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About this collection

This series of promotional photographs from the Greystone Asylum was digitally scanned from an album that was assembled at the turn of the 19th century. The photographs of Greystone’s original interior reception areas and staircases, its chapel, landscaped grounds, self-contained farm, gardens and reservoir convey an impression of a pleasant and restorative environment. Images of patients walking on the grounds, and working in various capacities illustrate daily life at Greystone. Other scenes of staff, furnishings, equipment, activities and buildings are also captured visually. Images include a printed description.


Browse the Greystone Photo Album 


Greystone's History


In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, there were few prescribed medical treatments for the mentally ill. During this time, it was widely believed that mental illness was caused by demonic possession, sin and moral weakness. Harsh treatments included submerging patients in ice baths, bleeding, shocks with eels, induction of vomiting and fevers, in addition to prayer and bible reading. Mentally ill individuals were often abused and restrained. By the late 18th century, a movement developed in Europe that encouraged more humane and personalized methods. Called Moral Therapy, its focus was to treat patients with kindness and care, and not with harsh treatment or violence.


The theories of Moral Therapy deeply influenced Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, who served the Pennsylvania Hospital as superintendent from 1841-1883. He created a model for a humane and compassionate environment for mentally ill patients. He advocated for tranquil, uncrowded, and orderly spaces that were believed to be restorative. Dr. Kirkbride's innovative therapies and progressive writings on the design of hospitals and management came to be known as the Kirkbride Plan. Dr. Kirkbride fervently believed that the architectural design of hospitals for the mentally ill could facilitate recovery. His theories had widespread influence on the design and construction of mental hospitals throughout North America, including Greystone.


In its day, Greystone was a landmark in the progressive treatment of the mentally ill. Because proponents believed that nature acted as a curative, asylums such as Greystone were typically built far from urban centers, and designed to highlight a peaceful and orderly environment. Greystone’s landscaped grounds added to the tranquility.


Founded in 1875, the Greystone Hospital was the State of New Jersey’s second “lunatic asylum”. Built to alleviate the overcrowding at the hospital in Trenton, the new institution served emerging populations near Morristown, Parsippany, and Newark when it opened on August 17, 1878. Designed by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan--to Kirkbride specifications--Greystone is a five story complex with two massive wings extending from a dome-topped central building. Kirkbride buildings are characterized by their symmetry, staggered linear floor plan and their imposing Victorian architecture. This design allowed for adequate space and ventilation, the separation of the sexes, and offered patients views of the landscaped grounds.


Photographs within this collection document Greystone’s self-contained community. The Greystone complex had its own post office, dairy and farm, reservoirs, fire department, staff dormitories, and occupational and vocational therapy buildings where household items and produce were produced and sold. Initially each patient ward was set up to accommodate a small number of patients. The wards had visiting parlors, dining areas, and exercise rooms, and some were attractively decorated.


Because Greystone accommodated the more heavily populated area of northern New Jersey, its population soon skyrocketed. Overcrowding caused a sharp decline in patient care. Asylums became the solution for many “problem people”. Some of the seriously mentally ill became a danger to themselves and others when not restrained. The criminally insane were housed together with the regular population and some escaped. Sleeping arrangements became overcrowded as more rooms were converted into dormitories. New dormitories were built but were insufficient to accommodate the burgeoning population of patients. By 1914, Greystone housed 2,412 patients. The institution’s annual reports from this period cite severely congested and underfunded conditions, and warn of risks to patients.


Ultimately Kirkbride’s idealistic theories were criticized by the medical establishment as expensive, labor intensive and ineffective. The once highly regarded practices of moral therapy and moral management were largely discontinued as other methods replaced them.



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