Friday, March 23, 2012
The central administration building was flanked by two narrow buildings named Awl and Salmon, with the latter used to house violent patients and those found guilty of crimes by insanity until the 1970s. Underground tunnels stretched back towards the river, connecting almost all the structures with a traversable passage. Many of the buildings were named after superintendents of other state hospitals or pioneers in the mental health industry, such as Kirkbride and Dix. In the 1930s, the Seymour building housed tubercular patients.
During the 1950s, the patient population peaked at over 3,180, and Norwich State Hospital expanded to include a new medical research facility, pathology department, and large residence buildings on the south side of the property, which had grown from 100 to 900 acres. The opening of these buildings meant the closing of the older structures on campus, which were used for storage or just left to rot. By the early 1970s, the addition of the new structures and the effect of decreasing patient population that was occurring all over the country left just seven of the original buildings in use. Interestingly, these 1950-era structures contained updated recreational facilities that replaced the old ones, leaving the campus with a total of two bowling alleys and three theaters.
Norwich State Hospital closed entirely in 1996, leaving only the Southeastern Connecticut Mental Health Authority in the Kettle and Lodge buildings until their relocation to the Uncas on Thames Hospital. The extensive tunnel network, full of cancer causing asbestos, along with the rotting underground tanks and old hospital landfills created very expensive cleanup costs. This, along with various state and town legislative issues, had left the property in limbo since its closure until 2011, when cleanup and demolition was started.
Growing up in Norwich, as children we referred to it as the "State Hospital" and would make off color jokes about you are going to get sent there. It was one of the most beautiful properties in Norwich with the old buildings, rolling lawns and overlooking the water. I am glad someone is going to change the property but it is still quite sad to see the buildings come down.