The Essex County Hospital Center, colloquially known as Overbrook Asylum, was built in 1896 in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. The grounds of Overbrook Hospital, and a nearby tuberculosis hospital demolished decades ago, were sprawled across about 300 acres on what is now tied into the Essex County Hilltop Reservation, Essex County’s Cedar Grove Park. The complex came to be known as Overbrook, due to its location just beyond the Peckman River.
The facility housed mentally ill patients who required daily care. The site was selected due to its remote, high altitude location, which, it was believed, could provide a healthy, peaceful setting for patients to rehabilitate in.Patient numbers reached as high as 3,000 between the 1930s and 1960s.
Overbrook operated a farm for its thousands of patients, along with a mammoth power plant. Many patients wandered through the property. Beyond the imposing brick and masonry multi-story structures stood a gazebo where musicians often performed for the patients and staff gathered on the lawn.
Inmates from the nearby Essex County Jail annex also worked the farm, as well as tended to the many cows that provided dairy products for the patients of Overbrook. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the introduction of new medications meant that mental hospitals and their methodologies were quickly becoming outdated. The number of patients that made their way to Overbrook plummeted drastically. Throughout the 1990s, the hospital operated, albeit with a miniscule population, and many of the buildings on the property were abandoned.
In its final years many of the buildings were abandoned even though a few remained in use, and the entire property was finally decomissioned in 2007. Essex County demolished seven Overbrook Asylum buildings before completing its property sale to the developer in 2016.
Overbrook Asylum was a central facet of Essex County’s history throughout the 20th Century. It also was a focal point of the area’s local legends. Locals still believe that an old barn on Grove Avenue is still standing on what had been part of the Overbrook complex. Originally, the entire Overbrook site was slated for development by a large outfit specializing in upscale housing. The development of land will include 180 three-story stacked townhomes, 96 traditional townhomes, 94 larger, luxury units, and 90 affordable units.