Thursday, December 4, 2008

Belchertown State School

Between Rt 202 and Jackson Street, there is a length of road lined with abandoned buildings and overgrown fields. Many of the buildings have asbestos warnings on them and "no trespassing" signs; some even have piles trash in front of them. Tunnel entrances rise above the ground with cautions that the tunnels are sealed off and have no exit, yet the tunnel openings are still accessible. Rundown and especially bleak on a cold November day, this stretch of road is what once was the Belchertown State School.

The Belchertown State School often appears in search results for the town; I came across mention of it many times while researching Belchertown. Last weekend on a walk and a whim, we stumbled upon its physical presence -- all its buildings, sidewalks, boarded windows, parking places, graffiti, garbage, fields, basketball courts, and more. It is an amazing stretch of under-utilized land in a prime location in town.

The BSS was a "school" for the mentally defective ("feeble-minded"), though with its history of abuses and overcrowding, it is not necessarily a bright mark on the town or the state. It opened in 1922 as the third such school in the Commonwealth. It closed in 1992, and since then has been left mostly to deteriorate, though plans for it are often being discussed.

The state school often hits the papers these days as officials try to determine what to do with the buildings and the land, which currently falls under the responsibilities of the Belchertown Economic Development and Industrial Corporation, though most of the construction plans listed on that webpage to begin in 2004 have not yet seen progress. On December 1, reported on a revised plan for the land that was approved by board members. There are a few businesses that have taken up residence near the Rt 202 side of the school.

For more information on the history and current status of the land and buildings, visit the links below.

The Wikipedia article, Belchertown State School
From State Hospitals of Massachusetts
From inside the walls, BSS YouTube vids
Rise & Fall of the State Hospital

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