Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital
Greystone was built following the famous Kirkbride Plan by architect Samuel Sloan. The original building was 673,700 square feet and was deemed as the largest single building in the United States until surpassed by the Pentagon in 1943. The center main section of Greystone was for administrative purposes with various patient wings sprawling outwards from the center. Each wing was first set up to roughly house 20 patients each. The hospital had 40 wards which split into two wings detaching from the administrative section. The wings were separated by sex.
By the late 1890's, the hospital was already operating over capacity. Initially, the facility was set to hold 800 patients, by the late 1890's it was housing around 1,189 patients. In the early 1900's, the complex began building more dormitory buildings to accommodate the increase in patients. In 1912, a tuberculosis pavilion was constructed on the grounds to meet the needs of the expanding outbreak in the time period. Annexes were placed in the dormitory buildings in 1917 due to the patient population still seeing a significant increase each year. Cottages were constructed with the intent to have nurses and physicians live within their own separate quarters. Most notable are the Voorhees Cottage and the Knight Cottage. The Clinic Building was built in 1923 and all medical procedures were to be performed within the specific building. The Curry Building, named after Superintendent Marcus Curry, opened in 1927 as the new reception building. Through the years of 1929 and 1930, 3 fires broke out within the main building. The most devastating destroyed the central tower on November 26, 1930. In 1947, Greystone participated with Columbia University in a major study regarding lobotomies. They concluded the practice was barbaric and not causing any form of relief in patients. This changed the world of mental health care as the report called for the halting of the practice altogether.
In the modern era, Greystone struggled with the same problems as most large state-run mental health facilities. New psychiatric drugs were causing the need for such large facilities to become obsolete. The giant Kirkbride building was becoming expensive to maintain. A new hospital building was set to be built by Governor Todd Whitman and completed in the early 2000's. During the years of 2005-2008, the state began to demolish most of the "out buildings" that fell into disrepair. On July 16, 2008, all patients were moved to the new hospital. The beautiful Kirkbride soon fell completely vacant after administrative services made the move shortly after.
Morris County had purchased the land from the state and began construction on the park that occupies the land today off Central Ave. In 2013, the State of New Jersey announced the proposal of demolition of the historic Kirkbride. This caused an uproar in the community across the entire state and a group called Preserve Greystone was formed. The following years proved to be one of the most corrupt times with the State of NJ Government, leading to the complete demolition in 2015. Please visit our friends over at Antiquity Echoes to learn, with great detail, the entire timeline of corrupt demolition of one of the most historic buildings in America.
I think it would be easier for me to try and remember what I ate on the first Saturday afternoon of July of '98 than to be able to type all of my thoughts about Greystone into a few small paragraphs for this website. Yet, here we are, so I'll give it a shot. Much like Marlboro or Overbrook, my friends and I grew up in the "Weird NJ" era of reading the urban legends behind these infamous institutions, to finally being old enough to get in the car and drive ourselves to them and get the facts firsthand. Nothing could have prepared us for how massive Greystone would actually be the first time we laid eyes on it driving up Central Ave. At that time, several of the outbuildings still remained. There were no soccer fields or playgrounds, at least none that I can really recall. Maybe a few recreational spots further down the road, but this end of Central Ave belonged to Greystone, and nothing more. Never in a million years would I have ever expected this to change, even as the landscape slowly shape-shifted over the next half-decade or so. Eventually, Greystone was reduced to nothing more than dust and memories. But that's something I don't care to talk about often, if at all.
I prefer to remember Greystone very differently than I'm sure would be acceptable to the average person in New Jersey. It was so much more to me than bricks and stones. Really only one word comes to mind for me to describe it: dualism. Greystone was a powerhouse of history, both of architecture and of medicine. At the same time, it was by far the most incredible place I have ever explored. It's almost contradictory to be in love with a place so much that you want it to be resurrected from the dead and restored back to the life, but at the same time are still trying to discover every single secret the place has to offer. I always felt very selfish not wanting to give up our playground, but ultimately I always stood by the preservation efforts. Some of my fondest memories I hold dear to me are the various adventures to Greystone. The first times we went there, my general rule of "just casually walk up and I'm sure there's a way in" always panned out. I was somehow arranging meet-ups for a dozen or more people at a time, escorting them inside the building, coming back out, going to QuickChek to grab everyone snacks, shuttling the next group in and so on. At points, I felt like a sort of unofficial tour guide of the Kirkbride. People would message me from different states asking to come pay a visit, and I would happily oblige. It took me a few years before I fully realized how much of a prize Greystone truly was.
Although I spent a lot of time there, I still feel like it wasn't enough. During the demolition, we made it a point to be there on an almost daily basis. Each time I watched the machines take another dig at the building, I would think "there's no way this is going to keep going, someone is going to stop this." Ultimately, we all know how that turned out. One of the final times I was in there was when the wings had already been taken down, and demolition of admin had begun. It was risky and exceptionally dangerous. I remember the crisp summer night, the nearly full moon, just enough light between that and the streetlights. There were holes in the side of the building, huge chunks of stone and pipes dangling overhead. It looked like a war zone. We made a run for it, and we were in. We paid our final respects in the chapel, took a few more looks around, and not long after, the fabled asylum was no more.
My epitaph for this location will always remain "Greystone: A Victim of Political Greed".