Elijah is an Amazon best-selling author, blogger, previous columnist for an award-winning blog, past creative editor, socialite & traveler.
My Photos of the Tower
The Brattleboro Retreat was built in 1834 as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane because of a $10,000 grant in the will of Anna Hunt Marsh. Not much is known about Marsh or how she obtained this money aside from her husband being a doctor. She was known to be a charitable woman but died at age 54. She was a Quaker and believed in the concept of "moral treatment", and wanted the hospital to treat their patients with kindness and fairness in a family-like setting, and they did operate the way she anticipated. It was a big change in the mental health field as most asylums were known to be cruel or unethical. She even picked out the board members and wanted them to enact her vision; the asylum was to have large open porches so patients could enjoy the sunshine and read, she wanted them to go outside and get fresh air, to eat good food and drink, and exercise. She believed that mental illness was not a character flaw, nor was it a symptom of sin, but was a disease of the mind (which it is). Her hospital was opened and became extremely effective and popular in treating the mentally ill. The hospital staff treated patients as family and were supportive. They also helped staff cook and do farm work to feel like they were part of a community. They later assisted in building the Retreat Tower, a tower where you could go to in order to have a nice view of the grounds and the town. Patients did not stay in cells or cage-like rooms with bars, they also did not have roommates. Instead, they had large rooms all to themselves with big windows to let the sun in. To say that the hospital had a clean track record and treated people with dignity is an understatement.
When modern medications came they were cautious in adopting them into their treatment methods. They also cautiously adopted ECT (electro-convulsion therapy). They were quick to adopt other ideas though! Such as; a gymnasium, bowling alley, fields for outdoor sports, and a swimming pool for exercise. For educational opportunities they had; chorus class, a book club, a patient run official hospital newspaper, a hospital run dairy farm, and a theater. They also had a chapel on the grounds so patients could worship freely.
Sadly, the hospital has a couple dark chapters in it's history: the Retreat Tower being one of them. It was built by asylum patients in 1887 but sadly, it would serve as a graveyard for patients. Many patients took advantage of the tower's height and would climb to the top and jump to their deaths crashing to the rocky cliffs below. We do not know how many patients commit suicide there, and the hospital has kept their secrets. There are also no files on the patients. The tower garnered the nickname, "suicide tower", and to this day people claim to see ghostly figures jumping to their deaths. Staff and patients of the hospital, which is now active and called the Brattleboro Retreat (it was renamed this in the late 1800's because there was a state run hospital nearby called the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane and they didn't want to be confused with it).
In 1984 the Brattleboro Retreat was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
We had trouble finding the trail itself since there were so many different access points but none had real parking options. Google maps was also not too helpful because there were so many trails that intertwined and met together, but we found a parking spot across from the canal. There was a sunny pond with lily pads and waterlilies and a bench. However, immediately after walking into the woods the sun seemed to disappear and the mood shifted. My heart and chest felt heavy. Many people find themselves feeling "uneasy", but I just felt sad... almost like I was walking in the same footsteps as the patients who met their doom in that same forest well over a hundred years ago.
When we finally got to the tower it was foreboding yet beautiful. It stood firmly and soared above the trees. It was locked so there was no way inside but apparently they offer official tours every so often in which you can walk up the spiral staircases to the top to get a good view of Brattleboro. This, disturbingly enough, is the last view so many patients saw before leaping to their deaths. Many have claimed over the years that at night they see the ghosts of former patients jumping from the top.
We then walked to the Spring House, built in 1885 to cover the reservoir that provided the asylum with fresh spring water (hence the name). We looked for a way in or a window we could peer in order to get a good look of the structure but to no avail.
Only about a minute walk down the hill is the old Retreat Cemetery. It is a peaceful place and the final resting place for many patients of the asylum. The only things that made me sad were the toppled tombstones and faded lettering.
After our little exploration, we headed to the main part of town to check out everything it had to offer. Brattleboro is the perfect example of a New England town; old time charm, lots of cafes, restaurants, antique shops, shopping, and a little movie theater. After that, we left the town to see covered bridges and then went home.
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.
© 2022 Elijah DeVivo