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Trenton Psychiatric Hospital History - Abandoned Insane Asylums

Brianna is a full-time writer, blogger, and editor. Her specialty is all things scary. Travel with her to some truly haunting destinations!

Abandoned Insane Asylums

Abandoned Insane Asylums

Close Your Eyes...

Imagine you were living in the early 1900s. You were told something was wrong with you, only you didn't know what. Neither did your family. So, they sent you away because that's what they were told to do. But...there was no help. Just torture.

And that's exactly what most families did. Decades ago, mental illnesses were misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and the poor victims who suffered from mental illnesses were mistreated. People were brainwashed into thinking that sending a loved one away into the solitary confinement of these ginormous institutions would cure them. But that couldn't be more far from the truth.


Location of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital

Trenton Psychiatric Hospital History

Also known as Trenton State Hospital, New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton, or more commonly known from the old days, The New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, this hospital was built in 1848. It was the very first foundation built under the Kirkbride Plan by reformer activist Dorothea Dix. The asylum was also the first mental hospital built in the state of New Jersey. Though the Kirkbride Plan was developed for good intentions, this hospital is most remembered for its medical abuse.

Dr. Henry Cotton became the director of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in 1907. The Swiss born doctor trained at John Hopkins under the psychiatrist Adolf Meyer. Cotton had a very positive and progressive attitude towards the care of his patients so much, that he did away with the mechanical restraints that many other hospitals used to control unruly patients. He also introduced occupational therapy, increased his staff, no uses of lobotomy, instituted daily staff meetings to discuss patient care, and did his best to ensure the nurses would prevent violence against the patients.

Here is where it all went terribly wrong: Cotton introduced and carried out treatments based on his own theories of mental illness. And his theory was a dangerous one. One that literally turned this asylum into a screaming, bloody house of horrors.

Photo Captured Inside Trenton State

Photo Captured Inside Trenton State

What Could Possibly Be Worse Than Lobotomies You Ask?

It became confirmed in 1913 that the spirochaete that causes syphilis can also cause the disease's psychiatric symptoms. Because of this, Cotton suspected that all mental illnesses were caused by bodily infections and that the only way to cure the patients was to remove the symptom causing infection. So in 1917, he began removing patients teeth, even when their X-Ray's showed no offending signs of infection.

If removing the teeth did not cure the mental illness, he began removing other body parts such as gallbladders, stomachs, ovaries, testicles, tracts of colons, uteruses, spleens, and tonsils. Cotton claimed a high success rate of 87% but often in reality, the surgeries produced a high death rate. If removing organs wasn't horrifying enough, we are talking when these surgeries were conducted at a time in our history before the use of antibiotics. No use of antibiotics equals a high mortality rate.

What's even more troubling is the fact that Dr. Cotton didn't always obtain consent from patients or their families. In fact, Cotton often performed these surgical removals despite the patients screaming and protests.

Adolf Meyer eventually sent in another psychiatrist, Dr. Greenacre, to report on the operations at Trenton State Hospital. Despite her research and conductive report of Cotton's horrific way of caring for his patients, Meyer initially ignored her report and told her to cease her work and research! Dr. Greenacre got reassigned while Dr. Cotton got to continue his practice of gruesome surgeries. Cotton remained at Trenton until 1930. He died of a sudden heart attack three years later. Even after he passed, his surgeries didn't end. They were still the norm until the 1960's!

Records show that this mental hospital had the highest incident rate along with the highest rate of violence and patient restraint.

Cotton left behind a legacy of hundreds of fatalities, thousands of maimed and mutilated patients which didn't end when he died in 1933.


Trenton Psychiatric Hospital Today

Parts of the hospital are still in operation today and the center of the Kirkbride building is also still in use as a 400-bed psychiatric hospital serving the people of New Jersey as an accredited health facility. But, many parts of the campus have been abandoned and have fallen in major disrepair.

The main building, called the Stratton Building, is where the administrative offices are located. To the far southeast of the main building, past a non functional and inoperative swimming pool and baseball diamond, you will find two large buildings standing next to a cluster of small cottages. One is the Marquand Building which is still fully operational and is used as administration to the small, nearby cottages which I believe is used for the hospital's patients.

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The three-story massive building next to the Marquand building is the Forst building, and it has been abandoned for decades. I have found it rather difficult to find much information on this building, but there is speculation that it was used as staff housing. However, there were many artifacts left behind in the building that led to later speculation that the Forst building could have served as an inpatient rehab facility for addiction and recovery. Based on the condition of the building, it is believed to possibly have been abandoned in either the 1970's or early 1980's. The patient rooms in the central wing still contain beds and furniture, pairs of shoes, refrigerators that still have containers of food in them, clothes hanging on rusted hangers, toothbrushes, and other belongings. This is all obviously due to rapid abandonment but we are not sure why. The southern wing contains no belongings, artifacts, or beds which leads us to believe that it was the first wing to be vacated.

A Truly Chilling Look Inside The New Jersey Lunatic Asylum


Haunted Incidents of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital

It is very difficult to get the chance to roam around Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, specifically the abandoned Forst building. Therefore, it makes it hard for any sort of investigation or evidence. But, when it comes to a massive institution with such a dark history as this mental asylum attracts trespassers, locals, photographers, and the curious alike. The asylum and property is so massive that many explain it as an eerie, small town down winding roads equipped with cottages and greenhouses, with many speculations and claims. Again, with no evidence they are just claims but with a history like this place, none of them are hard to believe.

  • Those who have made it inside claimed to have been touched, seen shadow people, experienced cold spots, and the uncomfortable feeling of being watched.
  • The buildings are believed to be haunted by the tortured patients but the most notable ghost that has been seen is of Dr. Cotton himself who has been claimed to be seen wearing a white cotton doctors coat and walking down the corridor in the area outside of where his office was.
  • Commonly reported phenomenon is that of disembodied voices, screams and moans coming from patient rooms.
  • Many claim that orbs have been caught continuously throughout the building at any time of day or night, some with a strong pale blue about them. Some claim to have seen apparitions of patients with arms and legs missing in some of the rooms that fade away upon entering.

Decades of mental illness, mixed with uncertainty, coupled with a mad doctor, times mutilated patients equals and makes for a horrid dark history in a massive, old hospital straight out of a nightmare. Would you walk down the halls of this abandoned asylum where the history, and patients, echo of the past?


Kirkbride Plan- the Kirkbride Plan refers to a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride(1809-1883) in the mid 19th century. The New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum was the first built on the plan thanks to efforts of Dorothea Dix. The plan promoted floor plans specifically to promote privacy and comfort for the patients. Example: connected wings would receive sunlight and fresh air. It also promoted extensive surrounding grounds for use of farmland that the patients could work on as part of physical therapy and exercise. Many Kirkbride Plan asylums still stand today but most are abandoned, neglected, and severely vandalized. Some have been renovated for other uses, while some are still in use. (Source: Wikipedia)

Lobotomy- defined as a neurosurgical procedure which consists of cutting or scraping away most of the connections to and from the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain. This procedure was mainstream for more than two decades despite general recognition of frequent and serious side effects. By 1951, almost 20,000 lobotomies had been performed in The United States. (Source: Wikipedia)

Spirochaete- defined as a bacteria, belongs to a phylum of distinctive double membrane bacteria, most which have long corkscrew shaped cells. It has caused many diseases including, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, relapsing fever, and syphilis.

Let Me Know!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Brianna W


Brianna W (author) from East Coast on April 01, 2019:

Thank you Francine! Glad you enjoyed the read. I agree the way these patients were treated was absolutely ridiculous.

Francine Labelle from Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on April 01, 2019:

I have often heard of haunted old abandoned hospitals whether psychiatric or not. As an ex registered nurse myself (1974-1996), I have often seen in this day and age ridiculous surgeries being done of patient who refused them but the doctors obtained consent from the families. I enjoyed reading your account of this installation. Although I am from Canada, I am almost positive that we probably have those same types of abandoned installations and I saw a documentary on one institutions specifically geared to First Nations education which was just as bad as your hospital. Congratulations on a very well researched, presented and written account.

Logan on December 29, 2018:

That’s Greystone Psychiatric hospital which is now torn down. No need to try and protect the location now.

Abreelyn on March 15, 2018:

In 1981 did volunteer work there while I college. Didn't look like that, and was on beautiful grounds.

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