Urban Exploration Sanitarium: Hospital Lake and Farm Silos

Today is not the opportune day to trek around Sutton Wilderness. The red clay is saturated from last night’s flash flooding and it makes the trail slippery. Fallen leaves cover the ground making the path impossible to see. I should be able to find my way back. The trails can get confusing, but I have been here many times before. I have even been lost here before. When I get to the drop off leading down to Hospital Lake in the center of the wilderness area, I swing my two-year-old son, Liam around on my back and tell him to hold on. I descend the slope grabbing onto tree roots to keep from slipping down the clay ledge. Liam is laughing. I’m glad he is having as much fun out here as I am despite the conditions.
We aren’t out here only for a walk in the woods. I want to find remnants of the buildings that once stood here; The boathouse used by Central State Hospital patients and staff, the dam built to contain the water that forms the lake. I also want to see if the American Legion marker is still here. I know It may have already been moved, or it might be submerged beneath the excess rain water.

Hospital Lake, as it is called, was once a part of the Central State Hospital campus used as farmland. Patients worked this land as part of their treatment. Some of the crop went to feed patients, but the majority was sold and the earnings went to the state. Aside from the dam and boathouse, you can still see evidence that it was once more than a city wilderness park. In the spring, non-native daffodils spring up in spots along the trail. The descendants of the catfish that were brought in for sanitarium patients to fish still live in these waters and concrete and brick rubble from old bridges and picnic benches lies everywhere.

The land south of Sutton Wilderness, is currently occupied by soccer fields and baseball diamonds, but once was part of

the Central State Hospital farmland. A complex of large grain silos is still present here as an indicator of the land’s history. The silos that once held grain for the sanitarium’s dairy farm are now empty save for the few dozen pigeons that roost inside. This area was also cultivated and maintained by sanitarium patients.

After the end of Central State Hospital’s farm program, both The Hospital Lake area and fields were allowed to go wild. In 1978, The Department on Mental Health had decided to sell the land to developers, but environmental groups fought to keep these historic spots from becoming housing editions. in 1979, Sutton Wilderness Park was established. Years later the soccer fields were completed and most of the farm operation had been erased.

These days, joggers, dog walkers and families populate the trails. Kayakers and fishermen make use of the lake. I even bring groups of children here during the summer to explore the ponds and learn about local wildlife. I wonder how many people know what this place used to be. The sign at the trail entrance displays the park’s history, but how many people walk by it every time they visit without reading it? A week ago, I would have counted myself among them. The silos at Griffin park are not much more than a contemporary curiosity.

I was unable to find the American Legion marker. I will contact the parks department to find its current location. It is just one more piece of the sanitarium’s history that has been displaced, as much of the rest of the campus is soon to be. As Liam and I tread back to the car, I wonder if any of this will be left for him to discover one day.

All images coyright: Catherine Carter

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