There have been several state mental institutions in New Jersey that have closed their doors over the years, each with a chilling backstory. Horrendous things happened at these institutions, among others in New Jersey, but they are no more. Only a few asylums still remain, and one of the most terrifying is still in use. Trenton Psychiatric Hospital is a mental hospital run by the state of New Jersey and located in Trenton. It is not entirely abandoned as it still houses a 400-bed psychiatric hospital serving a designated New Jersey population.
The New Jersey Lunatic Asylum (later renamed the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital) was founded on May 15, 1848. It’s completion marked the opening of the first mental hospital in the entire state, and the very first asylum ever constructed around the Kirkbride plan. However, the original facility quickly filled up again, and several more additions were completed. The facility’s transformation also included a name change to “New Jersey State Hospital” in 1893.
The facility was founded by Dorothea Dix, an activist and advocate for the mentally ill. While the aim was to help care for and rehabilitate patients with psychiatric issues, the asylum took a dark turn after Dr. Henry Cotton took control of the facility in 1907. Cotton was a firm believer that the onset and persistence of mental illness in a person stemmed from infections within one’s body. In order to preserve and restore the troubled minds of the patients under his care, the doctor and his staff took to removing the patient’s teeth. It was Cotton’s belief that the teeth were the most likely location in a patient’s body to house infections. However, if symptoms persisted after teeth removal, additional body parts were systematically removed. The next most common organs to be removed if tooth extractions failed were the tonsils and sinus. From there the patient could loose a number of internal organs, including but not limited to the colon, cervix, ovaries, gall badder, stomach, spleen, and testicles. Based solely upon his own research and experimentation, Cotton publicly reported a wonderful success rate for his patients.
Though Dr. Cotton died in 1933, several of his unethical and inhumane practices remained standard at the facility until the 1960s. By 1954 there were 4,237 people at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital but with the increasing use of medication for mental illness, that number began to drop and wards were closed. The elegant Kirkbride style administration building was demolished in 1971 and replaced with a more traditional hospital structure, and the name was again changed to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. As patient numbers decreased over time, more and more of the buildings in the complex were closed off and left abandoned. The New Jersey state still operates a 400-bed psychiatric hospital on the site, many of the older buildings stand empty and neglected. Though the abandoned portions of the facility are not open to the public, these photos will take you through the asylum.