Wandering the grounds of Fairfield State Hospital

Fairfield State Hospital -  Photo by Liz Cooke
Fairfield State Hospital –
Photo by Liz Cooke

The (largely) abandoned Fairfield State Hospital in Newtown, Connecticut, is not unlike Letchworth Village in that the grounds are open and visitors are free to wander among the buildings. Entry into the buildings is strictly – and sadly – verboten, since, like Letchworth Village, one can only imagine what went on behind those closed doors…

The grounds are vast, and on a beautiful summer day, one encounters bikers, hikers, moms with strollers, joggers and dog walkers. Today, just outside the abandoned (and very dangerous looking) power plant, we met two bikers out for a little exercise. Recognizing kindred spirits, we struck up a conversation. Tim told us that his grandmother worked as a nurse in Fairfield State Hospital so the buildings had special meaning for him. He also knew someone who spent the last years of her life as an inpatient there. It is amazing how these sad, vacant places come to life when people share their personal stories.

Tall columns at FSH  - Photo by Liz Cooke
Tall columns at FSH
– Photo by Liz Cooke

The back story: Fairfield State Hospital (later Fairfield Hills Hospital) opened in 1931 to alleviate overcrowding at other Connecticut mental institutions, including Connecticut Valley Hospital. The hospital’s 16 buildings were constructed in a colonial style, with architecture reminiscent of elite colleges and private institutions. With its red brick facades and graceful white columns, Fairfield looked nothing like 19th century asylums with their imposing High Victorian Gothic styles. Still, Fairfield State Hospital was designed with the same purpose in mind – to house the mentally ill and “criminally insane.” When it opened in 1931, Fairfield State Hospital had just 500 patients. When it closed in 1995 it had over 4,000. Its history reveals the use of treatments now considered barbaric – frontal lobotomies, hydrotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy and psychosurgery. Clearly its leafy campus-like feel belied a much darker reality, and many are still drawn to Fairfield State Hospital in the hopes of connecting with these tortured souls. Paranormal investigators, “ghost hunters” and others interested in the supernatural realm gravitate to Fairfield. Perhaps that is why the site was chosen as the location for the movie Sleepers and the MTV show Fear.

Belltower at Fairfield State Hospital - Photo by John B. Madden
Clocktower at Fairfield State Hospital –
Photo by John B. Madden

We saw nothing quite so intriguing during our short visit. Rather we saw a place that unlike Hudson River State Hospital and other once-grand institutions was open to the public and able to be enjoyed if only in a limited way. Many of the buildings have been repurposed and now house town offices. There is a school on the grounds and new ballfields.

 

On the grounds of Fairfield State Hospital - Photo by Liz Cooke
On the grounds of Fairfield State Hospital – Photo by Liz Cooke

It remains to be seen what will be done with the hospital buildings, but they appear to be in decent (although asbestos-riddled) shape. In the meanwhile, feel free to visit and enjoy taking exterior shots. Please remember, Fairfield State Hospital is actively patrolled and no one is permitted in the buildings.

Reflections on solarium window panes -  Photo by John B. Madden
Reflections on solarium window panes –
Photo by John B. Madden