Monday, January 9, 2012

Trenton State Hospital, Forst Building

View into patient room and down corridor during civil twilight.

Trenton State Hospital - currently known as Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, and formerly the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum - is one of the most historically significant asylum campuses in America. The first asylum constructed according to the Kirkbride Plan, it was also the first erected due to the advocacy of Dorothea Dix. The main building was designed by John Notman, and completed in 1848. In the mid-1960s, the grand administrative section was demolished, and replaced with the utilitarian modern structure known as the Stratton Building.

A good ways to the southeast of the main building, past a disused swimming pool and baseball diamond, two large buildings stand next to a cluster of smaller cottages. The Marquand Building is still fully operational, although disconnected from the services of the physical plant far to the northwest; this building administers the cluster of active cottages nearby. The larger Forst building, a three-story building next to Marquand, has been abandoned for decades, and it is something of an enigma - with little reliable information readily available, the only clues we have as to its history are those we can read into site visits and photographs created during site visits.

Large patient bedroom during nautical twilight.

Whereas most of the buildings featured on this blog have well documented histories that can be confirmed through multiple primary and secondary sources, there is almost no information readily available on the Forst Building, save what can be learned from analyzing the structure itself. The only references to the structure online are documents pointing to plans by the State of New Jersey to demolish it in the near future. Annual reports from the asylum from the end of the 19th and first decade of the 20th centuries make no reference to this building, nor does the overview report of the State Hospital system from 1965. A 1913 annual report mentions the construction of a nurses' home somewhat removed from the campus - but this could equally refer to Forst, Marquand, or a number of other structures extant and demolished.

From architectural clues - the layout of the Forst Building, the methods and materials employed in its construction, and the mix of utilitarian design with a few architectural flourishes - a few things can be inferred, though they cannot be assumed without further evidence. The building was likely constructed some time between the 1920s and 1940. The unsecured and intact windows, of clear and even glass, help confirm that it is not much older, as well as giving clues towards its purpose - it's very possible that it was originally a staff housing building, and if not, it certainly wasn't a secure ward - it may have been a minimum-security ward for convalescent patients. In the central wing on each floor, there is a large room with an unadorned brick fireplace. This works with either theory - these could have been the common areas shared by nurses or orderlies living in the building; alternately, they could have been lounges for staff on break, or dayrooms for patients, although the large rooms at either end of each floor seem more suited to the latter purpose.

Artifact clues paint a clearer picture of more recent uses of the structure, and give a ballpark timeline for its abandonment. On the first floor, there are piles of literature concerned with addiction and recovery - suggesting that the final use of the building was as an inpatient rehab facility. Indeed, the layout of the structure itself would have lent itself quite well to this purpose. Most artifact evidence points to abandonment in stages; while the southern wing of the building is nearly devoid of objects in situ, the central wing still contains beds, furniture, and a small scattering of patient belongings, and the northern wing is basically cluttered with things left behind, suggesting it was the last section of the building to be vacated. The majority of items left on the top two floors suggest an abandonment date in the mid-late 1970s, with the exception of a newpaper from the early 1980s - this could, of course, have been left by an interloper. Evidence on the first floor, including office machinery and paperwork, points to its use into the early 80s - it's possible that the first floor was still in use after the top two were vacated.

The central hallway connecting the three wings of the building, showing extensive roof damage, taken during civil twilight.

A closer look at the roof damage, taken mid-day five years earlier.

The top landing of the staircase in the northern wing during civil twilight.

Top-floor hallway junction highlighting water damage to roof.

The top-floor lounge area in the central wing, with a simple brick fireplace topped by a somewhat ornate wooden mantle.

The northern wing of the structure is littered with artifacts ranging from patient clothes to half-full jars of barbecue sauce, cleaning products, books, and other assorted things that were not removed by patients when the building was abandoned.

A typical room on the top floor of the northern wing of the building; a dresser has been emptied out, and various objects have been left amidst the fallen plaster.

Under a table, a toothbrush and small plastic bottle sit among plaster and paint chips.

The artifacts found throughout the northern wing are quite varied in type - here, a seashell sits next to a can of hairspray and a pair of denim jeans on a mouldering carpet.

A well-preserved lampshade hangs precariously off the edge of a utilitarian table.

A pair of Nike shoes - apparently predating their iconic "swoop" logo - sits on a table next to a patient bed.

Several closets still contain clothing, among other belongings - here, a pair of pants remains folded over a rusting hanger.

A pair of refrigerators - which still have containers of various food items inside - sit inside a room that was presumably a communal kitchen, although no stove or sink was present.

A crutch still leans against the wall next to a bed.

Many of the patient rooms in the central wing still contain beds and furniture, and in the northern wing, many still contain belongings. This suggests relatively rapid abandonment, and the fact that apparently useable beds, refrigerators, and other furniture and appliances were not removed for use in other buildings or state facilities helps to confirm this.

Sunrise streaming across door into patient bedroom in central wing of the top floor.

Each room had a metal tag with its numeric designation stamped into it - the fact that metal tags were used, as well as the layers of paint which made it onto the tags, suggest that they were either an original feature of the building or an early addition.

The patient in room 1 was likely a devout Christian. Or a devoted Elvis fan.

A passive-aggressive note was left on the door to room 2 by the housekeeping department, and later added onto by the fire department. Five years later, the note was gone.

A typical patient bedroom, with two blacklight posters still attached to the wall. By five years later, the blue poster had been removed, and the artifacts in the room rearranged, likely by a photographer looking to create an interesting (but artificial) scene.

A damaged feather pillow - a stark contrast to the cheap synthetic or horsehair pillows found at most asylums. This pillow was later placed in the room with the blacklight posters, probably as part of an arranged photograph.

This bedframe still had a shipping tag from the manufacturer attached. As the tag refers to the facility as "State Hospital" and not "Psychiatric Hospital", it predates 1972.

The southern wing of the building is nearly bereft of artifacts; none of the rooms contain beds, and only a few objects of any sort remain. This suggests that this was the first ward vacated while the building was being closed down.

Hallway in the southern wing of the building, with view into a room containing one of the few remaining artifacts - a medical work desk.

A typical empty room on the top floor of the southern wing. Although evidence points to it being the first ward abandoned, it is also has the most intact roofs.

Another southern-wing room, demonstrating the colors from the overgrown windows and reflection from the bricks of the building cast upon the plaster wall.

Second-floor hallway in the southern wing. The unsecured transoms above the doors provide further evidence that this building was never a medium- or maximum-security ward.

The chair beside this tub is clearly marked so that it was not removed to a patient's room or common area.

This top-floor southern-wing bathroom has suffered significant water damage, and has created an environment conducive to the invasion of climbing vines.

The second-floor landing of the heavily decayed southern staircase; vines have climbed in through a window on the switchback landing and made their way down the stairs.

The first floor features a hallway with various psychedelic paint designs on the walls; here, the paint has mostly covered an old hand-painted guide pointing towards the fallout shelter.

A wooden chair in one of the hallways; this was almost certainly placed here by another photographer to create an artificial scene - note the fallen plaster upon the chair, and the lack of similar plaster surrounding it.

This first floor classroom contained a small number of desks, as well as some literature on drug rehabilitation - it could have functioned as a meeting place for Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

There's only so much that can be learned from site visits without actual documentation - and so, my readers, I call upon you to please email me with any information, anecdotes, suggestions for sources, etc, so that I can firm up the history of this unique and interesting building which still resonates with the feel of the Age of Aquarius.

The now-missing "Afro Love" poster that once adorned a patient's bedroom. This poster was printed in 1974, and thus it can be inferred that this building was vacated no earlier than this year.