A psychiatric asylum that was in operation from 1925 to 1991. One of the most controversial facilities to ever operate in American history due to its high mortality rate, and decades of reported abuse and neglect being ignored. Records indicate 389 patients had lost their lives while seeking treatment here, but many speculate that number could be much higher.
Forest Haven opened in 1925 consisting of 22 buildings spread across nearly 300 acres of land 20 miles outside of Washington D.C as a “progressive” and “forward thinking” training facility for mentally disabled adults and children. Doctors and architects had envisioned a design that would take away the stress of urban life for these people so that they could receive proper, consistent treatment. Buildings were referred to as “cottages” and were given the names Elm, Hawthorne, Dogwood, Magnolia, Holly, Hemlock, Maple, Pine, Oak, Spruce, and Poplar. By 1928, Forest Haven had already seen its first on grounds burial.
The main Administration building began construction in 1938 and was opened in 1940. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the buildings opening ceremony, hailing the institution as “state of the art” and further strengthening its reputation as one of the most progressive institutions in the nation.
Over-crowding and under-staffing was a common problem during this time period, and Forest Haven often reported these issues, but fell on deaf ears. It didn’t become more prominent until the 1960’s when classification for mental illness took a turn for the worse. Political views on the model for institutions had begun to change, and hundreds of people with very simple, treatable learning disabilities were lazily classified as “retarded” and sent to Forest Haven. Conditions within the facility quickly deteriorated and resources dried up, resulting in the facility to shift its priorities to capacity, rather than rehabilitation.
In 1974 when a nearby orphanage had closed, 20 children were relocated to Forest Haven. Instead of attempting to relocate them, they were re-classified from “orphans” to “retarded”. Some of them started to function at a retarded level due to their treatment.
In 1975 the director of Forest Haven estimated that nearly 400 residents currently seeking treatment within the facility should “not be here”, and admitted the facility was contributing to the decline of many of its residents.
Male patients between ages 10-24 who were least-capable of caring for themselves spent their time in the Curley Building, which is a massive building sitting around 68,000 square-feet and was completed in 1971. It’s always the first building people encounter when entering the property for the first time.
At its peak, Forest Haven housed 1,300 residents, which was a number well beyond its capacity. During an investigation it was discovered the facility was only spending $18 per day per patient, while the national average was around $30 per day per patient. This cutback played a big role in the neglect, abuse, and poor conditions the residents faced day in and day out. When Judge Pratt ordered the facility to eventually close in 1978 under the Pratt Decree. As part of the resolution the District was to relocate Forest Haven residents to community group homes – as well as overhaul the mental health system. The facility would eventually close down October 14, 1991, but not before claiming the lives of dozens more due to the carelessness of their care-takers.
Forest Haven is abandoned and sits near the NSA headquarters, as well as a juvenile detention center that is adjacent to the abandoned property. It is patrolled frequently by United States Park Police.
Numerical Map courtesy of https://sometimes-interesting.com/forest-haven-asylum
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