On my way to becoming a social psychologist, I took a detour as a clinical psychologist. Included in this detour was a one-year clinical psychology internship in 1975 at Fairfield Hills Hospital in Newtown, Connecticut. I should note that I enjoyed my American Psychological Association approved internship and was pleased with the training and experiences that I received from the professional staff that I found there.

The hospital, when first begun in 1933, reflected perspectives then available to treating persons with mental illness. It was a nearly self-contained village on approximately 800 acres in a bucolic, rural setting where more than 4,000 persons could be freed from the assumed stress of modern urban life. Apart from the restorative contribution of the peaceful setting, activities such as swimming, sports, as well as art and music therapy were provided.

It was, however, no rural spa. More aggressive treatments were often needed and were used. These included physical restraints, insulin shock therapy, hydrotherapy, frontal lobotomies, and electroconvulsive therapy. But with the advent of psychotropic drugs and antidepressants in the early 1950s, treatment changed dramatically.

My job when I arrived in 1974 was to psychometrically evaluate residents and, having done so, offer psychological therapy to them, most of whom were also receiving pharmacological treatment. During the time I was in graduate school, the role of large psychiatric institutions such as Fairfield Hills was being reevaluated. If treatment involved medication and psychotherapy, why not offer it in a less expensive community-based group home setting where transitioning back into the community could be facilitated? Assuming that suitable living arrangements could be provided, why not then discharge many of the patients?

Of course, the assumption that suitable community settings could be found was often not true. NIMBY (not in my backyard) sentiments arose among those who feared the worst when former patients returned to their community. A very few of the patients I encountered had behaved violently toward someone; no doubt there were others. Most patients, however, were baffled, sad, and confused. And even though many of them saw, thought, and heard things that weren’t true by most standards, they were no threat to anyone.

The process of deinstitutionalization that had begun before and during the time I was doing my internship continued. By 1995 so many patients had been discharged that the State of Connecticut decided to close Fair!field Hills along with Norwich State Hospital. The hospitals were simply too costly to operate.

In 2010 my wife and I were in Connecticut and decided to stop and look at the hospital. I was amazed at its poor condition. The buildings that still stood were in terrible condition. Although the workmen we met were very gracious, they asked that we not try to enter the buildings because of the town’s legal liability and because others had broken in and damaged the buildings. We honored their request. Hence, I have no photos of the interiors, nor do I have photos of the hospital when I worked there. It would not have been right to violate patients’ privacy by photographing them or the buildings they lived in.

After its closing, the hospital entered something of a legal limbo. The once attractive and substantial buildings were unheated and had not been repaired for several years. Eventually the town of Newtown through, as I understand it, a development agency assumed title from the state which had maintained control but had performed little maintenance. Quotes in the local newspaper in 2019, The Newtown Bee, indicate that the town, of only about 30,000 residents, had spent over $30 million on the site, mostly on demolition. The town made a real effort to avoid demolition, but was only able to renovate four of the 21 badly deteriorated buildings, many of which contained hazardous material. The former grounds themselves are being redeveloped using a mixed-use plan.

PS, You will find many references online to the hospital as being one of America’s most haunted places. Really? It was just a set of buildings where people spent part of their lives, often very difficult parts of difficult lives; some got better, some did not; some people were born there and others died there. The same could be said of any town, medical hospital, or university.

If I have incorrectly named the buildings shown, please let me know. Additional descriptions may be found with the photos in the gallery. Clicking any photo will take you there.

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