Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Belchertown State School, Belchertown

The Belchertown State School for the "Feeble-Minded" was established in 1922. The above is a theater with an underground gym where a basketball court and a mini bowling alley left abandoned with icy, squishy floors.

A series of journalistic coverages and lawsuits in the early 70's disclosed the Belchertown's unsanitary, overcrowded condition at some of the dorms where over 80-year-old residents lived with other 120 residents who were "mentally, all two-year-olds in the physical bodies of grown-ups."*  

The school was closed in 1992. A talk of converting the complex into a "5-star living " spa  surfaced in 2006, but even twenty years later, the site remains abandoned.

What is the power that institutionalizes people? Why is such authority dismantled now...or the structures are left derelict, but the system of institution became more invisible and more pervasive? What are the forces that led to the closure of the Belchertown and other countless institutions in the nation; benevolent efforts to place intellectually disabled persons into a community based care, frail of a large scale institutional care, or shift to private enterprise? Where did all the residents go after the closure? Do I know all the answers?

*Robert Hornick, The Girls and Boys of Belchertown. Amherst: U of Mass P, 84.

Locate Belchertown State School @ Google Map


  1. I know some of the answers! The short answer: President Kennedy started a move toward closing down institutions and moving care into the community -- this came around the time many psychotropic drugs came to market that controlled symptoms in ways that prior treatments were unable. Long term hospitals rapidly started closing down and were replaced with a system of community mental health centers.

    The problem, of course, was money. Just as the early institutions started with good intentions, and in many cases good funding, community mental health centers got drastic cuts during President Reagan's term. Rather than hiding people with severe and chronic mental illness away in large hospitals, we hide them in our streets as homeless people and in public housing.

    The version of hell that many people w/chronic mental illness looks a lot different than these institutions--but they are, by-and-large-still living in hell.

    Great images - especially the rusted record player. I might have to make a visit myself!

    1. Hi Jason,

      I increasingly think the deinstitutionalization was a double edged sword. Do you think JFK was influenced by civil-rights movements, notably the works of anti-psychiatry?

      Radical psychiatrists like RD Laing attempted releasing a ward of the state into community (sans medication). I think it was a extremely benevolent doing but if I see the streets and prisons (I used to volunteer) now, their benevolence was crushed by the mechanical system like funding cuts that you mentioned.

      I wonder how privatized prisons deal with people with chronic mental illness now; would the management see their bodies as "something" they can extract profit out from?

      Great images, aren't they? A local urb-ex guy brought me there. The property itself is public, according to him. If you want to visit there with Maggie, please let me know.

  2. Great pictures as always! Wish I could go with you!

    1. Hiya, C!

      Come down to Massachusetts! There are lots of interesting abandoned fortresses on our side of the Champlain, too.

  3. WOW! I'd noticed these buildings driving on 202 on my way out to work in Littleton MA. Curious, on my way home one night, I drove up there at one point and wondered what these buildings were. I am facinated by abandoned buildings and always wanted to go inside! thx! I recently found your blog and have spend the last 2 days going through each one. I am enjoying them so much!

    1. Thanks Anon,

      Hope you enjoyed my blog! I need to get back to blogging. Western Mass has lots to offer :)


    2. I was hoping to hear you'd be blogging again soon. I just finished reading Creepy...chusetts and The Reversed View. Informative, very interesting and I did enjoy all of it!!
      I found your blog happily by accident. I work in Andover MA now and have been driving by the Tewksbury State Hospital. I thought the building looked cool but by the time I would get home, I'd forget what it was called. This last time I drove by it, I kept repeating the name until I got home and googled it. I wanted to see images (as well as the information behind it) some of yours came up and well... I kept reading a bit every day until I finished them :)

      thank you SO much!