Unlocking the Secrets of Fairfield Hills Hospital in Newtown, CT

The Dawn of an Institution

Fairfield Hills Hospital was not just a building but an institution that became a cornerstone of Newtown, Connecticut‘s identity.

Born out of necessity due to the overcrowding in the state’s other two hospitals, the hospital was a testament to the architectural prowess of Walter P. Crabtree Sr., who designed the campus-like facility. The hospital was nestled within 100 acres, a fraction of the sprawling 670 acres of land, including large farm meadows and a forest.

When the hospital threw open its doors on June 1, 1933, it initially housed fewer than 500 patients and was managed by a skeletal staff of only three doctors.

But by the late 1960s, this burgeoning institution was home to more than 4,000 patients, diligently cared for by 20 doctors, 50 nurses, and an additional team of 100 employees of various roles.

The hospital, once a solution to overcrowding, had grown into a significant establishment in its own right.

An Unavoidable Closure

Akin to the flow of a river carving its course, societal and medical shifts led to the dwindling need for institutions like Fairfield Hills Hospital.

The winds of deinstitutionalization that swept across the nation in the 1960s and 1970s heralded the decline of such hospitals. The high costs of running underused hospitals compelled many state-run hospitals to shut their doors.

In 1995, Governor John Rowland decided to close Fairfield Hills Hospital and its sister hospital, Norwich State Hospital.

The remaining patients were relocated to Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. Even though the bustling corridors fell silent, Fairfield Hills Hospital refused to be forgotten.

The Town of Newtown breathed new life into the first floor of Canaan House by repurposing it for town functions. The Reed Intermediate School, a youth academy, and a new community center found their home on the spacious grounds of the former hospital.

A Catalog of Treatments

Fairfield Hills Hospital was more than just a place of care; it was a facility where various treatment methods were implemented and tested over the years.

From hydrotherapy and insulin shock therapy to electroconvulsive therapy and frontal lobotomy, the hospital was at the forefront of psychiatric, often controversial treatment methods of its time.

The first year of performing psychosurgery at Fairfield Hills saw over 100 patients undergoing the procedure, a testament to the hospital’s commitment to exploring new frontiers in mental health treatment.

Subterranean Secrets

Beneath the hospital’s main grounds ran an intricate network of concrete tunnels. They served as the lifelines of the institution, connecting the staff and utility buildings with the patient buildings.

These tunnels were more than mere passageways; they were the veins that kept the hospital operational, especially during the harsh winter months and inclement weather.

Food from the central cafeteria was transported through these tunnels to the residential buildings, ensuring no patient was left without nourishment.

Echoes of the Past

The hospital’s main buildings, named after Fairfield and Litchfield County cities and towns, stood as architectural reminders of the hospital’s past.

While specific details about these buildings remain largely unexplored, their names – Bridgeport Hall, Greenwich House, New Haven House, Canaan House, Norwalk Hall, Shelton House, and Stratford Hall – evoke a sense of nostalgia and curiosity. These buildings, much like the hospital itself, are mute witnesses to the ebb and flow of time.

Reflection

Fairfield Hills Hospital is not just a part of Newtown’s history. The hospital’s story is a tapestry woven with the threads of societal changes, medical breakthroughs, architectural feats, and community resilience. It was a refuge for those in need and a hub of medical innovation.

The hospital’s closure marked the end of an era but also the beginning of a new chapter. Repurposing the hospital’s premises illustrates how the past can coexist with the present, shaping the future.

The opening of the NewSylum Brewing Company in June 2020, following extensive renovations to the former Stratford Hall Building, marked a significant step in this direction. The Reed Intermediate School, a youth academy, a community center, and the NewSylum Brewing Company have given the old hospital a new lease on life.

The tale of Fairfield Hills Hospital is not one of decay and abandonment but of transformation and resilience. Its legacy continues to live on, inspiring present and future generations and serving as a reminder of Newtown’s rich history and its unwavering spirit.

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