Asylum, Author Bill Powers, DonnaInk Publications, Greystone, Historic Preservation, Kirkbride, Morris County, Morris Plains, New Jersey, Novel, Psychiatric Hospital, Suspense/Thriller, The Pharm House
I used to live in Morris Plains, NJ and just a quick bike ride from my house was the old Greystone Psychiatric Hospital grounds and buildings. Many a day, my daughter and I would ride over to the grounds and just wander around. We looked into the buildings, but never went inside. Take a look…
Originally opened on August 17, 1876, the hospital was known as the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum at Morristown. The asylum officially received the familiar Greystone Park name in 1924. The idea for such a facility was conceived in the early 1870s at the persistent lobbying of Dorothea Lynde Dix, a nurse who was an advocate for better health care for people with mental illnesses. Because of her efforts, the New Jersey Legislature appropriated $2.5 million to obtain about 743 acres of land for New Jersey’s second “lunatic asylum.” Great care was taken to select a location central to the majority of New Jersey’s population near Morristown, Parsippany, and Newark. The land Greystone was built on was purchased by the state in two installments between 1871 and 1872 for a total of $146,000.
At this time in history, New Jersey’s state-funded mental health facilities were exceedingly overcrowded and sub par compared to neighboring states that had more facilities and room to house patients. Greystone was built (673,706 ft²), in part to relieve the only – and severely overcrowded – “lunatic asylum” in the state, which was located in Trenton, New Jersey. In fact, Greystone’s initial 292 patients were transferred from the Trenton facility to Greystone based on geographic distribution, setting precedent for Greystone to become the facility that would generally accept patients whose residences were in the northern part of the state. This proved to be the very reason why Greystone quickly became overcrowded in the heavily populated North while the Trenton facility’s number of patients remained relatively stable in the comparatively sparsely populated South.
The original Second Empire Victorian style building (Kirkbride Building) was 673,706 total square feet. At the base of this massive building was the alleged largest continuous foundation in the United States from the time it was built until it was surpassed by the Pentagon when it was constructed in 1943.
Each ward was initially set up to accommodate 20 patients. Each was furnished with a dining room, exercise room, and parlor. Most wards had wool rugs that ran the full length of the corridors. Other amenities included Victorian stuffed furniture, pianos, pictures, curtains and fresh flowers. Though not all wards were created equally. Wards that housed the most excitable patients were sparsely furnished – presumably for their own safety – with sturdy oak furniture.
Initial fees were $3.50 per week for a normal patient. For persons seeking private apartment-style living, the rent could be anywhere from $5.00 to $10.00 per week.
During the time that Greystone was built, the predominant philosophy in psychology was that the mentally ill could be cured or treated, but only if they were in an environment designed to deal with them. A major proponent of this philosophy was Thomas Story Kirkbride, who participated in the design phase of the main building at Greystone, though the two main designers were architect Samuel Sloan and Trenton State Asylum Superintendent Horace Buttolph (a friend of Kirkbride’s). The building was constructed and furnished according to Kirkbride’s philosophy, which proposed housing no more than 250 patients in a three story building. The rooms were to be light and airy with only two patients to a room. To reduce the likelihood of fires, Greystone and other Kirkbride asylums were constructed using stone, brick, slate and iron, using as little wood as possible.
The Greystone campus itself was once a self-contained community that included staff housing, a post office, fire and police stations, a working farm, and vocational and recreational facilities. It also had its own gas and water utilities and a gneiss quarry, which was the source of the Greystone building material. Below the building, a series of tunnels and rails connect the many sections. For many years, a trolley line, part of the Morris County Traction Company, connected the facility with what is now a NJ Transit rail station at Morris Plains and other parts of Morris County.
Greystone is one of those mysterious, but very real places that captures your imagination. Several movie and television shows have shot scenes there. For those of us who love to preserve our history, it would be wonderful if New Jersey could find a way to preserve the physical facility as well as the history of Greystone. Unfortunately, as of this writing, it appears that the state has given the go-ahead for the destruction of Greystone.
If you are interested, I have provided some links to more information on Greystone. I for one will be very sad to see her go.