Brattleboro Retreat (Vermont Asylum for the Insane)
National Register Nomination Information:
The Brattleboro Retreat, a 1000-acre comprehensive mental health treatment center founded in 1834, consists of 58 buildings and sites, 38 of which are contributing historic structures that date from 1838 to 1938. The complex encompasses large-scaled brick buildings for patient accommodations and therapy, ancillary cottages, residences, spring house, tower, and farm buildings, all set in a scenic environment of landscaped grounds, open meadows, woods, and fields. Building styles range from Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Colonial Revival to suburban residential.
The core of the institution is a group of nine buildings, located principally on the east side of Route 30 (Linden Street, previously Asylum Street), overlooking the Retreat Meadows lake and the West River to the north. To the southeast is the Brattleboro Common, above which can be seen the Wantastiquet Mountain on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River. To the west is the Retreat Park and Tower (13), 250 feet above the level of the main buildings. At the heart of the well-maintained complex is the classically detailed red brick, slate-roofed Main Building (1), begun in 1838, whose series of connected wings and returns represent constant expansion during the nineteenth century. Facing the Main Building on the west side of Linden Street is the 1857 Linden Lodge Nursing Home (2), of similar height and scale, whose vernacular Greek and Colonial Revival architecture complements, and forms a significant nineteenth-century group with, the Main Building (1). Detached twentieth century Colonial Revival style buildings, in a richly landscaped setting of large trees, gardens, and broad lawns, round out the core of the complex, giving the impression of an old New England college campus.
The 1885 Springhouse (14) is-located in the Retreat Park. Additional Retreat structures, which extend to the northwest of the core, mostly along Route 30, include the Linden Street Houses (16-20) (a row of c.1930 staff residences), the Retreat farm (26-39) (a complex of mid-to late nineteenth and early twentieth century farm buildings), the Pikeville Houses (45, 46) (mid-nineteenth century cottages), and the c.1867 Men's Summer Residence (49).
Individual buildings within the complex are described as follows (numbers refer to enclosed sketch map):
(1) Main Building (1838-1963)
For purposes of analysis this building can be divided into component blocks, identified by letter on the enclosed map. Except as indicated, all blocks display the following common features: red brick walls (in 1950, cream-colored paint was removed and the natural red brick waterproofed with china oil), slate gable roofs, projecting cornices decorated with brick dentils and fascias, granite foundations, partially shuttered symmetrical double-hung sash windows (some with matching iron security sashes), stone lintels and sills, and a continuous stone water table between the partially raised basement and first story.
(1-A) Center Building (1838, 1848, 1863, 1883)
The main facade's four outer bays contain 6/6 windows set back in two Federal-style arched recessed panels, one on each side of the pavilion. Rising above the third story, framed by a raking, denticulated returning roof cornice, is a large multi-light stained glass semi-circular window with a bank of four double-hung sash windows set within it. The top sash of each of these windows consists of a large pane surrounded by a band of small panes. This oversized recessed Queen Anne style window was added to light a fourth-floor chapel when the roof was raised in 1883.
The east and west eaves sides of this building each contain six bays of 6/6 windows, blind on the second and third stories of the second bay from the front.
On the east side, a single-story projecting bay with blind round-headed arches, 6/6 paired windows, a denticulated cornice and an attached pyramidal roof, extends out from the second and third bays Single, large 1883 dormers, each topped at the ridge by a single chimney, break the east and west roof lines, forming transepts for the chapel. The dormers have projecting pediments with slate-sheathed tympanums, supported by brackets and overhanging two horizontal pairs of windows separated by a Queen-Anne-style carved panel with rosette and petal motif. A square ventilating cupola, topped by a flared pyramidal roof and finial, sits astride the roof ridge. Its louvered sides are enriched by sunrise-motif perforations. The rear of this block, facing the court yard, is seven bays wide with a 1963 brick elevator shaft partially covering a semi-circular chapel window, matching the front facade window.
This structure was erected in 1838 by Captain Merchant Toby, master builder of Worcester, Massachusetts, based on a general plan submitted by Superintendent Rockwell, with drawings prepared by Captain Toby. It was originally two and a half stories with a pedimented roof and housed the superintendent and family, matron, and female patients. In 1848 it was extended forward 33 feet and the roof was raised. The first three stories were rebuilt following its destruction by fire in 1862. The oversized semi-circular window, the dormers and steeply pitched roof are the result of the second (1883) roof raising by George D. Rand of Boston. This building now serves an administrative function. Interior features, including dark-stained balustrades with massive Italianate octagonal newel posts, pressed metal ceilings and Victorian mantels and trim, remain intact, as does the original superintendent's office and living quarters, now occupied by the present superintendent and his family.
(1-B) West Wing (1838, 1844, 1861, 1863)
Brick is laid in an unusual pattern of nine courses stretchers followed by a single course of three stretchers alternating with two headers. Above the second story, brick is laid in common bond, recording the 1861 roof raising. The west gable end is three bays wide with a lunette above. The center bay consists of tripled 10/10 windows, providing light and ventilation for the wide interior corridors. The flanking single bays are 12/12 sash. There is an offset first floor entrance on the left of the exposed gable end. The roof is punctuated by three chimneys and surmounted by an 1885 cupola that matches the one on (1-A). The interior of this building, destroyed by fire in 1862 and rebuilt in 1863, is now used for Personnel and Planning.
(1-C) (1963) (non-contributing)
(1-D) (1844, 1853)
(1-E) (1853, 1929)
(1-G) East Wing (1841)
(1-H) (1845, 1848)
(1-I) (1845, 1851, 1929)
(1-K) (1852, 1855)
(1-M) (1854, 1859, 1873, 1878)
The center pavilion, originally a stable (1859) and later a bakery, has three bays of double windows and a center pedimented portico entrance A single round-headed attic window is under the raked, returning, denticulated cornice.
The eight-bay irregularly fenestrated west wing (1854) is entered through a turned-column portico. A large chimney and ridge-mounted cupola break the roof line. The gable-end west side of the west wing faces Linden Street. A small two-story rear appendage has a large blind arch at ground level, facing west.
This entire block (1-M) burned in 1877 and was rebuilt in 1878, with the west wing converted to a gymnasium.
(2) Linden Lodge (1857, 1938)
The three-bay-wide center block projects slightly from the plane of the wings. The main entrance, up three steps protected by iron railings, through a Roman-Doric pedimented portico, is a glass-paneled door surrounded by transom and side lights. The front facade has 12/12 sash shuttered windows with stone sills and lintels. Brick is laid in mixed common bond. The second story center window is recessed in an elliptical arched opening with stone keystone and imposts. Above is a pedimented slate roof, with generous modillioned projecting cornice enclosing a tympanum with center window flanked by quarter-round lunettes. A slate-faced continuous shed dormer is on each side of the roof slope. The narrow recessed connecting hyphens each contain one bay of paired matching windows with continuous lintels and sills, above which is a straight-sided clapboard attic with single window.
The eaves-front rectangular wings, each eleven bays long, match the fenestration, trim, and roof material of the center building, except for the north wing cornice, which is decorated in a projecting zigzag brick design. Smaller-scale porticos provide entrances to the wings. Continuous shed dormers with 8/12 windows, nine equispaced on the south wing and four coupled on the north wing, break the roof slope. One-bay paired window wing extensions of diminished scale, the end facades of which contain five grouped windows with lunette pediment above, define the north and south extremities of the building. The north wing is topped by two equispaced interior brick chimneys. The rear of the center block terminates in a windowed octagonal projecting pavilion.
(3) Carpenter Shop and Ice House (1878)
(3-A) Tool Shed (c.1972) (non-contributing)
(4) Cain Building (1949) (non-contributing)
(5) Wheeler Vocational Rehabilitation Center (1958) (non-contributing)
(6) Osgood Building (1933)
The recessed central entrance is up nine granite steps protected by iron railings. Double paneled doors, with transom light above, are framed by plain cast-stone pilasters supporting a full entablature, crowned by a broken-apex elliptical pediment with pineapple finial. The entrance bay is emphasized by a single Federal style recessed round-arched panel, with set-in window, directly above the entrance pediment. A gently pitched slate gable roof with modillioned cornice above a brick fascia is broken by five slate-sheathed hip-roofed dormers with 12/12 sash.
The six-bay east facade's pedimented gable is bisected by a single fenestrated chimney-like projecting bay with ground floor entrance porch. A blind oculus separates the top window from a group of three round-headed louvered openings of Italian Villa style at roof peak level. The west facade generally matches the east facade. The rear (north) facade has a central three-story five-bay porch, overlooking the Retreat Meadows lake.
Designed by Harry H. White of New York City, it now comprises, together with the adjoining Tyler Building (7), the Rockwell Psychiatric Center.
(7) Tyler Building (1928, 1958, 1980)
The main entrance is up eight granite steps, protected by iron railings, through a Roman-Doric portico with denticulated pediment. The paneled door is surrounded by a Federal-style elliptical fan light and sidelights with tracery. Directly above the portico is a modified Palladian window whose blind round-headed upper portion is infilled with a carved fan motif set in a brick arch with raised brick keystone. The slate roof, with modillioned cornice above brick fascia, is broken by six pedimented slate sheathed dormers with 15/15 sash. The south and north facades of the original 1928 rectangular block are four irregular bays deep, with ground floor entrances under bracket-supported hipped copper-sheathed hoods. Above are two offset matching dormers. The southerly portion of the east (rear) facade of the original building gains an extra story due to the land drop off. A single projecting bay with ground level entrance defines the south west corner. Adjacent is a three-story three-bay porch. A massive five story flat-roofed ell ten bays long, built in 1958, (non-contributing) protrudes from the rear of the 1928 block. An additional large modern (1980) single-story flat-roofed wing (non-contributing) is attached to the north side of the rear ell.
(8) Ripley House 1931)
The central entrance, up eleven granite steps guarded by iron railings, is through a balconied Roman-Doric portico and nine-light paneled door surrounded by a Federally detailed blind elliptical fan and sidelights with tracery. Above the portico is a band of three small windows, and above that a round-arched, multi-paned tripart window set in a recessed panel. An oculus embellished with four circumferential key voussoirs tops the composition.
Decoration is provided by a cast stone water table above the half basement, a string course through third story window sills, and a modillioned cornice above a brick fascia. First and second story windows, with flat brick arches and cast-stone sills, are set into Federal-style vertical recessed panels, terminating in blind keystoned round arches above the second story windows. Irregularly spaced slate-sheathed hipped dormers with single and double 6/6 sash punctuate the roof.
East, west, and rear facades continue the three-window bay design. The rear facade has two symmetrical ells, with courtyard between, which terminate in three-story, three-bay, flat-roofed, plainly balustraded porches, supported on the first floor by brick elliptical arches with square pillars above.
(9) Garage (1932)
(10) Lawton Hall (1914)
Large three-story octagonal projecting pavilions flank the porch. The first story, above a partially raised basement, is random-coursed ashlar stone with large picture windows at the front of the pavilions, set off by stone relieving arches and concrete lintels. Narrower l/l windows light the beveled pavilion sides. The second and third stories of the pavilions, horizontal board sheathed above a concrete belt course, have paired and single windows on the front and bevel sides; second-story windows are 6/6, third story 9/6. Massive Queen Anne style gable-end pediments, with heavy finial-capped molded barge boards and slightly pedimented bottom chords supported by massive brackets, overhang the pavilions, the chords forming molded, dentilled, modillioned entablatures. Coupled 4/4 sash are set in the weather-boarded tympanums.
The second and third stories of the main facade are sheathed in stretcher-bond yellow brick. The bracketed, overhanging, open-eaved-front slate roof is punctuated by five flared hip-roofed 6/6 slate-sheathed dormers and two ridge-top stone chimneys. A generous Neoclassical three stage central tower crowns the roof ridge. The slate-clad square first stage, with segmentally arched and keystoned horizontal, louvered openings, is capped by a molded cornice. The second, clapboarded square stage, with turned balustrade between paneled piers, houses a clock built by the E. Howard Clock Company of Boston, with four sectional glass dials, each five feet in diameter, above which is a molded, modillioned cornice with open-bed pediment. The top stage rectangular cupola, with copper-sheathed dome and finial, has round arched louvered openings with keystones and imposts, framed by pedimented paneled pilasters, angled to create beveled corners, astride paneled piers which echo those of the second stage.
The irregularly bayed north facade is articulated in three stepped wall planes, the rearmost one of which projects the greatest and is a two-bay, paired window, jerkinhead-roofed projecting pavilion. The south facade duplicates the north facade, with matching first floor shed-roofed, bracketed overdoor entrance At the rear (east) facade a courtyard is created by the returning jerkinhead pavilions whose east (eaves) sides are broken by massive exterior stone chimneys.
(11) Greenhouse (1981) (non-contributing)
(12) Entrance Arch (1922)
(13) Retreat Tower (1887-1892)
(14) Springhouse (1885)
(15) Old Burying Ground (1846)
There were no burials in this cemetery after 1900, when Fairview Cemetery in Brattleboro was opened. At that time, some of the bodies were transferred, but several older graves remain.
(16-20) Linden Street Houses
(16) 84 Linden Street (1932)
(17) 86 Linden Street (1931)
(18) 88 Linden Street (1931)
(19) 90 Linden Street (1929)
(20) 92 Linden Street (1930)
(21) Garage (1928)
(21-A) Garage (1929)
(22) Vault (1872)
(23) Cedar Street House (1941) (non-contributing)
(23-A) Garage (c.1941) (non-contributing)
(24) 104 Linden Street (c.1870) (non-contributing)
(25) Farm Manager's House (1950) (non-contributing)
(25-A) Garage (1950) (non-contributing)
(26) Farmhouse (1870)
(27) Site of the Arms Tavern (1762)
(28) North Barn (1890, 1929)
The first part of this cow barn was built in 1890. After being damaged by fire in 1906, it was renovated in 1929, when the cupolas were added.
(29) Former Horse Barn (c.1865, 1901)
Fire spread between the two buildings is discouraged by a brick raking roof parapet over the passageway and a rectangular area of slate sheathing under a section of metal-sheathed cornice on the facade above the passageway. The north and south gable-end facades are slate-sheathed. The nine-bay rear (west) clapboard-sheathed facade is composed of 12/12 sash, alternating on the second story with diagonally wood-sheathed loft doors. Breaking the ridge of the slate roof, directly above the pavilion roof, is a rectangular ventilating cupola, matching those on North Barn (28) but less elaborate, lacking keystone and impost decoration. A wood silo stands adjacent to the north gable wall.
It is thought that this structure was originally built circa 1855 as a horse barn, with the slate wall sheathing added 1901. It is currently used as a storage and equipment shed.
(30) 0x Barn (c.1865, 1901)
(31) Hay Barn (c.1865?)
(32) New Barn (1926, 1928)
(33) Blacksmith Shop (c.1858?)
(34) Refrigerator Building (1932, 1940)
(34-A) Bunker Silo (1982)(non-contributing)
(35) Woodcrib (1942) (non-contributing)
(36) Farm Wagon Shed (1929)
(37) Piggery (1907, 1931)
When built in 1907, this was reportedly the largest piggery in Windham County. In 1931, the facilities were improved and the roof was raised. It has been used for storage since 1971.
(38) Ice House (1932)
(39) Weaner Pig Shed (1887)
(40) Hescock House (c.1825?)
This cottage, or portion thereof, purchased in 1877 from R. N. Hescock, is reported to date from the early nineteenth century.
(41) Cold Spring (1845)
(42) Site of Original Linden Lodge (c.1772, 1859, 1881, 1893)
(43) Webster Cottage (1909, 1983) (non-contributing)
(44) Garage (c.1909?, 1950) (non-contributing)
(45, 46) Pikeville Houses
(45) Lilac Cottage (c.1860)
(46) Locust Cottage (c.1860)
(47) Shed (c.1930)
(48) Orchard Cottage (c.1930)
(49) Men's Summer Residence (c.1867, 1888, 1914)
In 1888, this house, which was reportedly the Capen homestead (c.1867), was converted to a men's summer residence and named Oakwood Lodge. In 1914 it was leased to the Brattleboro Country Club and has served since clubhouse.
(49-A) Garage (c.1888?, 1936)
(50) Pro Shop (1928) (non-contributing)
(51) Site of Camp Comfort (1885)
(52) Site of Camp Ridgewood (1902)
The Brattleboro Retreat is significant as one of the original psychiatric hospitals in the United States and the first in Vermont, founded 1834 by the bequest of Mrs. Anna Marsh. In contrast to the harsh treatment of the mentally ill prevalent at the time, the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, as it was named. by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont, was dedicated to a newly emerging concept of moral and humane treatment. The architecture and setting of the present complex, an excellent collection of well preserved buildings, including the design and details of the patientsą living areas, respond to the needs, and mirrors the precepts, of moral treatment. The Retreat's original construction (1838) predates the famous Kirkbride plan, which was to be the model for most asylums built in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The series of extant nineteenth century connected brick wings of the classically detailed Main Building (1), built over a period of fifty years, is the preserved setting for the methods advanced by the first superintendent, William H. Rockwell, and his successors. This original structure, along with additional nineteenth and twentieth century buildings, comprises the heart of a 1000-acre comprehensive treatment complex.
The Retreat architecture includes a range of styles, commencing with.the classically proportioned 1838 Main Building (1), whose plain red brick walls, stone lintels, and slate roofs, repeated at the 1857 Linden Lodge (2), typify conservative New England neoclassicism through the mid-nineteenth century. The patient-constructed 1892 Tower (13) is Gothic, whereas the yellow-brick early twentieth century buildings exhibit Queen Anne and Neo-Colonial styles. The c.1865 Ox Barn (30) at the farm is notable for the rare, inventive use of complete slate sheathing for fireproofing. The nineteenth century vernacular Pikeville Houses (45, 46) exemplify small rural wood-frame cottage style, while the Linden Street Houses (16-20) exhibit a c.1930 desire for variety in suburban residential styles . The low-slung 1885 Springhouse (14) shows a creative and possibly unique solution to the problem of enclosing an existing concrete reservoir. The Brattleboro Retreat is a private non-profit psychiatric hospital comprehensive treatment complex of national acclaim, noted for its continued role in the development of mental health treatment in the United States and for its historical role as a rural, self-contained mental health hospital community.
Established in 1834 as a bequest from Anna Marsh, widow of physician Perley Marsh of Hinsdale, New Hampshire, and first woman to establish a hospital for the mentally ill, it served as the state facility for over fifty years. The Retreat was founded on a dramatically new theory of mental health treatment introduced into this country only a few years earlier through its Quaker progenitor, the York Retreat in England. This was a humanistic concept that the mentally ill could be cured by rebuilding self-esteem in a wholesome, regulated environment of parental-like kindness, protection, cultural and social activities, and meaningful work. At this time only ten hospitals devoted exclusively to the treatment of the insane existed in the United States, three of which--McLean Asylum, Somerville, Mass. (1818), Connecticut Retreat, Hartford, Conn. (1824), and State Hospital, Worcester, Mass (1833)--were located in New England.
From the modest ten thousand dollars left by Anna Marsh to erect a hospital near the Connecticut River in Windham County in Vermont, to the one thousand acre complex of today, the Retreat's history is a chronicle of dedication, skillful direction, and sometimes outright Yankee ingenuity of the original trustees selected by Mrs. Marsh, their successors, and the superintendents that they hired. In one hundred forty-nine years there have been only twenty-four trustees, with an average tenure of twenty-five years. One member served fifty-seven years. During the first hundred years there were only three superintendents; to date only nine.
In the early nineteenth century the burden of care for the mentally ill fell upon the family, which could often do little more than confine the ill to strong rooms and sometimes chains. The prevailing thought was that mental illness was demon-inspired, and little was known about effective treatment. One theory of treatment was total immersion in water for several minutes, followed by immediate resuscitation to cause shock to the system sufficient to restore normality. This method was tried on a friend of the Marsh family. Failing to effect a change in the patient, it was followed by a massive dose of opium, with fatal results. This incident possibly influenced Anna Marsh's desire to develop a hospital where dignified and humane treatment could be pursued. At the time it was estimated that one person per thousand would need treatment, and in Vermont this would have been approximately three hundred. The Retreat, known then as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, was charted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont in 1834, not only as a private hospital, but also as the first psychiatric hospital for state patients. Limited funds were appropriated the legislature for their care.
In November of 1836, a two-story frame farm house, the "White House" (demolished 1857), was purchased and converted for twenty patients. An additional forty-nine acres of garden and meadow were acquired across the road (then called the Newfane Road), the present site of the major complex of the Retreat. "There is not a more beautiful spot on earth than that which you have secured in Vermont for the insane," observed prison reformer Rev. Louis Dwight that year. (1)
Dr William H Rockwell was chosen as the first superintendent at a salary of $1,000 per annum, $400 of which he returned voluntarily the first year, exemplifying the altruism which would mark his tenure. His method of treatment was undoubtedly influenced by Dr. Eli Todd, under whom he had served at the Connecticut Retreat. This philosophy of mental health treatment, developed by Philippe Pinel (1759-1826) of France, Vincenzo Chiarugi (1759-1820) of Italy, and William Tuke (1732-1819) of England, emphasized the healthy part of a patient's personality. It defined mental illness as physical disease which could be cured in a caring, structured environment which included useful employment, cultural and recreational pursuits, and wholesome nutrition in a simulated family setting, with the physician as "father."
Within a year of opening, applicants were being turned away for lack of space. An appeal to the Vermont legislature produced a building appropriation of $4,000, with the proviso that preference be given to Vermont residents. Captain Merchant Toby, builder of Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, was retained, and in 1838 a three-story brick structure (1-A) with attached two-story west wing (1-B) was erected at a cost of $12,300 on the property east of Newfane Road. It reflected the classical design of its progenitors, the York (England) Retreat (1798) and the Connecticut Retreat (1824). An ingenious application of the moral treatment concept was the cast-iron window sash in each room, painted white to match and simulate a wooden sash, thus avoiding the confined appearance of iron bars.
The Retreat now offered pleasant rooms (each patient was to have a private room with bed, fixed seat, chair, work table, and mirror when suitable). The building design provided separation according to degree of illness (classification), with experienced attendants treating the patients as "family." Amusement consisted of theatre, lectures, dances, a library, daily rides and walks, and open-air exercise in beautiful surroundings. Work assignments in the garden and dairy farm (the first in a mental institution), located on the 45 acres purchased in 1836, provided purposeful employment for the patients, food for the hospital, and additional operating revenue.
Expansion was rapid in the years following. With partial financial help from the legislature, an east wing (1-G) was added in 1841 and an extension to the west wing (1-B) in 1844, providing symmetry to the facade. Property now included fifty-one acres, with an average census of one hundred forty-seven patients.
In 1842, a 17-year-old patient was permitted to pursue his trade of printing at the offices of the Brattleboro Phoenix. Within a month he set type and brought home a proof of the Asylum Journal. A printing press was purchased, and under the aegis of the young editor a weekly newspaper was published (the first one regularly published at a mental institution). Within a year this young man was cured and discharged and went on to pursue a distinguished career as editor and publisher. The Journal was published for another three years, during which time it provided therapeutic employment for scores of patients who participated in the writing, selecting, composing, copying and printing. This innovative enterprise, while providing a sense of pride in cooperative accomplishment to the patients, brought additional dividends. It was sent to over two hundred publishers, who reciprocated with copies of their own periodicals, "...to furnish every patient with a newspaper of his own political views, and every sectarian with a religious periodical of his own peculiar sentiments." (2)
Dr. Rockwell was an early member and contributor to the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, the forerunner of the American Psychiatric Association. No less than nine superintendents of eastern mental hospitals received training under his tutelage.
In 1844 the editor of the American Journal of Insanity, commenting on the rates charged by the hospital (as low as $2.00 per week, or $80.00 per year), expressed concern that they were too low to provide adequate care. Dr. Rockwell's experience, however, indicated that occupational therapy, i.e. farm work, could produce a return to help defray expenses. The Asylum also believed that low rates were an inducement to a trial of treatment. Also in 1844, the Vermont legislature passed the Act for the Relief of the Insane Poor, whereby state grants for enlarging the Asylum were terminated in favor of formal payments at the rate of $1.50 per patient per week for care of the state's patients. This act increased the pressure for admission, requiring extensions of the east wing (1-H, 1-I) in 1845, which added eighty rooms for a total theoretical capacity of three hundred patients.
The appearance of the hospital changed in 1848. The center building (1-A) was extended forward thirty-three feet and the roof raised, thereby increasing the size and height of the top floor chapel. The return on the east wing (l-H) was extended, providing room for better classification of the female patients.
During this period of building enlargement continuing purchases of additional farm, pasture, and woodlot property took place. In 1849 sixteen acres lying between the main building and the village common were purchased, providing room for gardens and walks and land for future expansion.
Starting in 1851, additions were made each year for the next three years. These included an east wing (1-I) extension (1851), a corner connected building (1-K) behind the east wing for laundry and boiler, and an extension (1-E) and return (1-D) to the west wing (1853), providing better male patient classification while improving symmetry of the building. Seventy rooms were added, with the average number of patients reaching three hundred sixty-one in 1853.
In 1854 a new brick building (1-M) was built north of the main complex, and the thriving farm program was enlarged by the purchase of the 200-acre Eben Wells dairy farm, providing additional cultivation land and dairy products for the patients. A dysentery epidemic in 1854, following an 1853 smallpox outbreak, encouraged the construction, in 1855, of a female infirmary (1-K) in the rear wing of the main building and a male infirmary at the rear of the original "White House." In 1857 the original "White House" was razed and a new three-story brick building (2) constructed. Named the Marsh Building (now the north wing of the present Linden Lodge), it included a number of suites for patients of "superior social position"(3) suffering from dipsomania (alcoholism), who took meals with Dr. Rockwell. Extra chimneys and floor registers improved main building ventilation, and a new brick horse barn was added to the 1854 building (1-M) in 1859, the same year that gas illumination was installed throughout the hospital. The 156-acre Allen farm, including six barns and sheds and the farmhouse, now the Retreat farm complex, was purchased in 1858. Prior to that time the farm buildings were located close to the hospital, but a major fire in 1857 made it obvious that a remote location was preferable. By 1861 the average number of patients had reached four hundred thirty-seven, creating overcrowding. The roofs of the wings of the Main Building (1) were raised, adding a third story of nearly one hundred rooms.
Following a disastrous fire at the Maine Insane Hospital in 1850, the Brattleboro trustees had made a thorough study of fire safety, finding that cisterns and an elevated reservoir provided adequate water Partitions between rooms, furnace chambers, and flues contained no wood, and iron fire doors separated the center building from the wings. A fire bell was installed that year. Nevertheless, a fire broke out in December 1862 in the west wing (1-B) and spread to the center building (1-A), both of which were destroyed except for the outer walls of the wing. By 1863 the burned portions were rebuilt.
1869 saw another extension (1-L), westward from the female infirmary, for a new laundry, nearly enclosing the rear courtyard.
In 1870 a new farm house (26) was built near the site of the Arms Tavern (27), built in 1762 by Major John Arms. The Fairbank Moor family had established the first home in Brattleboro (outside of Fort Dummer) at this site in 1757. The house was burned by Indians in 1758. Captain Moor and his son were killed, his wife and children taken captive to Canada.
During 1872 a committee of the General Assembly reported that an excessive number of patients, four hundred eighty-five, necessitated the use of rooms partly below ground level for some of the patients, causing inadequate heating and ventilation. This was alleviated by the construction, in 1873, of two additional wings (1-F, 1-M) and a new boiler house (1-M) for steam heating, considered more efficient and safer than the hot air system. Another investigation in 1877 confirmed the need for additional space and funds.
Fire broke out in 1877, destroying the boiler house, store house, carriage house, and ice house (l-M). The nearby west wing (1-F) was saved only because of the fireproof construction of the brick cornice. Reconstruction in 1878 added a new building (3) and created a gymnasium in the old store house (1-M), the first gymnasium in the country located in a hospital.
Population increases in the latter part of the nineteenth century overcrowded the nation's asylums. In these difficult times humane psychological care gave way to custodial treatment in many institutions. Individual treatment was impossible, classification broke down, and personnel were chosen on their ability to maintain control. Nevertheless, at Brattleboro, Superintendent Joseph Draper, who had succeeded Dr. Rockwell, instructed attendants to be responsive to the patients' needs while treating them with respect and civility.
During 1880, thirty acres west of Newfane Road were acquired and, under the direction of Mr. Bowditch of Boston, developed into a park for patients.
In 1881 Dr Draper proposed a summer retreat, similar to those in England and Scotland, to provide a change of scenery for groups of twenty five female patients at a time, thereby hastening recovery. The old Burnside Military School (c.1772) (42), then on the Miles property a mile north of the asylum, was purchased and remodeled. This was the first program of its kind in this country.
Sheltered open-air exercise promenades were constructed on the north side of the west (male) wing (1-E) of the main building and eastward from the east (female) wing (1-J) during 1882-83
In 1883 the ridge of the center block (1-A) was raised eight feet, large dormers were placed on each side of the roof, and a cupola added. The interior of the roof was supported by four semicircular arches. The result is the present chapel, with a twenty-foot ceiling and transepts created by the dormers. There were separate altars for Protestant and Catholic services at opposite ends of the room, the pews being reversible. This was the final modification to the Main Building, with the exception of a 1963 appendage (l-C). It increased the roof pitch and overhead mass of the center block (1-A), which had previously been altered by a forward extension, roof raising, and addition of an Italianate projecting pavilion. Nevertheless, the Main Building, particularly the wings (which had undergone minimal alterations of roof-raising and addition of projecting bays) basically maintained its original classical appearance, as it does to this day. This is in contrast to the similarly designed Connecticut Retreat (1824), which was Victorianized.
A camping program for men was started in 1885, and by 1887 a shelter was built at Camp Comfort (51). A more permanent structure, with veranda, was built nearby at Camp Ridgewood (52) in 1902 on the highest Retreat land--a first of its type.
By 1886 a steam-powered integrated heating and ventilating system safely provided steam heat to every ward and by tunnel to the Marsh Building. Fresh air was carried by a system of ventilating shafts and ducts to patient rooms, via transoms, and exhausted through thirty-eight chimneys. The spring house was doubled in size that year. By this time, 1400 acres had been purchased, needed to supply water for hospital use and fire protection, wood for heating, and tillable land to support the garden and dairy
The Vermont legislature passed a law at this time which transferred financial responsibility for the indigent from the towns to the state, adding to the overcrowding problem at the asylum. Dr. Draper and the trustees felt that the creation of a separate state mental institution was the only hope for the asylum to remain a treatment center rather than a custodial facility. This hope was realized when the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane at Waterbury was completed in 1891. At this time one hundred eighty-five patients were transferred to Waterbury, leaving three hundred forty-eight patients at Brattleboro.
During 1888 and 1890 considerable farm construction occurred, including new buildings and stables. The existing house on the Capen property was converted to a men's summer residence, "Oakwood Lodge" (49)--another first which it remained until leased to the Brattleboro Country Club in 1914.
In 1892 the hospital staff and patients completed a gothic stone tower originally started to commemorate the asylum's fiftieth anniversary. This 65-foot granite crenellated tower (12) stands in the park area 250 feet above the main asylum grounds.
The Marsh Building (2) was extensively renovated in 1893. The rear section, the oldest part of the institution, was demolished.
Since the opening of the state institution at Waterbury there was confusion caused by the similarity of the names of the two institutions. In 1893 the legislature approved a name change to BRATTLEBORO RETREAT--meaning a refuge from danger or distress and a shelter for help in difficulty.
At this time the women's Summer Retreat (42) was converted into a residence for borderline cases and renamed Linden Lodge (burned 1920, and not to be confused with the present (2) Linden Lodge). It was a completely self-contained facility. The Pikeville Cottages (45-46) were relocated behind the Lodge and renovated. Concurrently, the main grounds were re-landscaped, a gazebo removed, and new sidewalks laid. The exteriors of all buildings were painted ivory white. Mission Oak furniture was installed in the parlors, embossed steel ceilings and oak door casings added, and the patients' day rooms furnished with rattan furniture.
The beginning of the twentieth century found Retreat physicians conversant with current medical and psychiatric thought, including the new psychoanalytical concepts of Sigmund Freud. The Retreat had not succumbed to custodialism but was still dedicated to moral treatment. The ratio of attendants to patients in 1908 was about one to nine.
During that year the entire Retreat was equipped with external fire escapes by Paul B. Patten of Salem, Mass.
Lawton Hall (10), a three-and-a-half-story Colonial Revival structure, was completed in 1914. It provided nurses quarters, occupational therapy and recreation facilities, including the first swimming pool in a mental hospital in the United States. Stone and lumber were obtained from the Retreat's own property. The building is surmounted by a thirty-six-foot high clock tower, made possible by a bequest of Dr. Draper.
In a complex arrangement, the Retreat granted the local power company the right to raise their dam in 1918, thereby flooding the Retreat meadows just north of the Retreat and creating the present scenic body of water.
In 1920 the original Linden Lodge (42) burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.
In 1922., on land leased from the Retreat, a 65-meter ski jump, the longest east of the Mississippi at that time, was built.
During this period the farm buildings were improved and the piggery rebuilt in concrete (37). In 1927 the newly remodeled dairy barn, and in 1928 the coach barn, burned to the ground; the latter was replaced by a 29-car garage in 1928 (21).
By 1928 the patient population reached a record five hundred sixty eight, and in that year a new Neo-Colonial 3-1/2-story reception hospital, Tyler Hall (7), was completed. Five cottages (16-20) were built 1929-1932 on Linden Street, just north of the Marsh Building, for staff residences. Ripley Nurses Home (8), similar in design and materials to Tyler Hall, was completed in 1931, providing quarters for seventy-five female nurses. Osgood Infirmary (6), similar to Tyler and Ripley Halls but with symmetrical projecting pavilions, was opened in 1933, providing care for ninety-eight nervous and mental invalids who were also physically ill. In 1938 a new, matching south wing was added to the 1857 Marsh Building (2), and the two buildings were joined by a new central section. Solariums were added to the north end to match those on the south end.
By 1940 the patient population had risen to eight hundred ten. The Retreat was still firmly committed to the moral treatment, augmented by improved hydro- and physiotherapy.
Farm production was increased during wartime, when tillable farm land increased to three hundred acres.
Following World War II an affiliation was formed with the Columbia University School of Occupational Therapy, whose interns served residencies at the Retreat.
The cream-colored paint was removed from the exterior of the Main Building (1) in 1950.
In 1956 a Ford Foundation grant was used towards the addition of a five-story wing to Tyler Hall (7), necessary to meet a recent Vermont requirement of seventy square feet per patient.
A nursing home for elderly and chronically ill patients was established in 1962 at the remodeled Marsh Building, renamed Linden Lodge (2). (Not to be confused with the original Linden Lodge (42), which burned in 1920.)
By the mid-1960s, patient population had dropped due to a state austerity program, the advent of tranquilizers and antidepressants which enabled patients to be released sooner, and the decline of the thirty-and-older age group resulting from the lower Depression birth rate. The Retreat faced critical problems of high operating costs, excessive unused space, and need for modernization. Changes in state policy to deinstitutionalize resulted in a new role for the Retreat as a community mental health center. A sheltered workshop (5) and vocational training program were started in 1970, at which time the Retreat was designated as the Vocational Rehabilitation Center for Vermont, New Hampshire, and part of Massachusetts.
In 1974 the Main Building (1) was closed for residential use, with transfer of inpatients to Ripley (8) and Tyler (7). Under superintendent William Beach, Jr., dual programs for the upgrading of physical facilities and specialization of programs and staff were instituted. Patient areas were refurbished with original antique furnishings to make them less hospital-like. Current trends toward intensive short-term treatment programs were emphasized, and an affiliation was made with Dartmouth College Medical School. The Retreat was divided into autonomous cooperative entities to provide alternate levels of treatment and rehabilitation, creating the present comprehensive psychiatric medical treatment center
Throughout one hundred fifty years of societal change the Retreat has provided leadership in the field of mental health. The record of its dedication to individualized moral and humane treatment is preserved in the nominated buildings.
Barry, Harold A., Michelman, Richard E., Mitchell, Richard M., Wellman, Richard H. Before Our Time. Brattleboro: Stephen Greene Press, 1974
Biennial Reports 1844-1982, Brattleboro Retreat, Brattleboro, Vt
Brattleboro Retreat: Neuropsychiatric and Medical Center and Hospital Home. Brattleboro, c.1938.
Cabot, Mary R. Annals of Brattleboro 1681-1895. Vol.II. Brattleboro: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1922.
Draper, Joseph. The Vermont Asylum for the Insane: Its Annals for Fifty Years. Brattleboro: Hildreth & Fales, 1887.
Freedman, Alfred M., Kaplan, Harold I., Saddock, Benjamin J. Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry - II. Baltimore. Williams & Wilkins Co., 1980.
Kirkbride, Thomas S. On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane. 1880. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1973.
Swift, Esther Munroe, and Beach, Mona. Brattleboro Retreat: 150 Years of Caring. Brattleboro: Brattleboro Retreat, 1984.
Tuke, D. Hack. The Insane of the United States and Canada. London: H. K. Lewis, 1885.
Tuke, Samuel. Description of the Retreat: An Institution Near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends. 1813. Reprint. London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1964.
Personal lnterviews with Mona Beach, Director of Planning, Brattleboro Retreat, by Stephen Sanders, 1982-83.
DATE ENTERED: April 12, 1984.
BACK TO NATIONAL REGISTER PROPERTIES