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Norwich State Hospital

Originally built in 1904, Norwich State Hospital consisted of one building, but rapidly grew; in a little over a decade there were 16 buildings, and it continued to expand to over 20 in the 1930s including laboratories, doctors' and attendants' housing, a greenhouse, a barber shop, recreational facilities, and more. Though it was built for the mentally ill and criminally insane, it also housed the elderly, patients with chemical dependance issues, and tuberculosis patients.

The closure of the buildings began in the 1970s and when the facility was completely shut down in 1996, only two of the buildings were still in use. Since then it has sat abandoned, a popular destination for urban explorers/vandals. Plans to build a theme park, hotel, performing arts school, and movie studio onsite fell through in 2006, and while the property was patrolled by police and security, the deterioration of the buildings and the toll taken on them by vandals was severe. Though the property is on both the National and State Historic Register, and despite the fact that as of this writing no finalized plans have been reached for its future, the Preston Redevelopment agency started demolishing the buildings in 2011 using state grant funding, a wasteful and ignominious fate for a series of beautifully built and culturally significant structures. Though first selectman Rob Congdon is quoted in the above article as saying, "It's sad to see this incredible architecture come down, but there really is no choice," there is no evidence that any alternatives other than demolition were ever considered for the site or that any effort was made to preserve them whatsoever.

My last visit to Norwich State Hospital was a dreamlike experience. Waking up to find nearly a foot of snowfall and more accumulating quickly, the drive was tense due to bad roads and the hike was more arduous than normal. Leaving footprints that the security could follow was a concern too. Once we were inside we went to the enormous theater and looked out over the campus. It was perfectly silent save for the wind, and snow was drifting in through the windows. Our tracks would vanish quickly. It was very cold but I barely noticed.

We covered a lot of ground that day, sticking to the tunnels to go between buildings as much as possible. Later they would collapse areas of the tunnels to make it impossible to travel the campus underground, but they were helpful that day. There were old gurneys in them with restraint straps still attached, broken asbestos-covered pipes that became unfastened and jutted off at odd angles. All the while outside, the snow steadily fell, as though it would just keep going until we were buried inside.

It was a peaceful day, and one of great and much needed solitude. I was glad for the chance to reshoot old areas and visit some new ones. When I think of it now, I remember images of the places I went through but mostly I remember the way it seemed the rest of the world was gone forever, like I'd never have to return. I was tired and wet and cold but I was happy about that. I was happy that for a little while I could shut out all the noise and anxiety and problems and just feel my footsteps crunching in snow and appreciate the way the veins in the ice formed in puddles on the floor, and that was all that was left of the universe was at that point.

If you'd like to learn more about this location, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. Signed copies are available through my website, or you can find (unsigned) copies available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe.Photographs and text by Matthew Christopher. For more photographs click on the thumbnails below.