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Preston Interview page 2

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John- When did all the buildings close for good? What years?
Preston-I'm not that good with dates but I'll give it my best shot.
J-Let's start with the Kirkbride A and J wards?
P-After the fire they closed A and J together and that was in 1985. One of the only major fires the hospital ever had was in the J annex. They combined B and C wards together and H and I wards together soon after. All the wards were empty towards the later end of 1987.
J-Our Lady of the Hill Chapel?
P-Father Smith was the last priest there and that closed in 1973 or 74.
J-St. Lukes Chapel?
P-That closed much later than Our Lady. Reverend Larson was the last to perform a service there and that was in 1990.
J-Gray Gabels?
P-That was in 1973.
J-Female Home?
P-I want to say around 1975 because the Male Home remained open only a couple years after that closed and the Male closed in 77.
J- Farm Hall?
P-Farm Hall closed a year after I started in 1969.
J-Grove Hall?
P-That remained open after the entire campus closed in 92. It was the Danvers Detox. The last time DSH patients resided in that building was in 1971.
J-Eariler you stated that the only buildings that were abandoned/closed when you first started working there was the Male and Female TB cottages. So the days they were being used as the art and music cottages came and went prior to your employment at the hospital?
P-No. I helped renovate those buildings and transformed them into the art and music cottages a year after I started in 1969. They stayed open as the art and music cottages for about 4-5 years and then those were finally closed for good around 1974 or 75.
J-Those TB cottages seem very small, how many beds were in each?
P-They were. They held a dozen or so beds each.
J-The Kirkbride main administration closed when?
P-Around 1989. The rehab center in back remained open but the Kirkbride complex was totally abandoned in 89. You couldn't even enter the Kirkbride at all to get to the rehab center. You had to walk around it.
 

This painting was created by a former patient and was given to Preston as a farewell gift weeks prior to the hospital closing. The stone that was used as a base is a slate tile from the Kirkbride roof. ©John Gray

 

J-Was maintenance always involved in major renovations to the buildings? You mentioned that the main tower removal was an outside contract. Who decided what project was too big for maintenance to handle?

P- What they used to do was any project under $500 we could do. Anything over had to be approved from Boston. We'd still end up doing the job but the budget had to be approved. Any project that cost a few thousand dollars was sub-contacted out. That all shifted over the years though because like I said we renovated those hydro's and those were major jobs. We were over there for months and months. We worked weekends, nights whatever we wanted. Again the push was, they were over crowded, they needed the space for patients.

J-What happened to all the hydro tubs? Trashed? Did you send them to other hospitals to be reused?

P-They got trashed. We had a salvage yard at the bottom of the hill behind the lumber shed. That salvage yard had its share of controversy believe it or not. This woman from Lawrence ordered all these metal lockers for the patients which everyone thought was absolutely absurd. We had no room and nowhere to put the damn things. No one understood why an institution needed tin metal lockers. Not to mention metal lockers are not exactly safe for patients. Anyway, they never got used. They spent thousands and thousands of dollars on these things and I ended up crushing them all along with the hydro tubs with a bulldozer.

 

J-Where many employees living on campus when you were there?
P-Yes. The Female Home, Gray Gables were occupied with staff. Even upstairs in front and center (Kirkbride administration) had a few employees living in there. They had what was like studio apartments in the admin building. They shared a bathroom and soforth. I forget her name off hand but the assistant to the head chief was living in the admin. For the large numbers there was the Female Home and married couples lived in the Gray Gabels. Farm Hall, at the bottom of the hill was where the employed farm workers lived. Grove Hall was for patients and it was sort of a privilege to live there. It was a step-forward and an honor to live there. The patients had much more freedom if they were living in Grove Hall. They could walk around whenever they wanted, come and go as they please and many of them worked on the farms. Horace Clark who was the head farmer at the time lived at the bottom of the hill too. His cottage was the grey house on your right side just before you head up the hill. I ended up working out of his cottage towards the end after the farm went under. That's where the campus police were located and I had an office in that cottage.

J-Who lived in the yellow cottage just as you enter the property off of route 62? It had a white screened in porch in back.
P-That was Dr. Sullivan's home. He was the assistant superintendent when I first started in 1969.

J- So I assume the cottages/houses near Grove Hall that are in use today were all occupied with DSH staff?
P-Yes they were. Dr. Stone who was a psychiatrist lived over there along with other Doctors. It was real economical for them because everything was provided and I mean everything. Their phone service, their heat, their electrical and they paid like $6 a month to live there.

J- Was maintenance notified when a patient escaped?
P-Oh yeah. Everyone was notified. They'd phone us or call us on our 2-way radio. When I worked in transportation it was my job to go out and find them.
J-Did patients escape often?
P-Maybe once a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Usually it was the same patients always escaping so you'd actually get to know them and know where they are going. They were repeats. They'd go get cigarettes, or food or go get alcohol. There was a store in Middleton that would always call us "Hey John Doe is here again, can you come and pick him up?" so they pretty much went to the same places over and over again when they took off. Don't get me wrong, we had some that escaped with the intention of never getting caught but for the most part it was repeats.

 



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This interview was recorded then written for this web site. The statements Preston made were not altered or changed to dramatize his story.