Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded is a black mark on the history of education and medical care in Massachusetts. The story of this abandoned institution is deeply chilling. Even if you are already familiar with the tragic tale, looking within the decaying walls will give you an entirely new perspective on the story.
Take a look at these chilling photos of the ruins of this horrific asylum.
The Belchertown State School first opened in 1922, and included 10 large buildings and many smaller facilities, comprising 57 structures in total. Many of the buildings were originally old farmhouse cottages, and five local farms were actually purchased to make way for the school.
At the time, the classification of "state school" meant that a facility tending to individuals who were deemed mentally ill or "defective." There was actually no real element of education at these so-called schools.
At first, the community welcomed the institution. Residents were supportive of the opportunity to create new jobs, and changing attitudes towards the mentally ill means that doctors would frequently tell families that it was far better to commit their mentally ill or developmentally disabled child than to allow them to live at home.
Many people sent to state schools were not truly, developmentally disabled, but were considered "undesirables" for reasons like alcoholism, juvenile behavior issues, or anger problems. The residents at Belchertown were primarily children or young people.
For the first 40 years or so of its operation, no one really investigated conditions at the Belchertown State School. The campus was spread over 845 acres off farmland, and was originally meant to hold a maximum of 400 students. However, the school would eventually be crammed with over 1,500 residents.
When the school finally came under scrutiny in the 1970s, conditions had deteriorated horrifically. Local judge Joseph L. Tauro, who would be a loud voice in the campaign to close the school, describe the institution as a "warehouse for humans."
After visiting the school and touring the grounds, the judge described such terrible scenes as young children drinking out of overflowing toilets, patients strapped to beds covered in insects and vermin, and young people who had had their teeth removed to make it easier for attendants to feed them.
Patients were reported wandering the ground unsupervised, smearing feces on furniture and walls and banging their heads against the ground or the sides of buildings. The staff was so overwhelmed (or perhaps so uncaring) that they had simply stopped dressing or bathing some patients and allowed them to walk around in the nude.
In the 2004 book, Crimes Against Humanity: A Historical Perspective, Benjamin Ricci described the horrors he witnessed while visiting his son at the school. He claimed to have seen "maggots wriggling inside or crawling out of the infected ears" of patients left helpless in their beds.
Multiple human rights violations were filed against the school. In 1971, the Springfield Union newspaper ran an article that served as the final nail in the school’s coffin. It described the terrible conditions at the institution, and urged the community to support its closure.
The school finally closed in 1992, exactly 70 years after it opened. The grounds of the former school are deserted, and many of the buildings have been demolished.
However, some of the structures still remain. Their weathered interiors have decayed to match the ugliness of the stories that emerged from this troubled institution.
The school is located at 6 Berkshire Avenue, Belchertown. However, the property is off-limits to visitors and exploring the grounds is considered illegal trespassing. Nature is now reclaiming what is left of this terrible place. If you’re interested in exploring some abandoned places in Massachusetts, check out
this road trip that will take you to decaying spots across the state.