An Abandoned Mental Asylum
8:00 | 05 January 2010 | GMT+07:00
share on twittershare on facebook

OUTSIDE WASHINGTON, DC
Back in March, we visited an abandoned mental asylum for children.

The District of Columbia’s mental health system once relied on a large, centralized bureaucracy that relocated patients to huge facilities far out in the suburbs. Forest Haven was reserved for the children and teenagers who had become lost in this system, unable to function in public schools and lacking the resources to pay for private care.

In the late 1980s it became clear that Forest Haven was underfunded, poorly run and downright dangerous. Mentally ill children were choking on their feeding tubes and being buried unceremoniously on the banks of the Patuxent river. Once the lawsuits mounted and the citizens of DC began to call for serious reform, the government took steps to decentralize the system and placed patients in smaller hospitals closer to their homes. In October of 1991 the children were loaded into vans, the employees took their belongings and Forest Haven’s twenty-some buildings were forgotten.

Today Forest Haven lies in a no-man’s land between two highways, untouched by the DC government since its hasty evacuation. It is invisible from any major road and far from any public transportation, which has helped to preserve the medical records, prescription drugs and broken children’s toys that remain strewn about the grounds. There are no fences, no guards and no signs marking what this once was or even that it is something worth remarking upon.

I first learned about Forest Haven through a Flickr gallery, but the only information it offered was the general location. I found it after an hour on Google Maps and the WaPo archives. Within a few days we’d assembled a strike team, gathered the necessary supplies and were poring over satellite photos in a suburban diner, the plan sealed in red pen marks and coffee stains.

There was nothing inconspicuous about this operation, but we managed to park our motorcycles without arousing suspicion and made our way through about a quarter mile of woods. I’m not sure any of us knew what we were getting into, but when we broke through the trees into that massive, post-apocalyptic expanse of dilapidated buildings it was clear this wasn’t going to be like sneaking into a neighborhood construction site.

After being greeted by a deer carcass under a disused container, our first stop was what looked like a medical ward. Forest Haven was vacated pretty quickly, but the first step inside gives the feeling of hundreds of people dropping what they were doing and leaving as quickly as possible – hospital beds rotted where they were left, fading artwork hung on the walls and children’s cubbies still had names on them. Somebody had spray painted “Psyco Room’s –>” in the hallway and penises onto a mural of Lucy and Shroeder.

The rest of the buildings were in a similar state. We checked them off on our satellite maps and took compass bearings to find the next target, walking through dorms, offices, kitchens, laundry facilities and everything else you’d expect in a place completely cut off from the rest of the world. Each was littered with the ephemera of daily life in a juvenile psychiatric hospital – board games, children’s drawings, basketballs, shattered televisions with “hue” dials on them. But for as much as these would remind one of the place this once was, it was the papers overflowing from file cabinets that put a human face on what happened here – clinical narratives of the lives of disturbed children interned at Forest Haven. Leafing through the pages one could read through the stories of kids that were doomed from the start, picking out the lines where maybe they could have been saved if only someone, somewhere had cared just a little bit.

Throughout the expedition we’d avoided one particularly threatening building, its fifteen foot high razor wire fence and new paint job suggesting that it might still be in use. As we got braver and closer it became apparent that the heavy steel door was wide open and nobody was home, so we walked in to find what was, for me, the most disturbing part of Forest Haven.

The first room was a doctor’s office with bright pink walls, scales, and piles of unidentifiable drugs on the counter. It was abandoned, but the calendars from 2007 and lack of broken windows made it clear that it was vacated much more recently than what we’d seen before. Further down the hallway were a series of locked doors with tiny clouded windows peering in on empty, featureless rooms. Even with the razor wire outside, I didn’t make the connection until I noticed something scratched into the glass on one of the doors:

FUCK DR HILL

This was a prison for insane children. Two years ago it held kids who were so disturbed that they were locked in cages among the crumbling remains of an abandoned mental asylum. I can’t even imagine the amount of trauma, conflict and tragedy that this building saw and the effect it must have had on the patients and poor souls who worked here.

After a full day in Forest Haven’s disquieting underworld we trekked back through the woods and stopped in a bar just on the other side. Not a single one of the employees or patrons had ever heard of it.







Tags: , , , ,

share on twittershare on facebook
Leave a comment
Comments: 68 to “An Abandoned Mental Asylum”
  • Wow that sounds amazing I also felt SOME of that when me n my group went to Henryngton but not the same feel for it had been cleaned out before abandoned if you could i would love for you to send me its address so I could explore the place one time!!! cause this place sounds both haunting and a good exploration and I also wanna get some good pictures

  • this place is freaking amazing … if anyone wants directions to the place email me at djstabvx3@aim.com…. and ill explain exactly how to get here without getting caught by anyone

  • Jennifer:

    Please email me if you have updated information and specific directions. I will be in the area from out of state and am trying to plan a trip to explore this awesome place. Thank you!! JenniferfromNC@gmail.com

  • Teresa:

    I was employed at this facility back in 1987. It was such a waste , there were many people employed. It’s a shame that this place could be reconstructed and be a out-patient facility for the mentally chanlleged individual who are certainly in need of help. My wish one day for this to continue and open up for services, that well needed. It would be so nice if I could locate some of my old co-workers.

  • Teresa:

    IT’S SO AMAZING TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS LISTED ON THIS WEBSITE, AS FOR MYSELF I MENTIONED IN MY PREVIOUS MESSAGE THAT I DID WORK AT THIS FACILITY, IT SEEMED BACK THEN IT COULD HAVE USED A GREAT DEAL OF TRAINING FOR THE STAFF MEMBER THAT WORKED WITH THE PATIENTS , I WORKED IN THE COTTAGE AS AN ADMINISTRAVTIVE ASST. IT WAS PRETTY COLD,THE CONDITIONS OF THE BUILDING , EVEN THEN WERE NOT TO GREAT, THERE WERE SO MANY RUMORS OF WHAT SORT OF THINGS THAT WERE TAKING PLACE INVOLVING THE PATIENTS. I DO BELEVE IF IT HAD BEEN RAN BY A PRIVATE SECTOR IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MUCH BETTER , LIKE WITH A LOT OF FACILITIES RAN BY THE GOVERNMENT, IT SEEMS NOT MUCH INTERESTE GOES INTO WHAT SHOULD MAKE A FACILITY RUN PROPERLY. AND HAVE THE TRAINNED STAFF THAT’S NEEDED TO ACCOMODATE THE PATIENT’S NEEDS. I WAS INFORMED THAT MANY CLIENTS WERE THERE SINCE BABIES IN CRIBS. AND GREW UP AND BECAME ADULTS STILL LIVING AT FOREST HAVEN. I PLAN TO TAKE A TRIP THERE TO SEE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TODAY. IT WAS INTERESTING READING EVERYONES MESSGES.

  • val:

    As a Maryland native, I would pass by the road that led here quite frequently especially in the 80s. My dad kind of explained what It was but since I was little I didn’t quite understand. I really appreciate the further insight! Beautiful (if you can say that) pictures!

  • UPDATED ABANDONED PLACES: Henryton sanitarium in Merriotsville, Md is set to be demolished in 5/1/2013. So anyone who wants to go there sould definitely go as soon as possible.

  • If anyone knows of any other interesting abandoned places that’s worth exploring my name is Jason contact me darknessparanormal@gmail.com

  • lynds:

    i just want to say that my thoughts are with the innocent souls who were not given the love and compassion they deserved i would have tried to help if i was around so sad xx thankyou for the info

  • Jena:

    Ive been to forest haven twice and it was awesome. we parked at the bar, my problem is that i dont know where to walk without getting lost because i went with friends and i felt like we walked at least a quarter mile and i think i would get lost. if anyone knows how exactly to walk there please let me know. thank you! jenanicole123@yahoo.com

  • Shelley:

    Henyton in Marriottsville is being demolished NOW. They started already. The place was in horrible condition but neat to see and imagine the history. Would love to see Forest Haven. If anyone can give directions please email me at kantseamenow@aol.com. Thanks.

  • Vintagebeauty:

    Hey. I just found out im doing a shoot here. Im doing photos myself and having themed photos (suckerpunch) soon. I feel bad for all those children that had to go there. I just have a question… Is it hard to get caught there? Its not like we are gonna do any damage to it, just wanna do pictures. Email any recommendations for places in the facility to shoot, if anyone has a map of the grounds, etc. (modelterramarie@gmail.com) thanks for this epic website.

  • Genoah k:

    wow thats so nice, my mom and i are trying to find an abandoned mental asylum that we can look through! i think itll be awesome. If anyone knows about one and/or the directions ill be glad to hear it, genoahkline@gmail.com is my email. We were planning on going to henryton cause i heard it was good but its getting demolished :/

  • yenbai:

    I was here!! Realest thing ive very seen! Will never forget it!!!! Omgggg chills..

  • sitstopee:

    Just tried getting here. They have a youth correctional on grounds and an active gate guard. Some people try to hike through the woods to the vacant buildings but getting caught may have higher chances.

  • raymond d:

    I my self live in the Jacksonville long time from 1946 – thur- 1966 for i did not have a famly at that time or a home so i was made to go there it was the BAD TIME I and the other children there whent thur very BAD time now i have bad dreams but thing are great now with my framly and my grandkids

  • Jessica:

    This place was a horrible place. It housed people with mental disabilities who were mistreated and abused and killed. They close it down and moved the rest of the individuals to group homes in the district. I have the joy of working with a lot of the people who resided in Forest Haven and the stories they told us was heartbreaking. Some were raped by their care givers beat and tortured. I hope they never open this place up. He’ll I hope the government bulldoze it to the grown. These people have lasting effects from this hell hole.

  • Yawaseh:

    Hello, Jennifer or anyone else who has worked at Forest Haven. I’m a final semester graduate student doing my analytical Paper on the deinstitutionalization of the mental health and I’m very interested in Forest Haven, yet there are no books or barely any information online. So I’m interested in interviewing former workers or patients. If anybody can help or knows who can help, please send me an email. It will be GREATLY appreciated! email addr is yawasehtingba@gmail.com

NAME

EMAIL

WEBSITE

rss feed