When I think about it, my job is really kind of cool

For the most part I don’t talk about my job much on My Porch. This is partly because I have one of those jobs where only authorized individuals are allowed to talk to the press. And while My Porch isn’t the press, it is available to the public and as such I don’t want to get into trouble for speaking out of turn.

The Preserves Room

But let me just say this much. I work on a historic preservation project related to an abandoned insane asylum. Some of what I do requires me to do research including going through great old photographs that make this asylum look downright quaint by contemporary standards. The idyllic campus-like setting and the wonderful old buildings are a far cry from what passes for mental hospitals today. I know this is a romantic view of what must have been a less than happy place. In addition to the unhappy nature inherent in a mental hospital, there was also chronic overcrowding and funding shortages. It was also a time when epileptics, TB patients and other sane folks were kept in insane asylums.

The history of this particular asylum connects it to a famous reformer, a president, more than one presidential assassin, a 20th-century literary figure, the U.S. Civil War, and advances (sometimes quite scary ones) in mental health care.
For much of its history, this institution grew and produced its own food. Patients helped tend the orchards and grew food crops. There was also henneries, piggeries, and a dairy herd.
And just today I came across this very cool picture of the “Preserves Room” you see above. How cool is that photo? I am not sure if you can see in this image, but the jars in the foreground are quinces and the some of the smaller jars are currant jelly.
Bakery in 1915 (the ovens are still there)

Greenhouses and crops

Patient room (this would have been for a less disturbed patient)

Patient day room

Patient day room


Hydrotherapy Room

14 thoughts on “When I think about it, my job is really kind of cool

  1. Ti May 26, 2011 / 4:48 pm

    I work for the Cal State University system and years ago, we converted a sister campus to a Cal State and although it was a lovely, beachside community, the structure itself was a mental hospital.

    I spent many weeks there and walked the campus daily and I could not shake the sterile, hospital feel.

    It was an intertesting process, so I can certainly relate to your post.

    The campus is a mix of old and new. Here is the site link if you care to take a look.


    By the time I got to the campus, the historic folders and docs were all boxed up. I'm not sure what they did with them.


  2. Cristina (Rochester Reader) May 26, 2011 / 5:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing these photos. This is really interesting and I can appreciate the beauty of the buildings and orchards and the cosiness of the rooms (the bedroom shows that someone really loved books). It is also a little sad when you think of the people who were there and the hydrotheraphy room looks scary. The preserves are quite a sight!


  3. Alexandra May 27, 2011 / 5:29 am

    Fascinating! Will it ever be open to the public?

    Some of those photos make me this just might be the perfect setting for a horror movie.


  4. chasingbawa May 27, 2011 / 5:36 am

    Wonderful pictures. I can only imagine the sense of history you must get working there, especially since it is a place where there must have been a lot of human drama.


  5. madbibliophile May 27, 2011 / 9:54 am

    That's a pretty amazing job. You must come across some amazing things.


  6. bookssnob May 27, 2011 / 10:53 am

    Thomas please can you post more about this in future?! This sort of stuff FASCINATES me. Absolutely wonderful – how lucky you are to get to work at such a beautiful, interesting place, despite its sad history. I just read a book you might enjoy actually, set in a Victorian mental asylum (but the action takes place in the 1950s) – the description of the antiquated facilities and buildings was actually what piqued my interest most – it's called The Storm at the Door.


  7. savidgereads May 27, 2011 / 11:27 am

    As with Rachel Booksnob I second the fact that you should do some more posts like this. I find this sort of thing, especially asylums weirdly, really fascinating.

    I think I am going to snatch that recommendation of The Storm at the Door too!


  8. C.B. James May 27, 2011 / 2:01 pm

    It looks kind of nice, except for the hydrotherapy room. I don't think I would like Hydrotherapy.

    I know of two former mental hospitals that are not deluxe condo developments in the Bay Area. One in between the towns of Ross and Kentfield in Marin features condos with elevators. The other is a multi-story project with great views at the top of Buena Vista Park in San Francisco just above the Haight-Ashbury District.

    Recycle and re-use I guess.


  9. Mallory May 29, 2011 / 1:10 am

    I didn’t know what your job consisted of but WOW how interesting to be researching a mental hospital. That is a job I would love to do, researching being one and a mental hospital second…the unknown is always fascinating. Share more in the future if possible. I understand your not able to say much. Hydrotherapy (very disturbing “treatment”)…I was introduced to that in the movie Changeling (yes a movie, not a book…shame on me lol).


  10. Thomas at My Porch May 31, 2011 / 9:58 am

    Ti: Oddly, this place doesn't feel sterile at all. It feels quite cozy.

    Cristina: I am not sure what the hydrotherapy would have felt like, but I can't help but think that the shower looks an awful lot like what rich people put into their bathrooms these days.

    Alexandra: There are monthly tours right now if you are in the DC area. And there will be access in the future, but overall it will be a hugely secure facility.

    Sakura: Even though the building are largely cleared out, one does occasionally come across something that suggests human drama.

    Mad: As the site got cleaned up we come across less and less, except there have been some archeologocial digs as well recently.

    Rachel: I could make arrangements the next time you come to DC.

    Simon S: I will try to come up with additional posts.

    CB: Recycle and re-use is what historic preservation is all about.

    Mallory: Well, when the unknown isn't being all scary, it is fascinating.


  11. ArchitectDesign™ May 31, 2011 / 11:31 am

    Thanks for sharing these. We already talked about how I had worked on this campus as well but I had never seen the 'befores'. I think that patients room is really a cozy looking space where I wouldn't mind living myself.


  12. A Bookish Space June 1, 2011 / 4:03 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing these. What a fascintating job you must have!


  13. Thomas at My Porch June 3, 2011 / 10:15 am

    Stefan: I forgot that one of my readers would recognize campus in question. If you are ever bored, NARA has about 386 old photos viewable on the website.

    Bookish Space: That is what I am starting to realize.


  14. picky girl June 5, 2011 / 3:40 pm

    Wow – what a really cool job. A lot of my Master's research was regarding treatment of mental illness in women in the 19th century and early 20th century. Great photos. Fascinating.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.