Home  >  Sale of State Hospitals

Sale of State Hospital Property

  • What should happen to state hospital properties when they close?
  • Should the buildings be torn down?
  • Should the the history of the state hospitals be buried under new shopping malls and apartment complexes?
  • Should the state retain the land and build affordable housing for ex-patients and other people with low incomes?
  • Should the land be sold and privately developed?
  • Should the state keep the the money from the sale of these pristine lands or should that money go towards housing and jobs for DMH clients?

DSH when it opened in May of 1878

These, and many related questions, are raised when the Commonwealth sells properties like the former Danvers State Hospital. Here is the story of how the Danvers State Memorial Committee - a group of ex-patients and allies - have struggled to have a voice in the sale and re-use of a state hospital.

DSH for sale 2001


Advocating for Re-Use of State Hospital Property

During our campaign to restore and properly memorialize the two cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital, we learned that over 75 acres of the property were up for sale. Of course our first concern was to insure that the land on which the cemeteries were located was not up for sale. Luckily, the cemeteries were not on land designated to be sold. However, committee members began to question why former patients from Danvers State were not included in the discussion of how the hospital property should be reused. It seemed only fair that after being warehoused at Danvers State for the past 125 years, ex-patients should be included in the decision as to what was going to happen to the property. It also seemed fair that ex-patients should benefit in some way from the sale.

Our first step was to decide what we wanted to advocate for. Over the course of a number of meetings committee members decided that we wanted:

  • To advocate that 10% of the apartments be designated for DMH clients
  • To advocate that 10% of any jobs created be designated for DMH clients
  • To advocate that the developer put money toward the restoration, proper memorialization and upkeep of the two cemeteries
  • To advocate that the Our Lady of the Hill Chapel at Danvers State be preserved and that the developer help fund its conversion into a Hall of Remembrance. Committee members wanted to make sure that future generations did not forget the lessons learned through the mass institutionalization of people with disabilities. We want the Chapel preserved and used to hold our interpretative history because the Chapel holds a very special place in the hearts of many DSH ex-patients. It was the one place that people could go to escape the oppressive wards and find solace, silence, peace and communion with the Creator. We want the Chapel restored because it is linked with the cemeteries and would be a good place to hold memorial services as well as worship services.

Our Lady of the Hill Chapel, DSH

Our second step was to determine how to begin our advocacy. Through research we learned that a land bill had been passed in 1997. The land bill outlines the process of how Danvers State was to be sold and what the possible uses for the land would be. To read the Danvers State Hospital land bill in its entirety go to this Mass-Gov site. We were pleased to find that the bill specified the following:

"Section 3. It shall be the policy of the commonwealth to provide, subject to appropriation, suitable residential units, supports services, training and job opportunities to mental health clients at the Danvers State Hospital site and to create jobs and job training opportunities on the Danvers State Hospital site..."

In addition, the land bill stated that:

  • 10% of the housing developed on the former state hospital should be for clients of the Department of Mental Health
  • 10% of any permanent jobs created on the site should go for job-training or jobs for clients of the Department of Mental Health
  • The 2 cemeteries on the property should be properly restored and maintained.

The land bill also called for the establishment of a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to be comprised of 15 people including: the local state senator (Sen. Fred Berry) and the local state representative (Rep.Ted Speliotis); representatives from the Town of Danvers and Middleton; representatives from the historical commission; and a representative of Massachusetts Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI). The job of the CAC was to make recommendations as to how the property should be used and who should develop the property. The CAC was to make its recommendations in the form of a report to DCAM Commissioner Perini.

The abandoned Bonner Building at DSH

Our third step was to advocate for a voting position on the CAC. We felt it was only right to have the interests of ex-patients from Danvers State Hospital represented on the CAC. Members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee met with DMH Commissioner Sudders and requested that she appoint one of our members to the CAC. Commissioner Sudders supported our request, wrote a letter to DCAM commissioner Perini and recommended that one of our members, Judy Robbins, be appointed to the CAC. Judy has lived most of her life in Danvers, was a former nurse at the hospital, and was also a former patient at the hospital.

Members of the DSMC advocating at a Citizens Action Committee Meeting

Our fourth step was to begin attending meetings of the CAC. Participating on the CAC was very difficult work. Often the meetings went on for hours about matters in which we had little expertise: zoning, easements, traffic flow, etc. Often there were competing interests at work. For instance some CAC members wanted the state hospital to be used as green space. Others wanted historical preservation of hospital buildings. Some members wanted the land to be developed as housing. Others wanted to keep homeless families out of any housing development in order to avoid "overburdening the infrastructure of the town." Needless to say the meetings were often tense and sometimes tedious. However, we continued to attend them faithfully because we wanted a say in how the former state hospital lands were to be used.

Vandalism of buildings at DSH

Our fifth step was to establish ourselves as credible members of the CAC. As people who have lived with the stigma of mental illness, members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee knew they had to "prove themselves" to other members of the CAC. We did so by attending meetings regularly. Often we attended in pairs so that if one person was not feeling well, the other could participate during the meeting. Over time we also began to develop natural alliances with some of the other members of the CAC. It was natural for us to form an alliance with the Mass. AMI representative who, like ourselves, wanted housing and jobs at the former state hospital. We also found that we shared many common interests with the conservation and historical committee representatives. For example, we wanted quiet, green space around the cemeteries as did the conservation/green-space advocates and we wanted the history of the state hospital to be preserved as did representatives from the historical commission.

Layers of paint peeling away in a seclusion room of the old Kirkbride Building

Our sixth step was to use the CAC as a forum to express the passionate viewpoints of former patients of Danvers State Hospital. For instance, at one meeting when both the DMH and DCAM commissioners were present, 20 members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee turned out to talk about why jobs, housing, the cemeteries and the Chapel were so important. Their passionate presentations so moved the CAC that even a year later, CAC members continued to reference what these ex-patients had said. Most members of the CAC gradually came to accept and endorse the issues we were advocating for: housing, jobs, cemetery restoration and use of the Chapel as a Hall of Remembrance.


Where we are today: In July of 2001 the CAC presented DCAM Commissioner Perini a written recommendation for the re-use of the land of Danvers State Hospital. The recommendation included all of the points that the Danvers State Memorial Committee was advocating for: 10% housing, 10% jobs, cemetery restoration and maintenance, and the use of the Chapel as a Hall of Remembrance. The recommendation for the property developer was Archstone Communities Trust. Archstone had proposed developing high-rent apartments ($1500 - $2500 a month) around the perimeter of the hill. The exact number of apartment is still undetermined but will probably number in the hundreds. Archestone will also sub-contract with a company to rennovate the historical Kirkbride building for use as an assited living facility for people who are elderly.

Unfortunately, a recommendation from a Citizens' Advisory Committee, is just that - a recommendation. Ultimately the power lies with the DCAM commissioner to decide on how the property will be developed and who will develop it. In this case the DCAM commissioner took the written CAC recommendations and began a series of meetings with Archstone behind closed doors. Between the July meeting and mid-October 2001, we heard nothing more from DCAM. Then, in mid-October 2001, members of the CAC received a document titled: Provisional designation of Archstone Communities for the Redevelopment of 75+/- Acres at the Former Danvers State Hospital. To our astonishment, in this document Archstone and DCAM went against the expressed recommendations of the CAC and the Danvers State Memorial Committee and called for:

  • 3% housing for DMH clients (instead of 10%)
  • A vague "commitment to work with the DMH for mental health clients, regarding housing, jobs and job training in accordance with Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1997"
  • Demolition of the Our Lady of the Hill Chapel (along with other buildings except the original Kirkbride Building)
  • A watered down effort to remember the history of the hospital: "Provide a memorial to honor the legacy of the Danvers State Hospital campus and the clients it served, including some component that provides for interpretation of the history of the hospital." Upon questioning Archstone described this "memorial" as an outdoor path leading to the cemetery with small signs and a "kiosk" remembering the history of DSH.

The only point we seemed to have won was the restoration and upkeep of the cemeteries. The October document states that the developer would "Work with DMH and/or the Danvers Memorial Committee to ensure the continued preservation, maintenance and protection of the cemeteries, and then to assume responsibility for the maintenance of the two cemeteries on the campus."

At this point the Danvers State Memorial Committee is planning a strategy to convince DCAM and the developer to meet our demands for 10% housing, 10% jobs, and preservation of Our Lady of the Hill Chapel for a Hall of Remembrance. Now is certainly the time for strong advocacy because the process of selling the property happens very quickly from this date forward. Here are the stages of the process laid out in the land bill:

  1. As of 10/9/01 Archstone - the provisional developer - began a 60 day period of "due diligence." During the period of due diligence the developer will explore the property at DSH in more depth and bring in experts to consult on issues related to developement such as environmental issues, condition of buildings, etc.
  2. Archstone will then begin a 180 day (6 month) "master planning process." During this time Archstone must develop an exact plan for the development of the property. During the Master Planning Process Archstone will meet with community organizations and community members to hear their concerns. This is a great time to have Archstone hear our advocacy!
  3. The CAC must vote on the Master Plan. The decision to accept the master plan will be made by a simple majority vote. The CAC vote must take place within 30 days of receiving the master plan. Remember, the Danvers State Memorial Committee has a vote here!
  4. If approved, the developer will then get permits, the land will be sold and the transformation of DSH will begin. Archstone recently said that it anticipates that the first apartment units will "go on-line" in July 2004.

Ex-patients will continue to fight for what we know is right!


Stay tuned for future developments!



Home | Slide Show | Newsletter | Links | Contact Us | Site Map
Why Restore? | Who We Are | Our Work | Legislative News | Other Groups | Getting Started | Sale of State Hospitals

Thanks to the DMH Office of Consumer and Ex-Patient Relations for Helping to Fund This Website!
© 2001 Danvers State Memorial Committee
This website designed and developed by
Web Design Solutions