Alaina Pinto visits the Vermont State Hospital with Steve Perkins, the executive director for the Vermont Historical Society.
“At This Place in History we visit the site of the Vermont State Hospital. Joining me is the executive director of the Vermont Historical Society. This is Steve Perkins. So, tell me more about this spot?”
“Great. So, this is a really interesting spot in Vermont history. Built as a state hospital, the complex grew over time. Beautiful buildings. And then came to house the state offices and the state complex. Was, of course, hit really hard by Irene in 2011 and the idea of the state hospital here went away but it’s been rebuilt into an absolutely gorgeous state complex. So, that’s as much as I know but we’ve invited our friend, David Schutz, who is the state curator out here to come give us a tour of the complex.”
“Well, this is the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane. That’s what it was called in the 1890s when the entire complex began. And it began to grow, almost immediately through the 1890s. They moved mental patients into this facility and many of them were the indigent and the poor. It would eventually house up to 1300 patients in the 1950s which was the peak of the population and I think this place has a sad history but it also has a very positive history. In that, this is best that people were capable of doing at the time. And I think we’re still struggling in our world today to know exactly how to treat mental illness, what are the best places and so on. So, Irene brought that all to an end. When Irene hit this complex, that was the end of what by then was a tiny hospital.”
“So, David, when people visit this space here, there’s a lot of different furniture. And there’s a sewing machine. What’s the significance of that?”
“The sewing machine is the sole surviving sew machine from an entire building of these machines where the patients actually engaged in patient therapy by sewing all kinds of things, creating all kinds of things. Rugs, mattresses, brushes, chairs. They had a workshop that made furniture. This building, the center building, is where the Agency of Human Services has its headquarters. And this is the only part of the complex that we have restored to the 1890s period when it was built. That includes this fireplace with furniture that was actually here from the beginning.”
“So, David, now that we’re outside in the courtyard, I see that you’re sort of combining the old building with the new building.”
“Absolutely, this was an opportunity. After Irene hit, and this place had to be rebuilt, Rand & Taylor were the architects who designed the original plan in the 1890s. And now, Vermont’s own Freeman French Freeman led the way with the help of preservation architects from Boston and we now have this great combination of a 21st century building meeting a 19th century building very successfully and creating this gorgeous courtyard. Art in state buildings, a program run by the Vermont Arts Council, also introduced a number of major works of art. And then our office brought in other artists to fill out conference rooms throughout the complex and the major public areas. Here in the courtyard, we have these great kinetic sculptures by Gordon Auchincloss. And in the lobby, a magnificent mural Sarah-Lee Tarat of Waterbury.”
“Well, Steve, it’s just so beautiful here. How do we visit?”
“So, we’re right in downtown Waterbury. This is a state building. It belongs to the people of Vermont. So, you’re welcome to come out and see the artwork, see this facility. We only looked at a tiny portion of it today. It’s really huge. So, historic place. Really fun to visit.”
“At This Place in History.”
For a link to all of the roadside historic markers, click here.
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