost or destroyed. Evidence found by hospital staff the day after Davee vanished included clothes, even sheets, and a “hut” in the woods where Davee and Wilson first met. A hatchet, the alleged murder weapon, and fragments of Davee’s clothing and belongings were discovered during a hospital staff search about two months after she was killed.

This murder was reported on by many major news publications such as The Boston Globe. It was a major shift in public attitude to the hospital. Additionally, it added fuel to the deinstitutionalization movement.

Closure

Hospital Forced To Close

Metropolitan State Hospital was closed in January 1992. It was closed for a number of reasons. One of these reasons was the state’s cost-cutting strategy which included closing many mental hospitals. Also, the deinstitutionalization movement was gaining steam and activists started the hospital. The movement supports reuniting mentally challenged persons with their families or placing them in community-based homes instead of placing them in public or private facilities like psychiatric hospitals. Lastly, there were concerns from many others about the treatment of the patients at the hospital.

Re-Development

The land to the west of the buildings, where the hospital originally existed, has been transformed into apartment complexes since the facility’s closure. The vast woodland areas are accessible to everyone and forever shielded from encroachment. The trails are a part of the Western Greenway link open space in the area, connecting to the Middlesex County Hospital area to the west and the Rock Meadow conservation area in Belmont to the east in 2009.

The sole building on the site that is still intact is the Administration Building, shown above. Additionally, there is a water tower used by the school and it is still standing too.

Abandoned Cemetery

On the hospital’s property, pauper graves were dug for more than 350 former patients. No formal headstones or even names were originally affixed to any of them. Only a stone was used to mark their graves with information about their faith and number. People have worked hard in recent years to properly bury the spirits, yet the hauntings do not appear to have decreased as a result.

Exploring The Abandoned Administration Building

The Administration Building is the first building one encounters after passing through the lawns and tree glades that line Trapelo Road as one approaches Metropolitan State Hospital. It has a circular drive that is surrounded by a lawn and trees (#30). This red brick building, which has an eleven-by-four-bay rectangular form, rises two stories from a high basement to a slate hip roof with a central cupola. The cupola was originally glazed with lofty arched windows but is now aluminum-sided.

The two-story Tuscan portico with a temple-front design on the south face is the building’s focal point. It has a double-leaf doorway with a fanlight that is surrounded by Tuscan columns, a full entablature, and a huge round-arched fan. A molded brick water table, splayed brick window lintels, cast-stone sills, and belt course are all examples of trim. The first story’s windows have a 12/16 sash, whereas the second story’s windows have an 8/12 sash. On the center of the rear elevation are two auxiliary entries with bracketed hoods. The design is based on institutional models from the eighteenth century.

The offices of the steward, treasurer, leaders of the maintenance divisions, and storage vaults were located in the partially exposed basement story. A lobby with a help desk, the superintendent’s office, the trustees’ room, and the staff doctors’ offices were all located on the main floor. The third floor housed a medical library, a records room, and offices.

Today, the building sits abandoned and has fallen into disrepair. It is a popular spot among urban explorers, abandoned location lovers, and historians. Visitors are welcome to walk around the building, but nobody should go inside. There is black mold, asbestos, and lead paint inside the building which is toxic. Additionally, police monitor the building and will arrest anyone who breaks in.

Location

Address: 475 Trapelo Road, Waltham, Massachusetts
Place GPS Coordinates: 42.405436, -71.213646
Parking GPS Coordinates: 42.405436, -71.213646
Parking Notes: There is a parking area adjacent to the abandoned administration building. The lot is located along Metropolitan Parkway North just off Trapelo Road.

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