One of the 13 original colonies, Massachusetts, technically a commonwealth, is known for the landing of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims. Since the 17th-century explorers have been drawn to this state. Steeped in history and richly abundant in historical sites, today’s urban explorers seek out new adventures in this old land.
The Plymouth colony was established in 1602. In 1692, the town of Salem experienced the mass-hysteria we now call the Salem Witch Trials. In the 1700s Massachusetts experienced the American Revolutionary War. The 18th century brought statehood and more growth and development. Massachusetts is rich in history and abundant in abandoned sites.
If you are one of the many who seeks adventure, exploring abandoned places and historical landmarks, continue reading to discover our top 10 best abandoned places in Massachusetts.
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The Best Abandoned Places in Massachusetts
Danvers State Hospital
Danvers State Hospital, located about 30 minutes outside of Boston, opened as a psychiatric hospital in 1878. Built on a site called Hawthorn Hill, the location was chosen for its beautiful vistas, abundant fresh air, and acres of surrounding farmland to work as part of the treatments thought to cure insanity.
The asylum was built according to the Kirkland linear plan devised by Dr. Thomas Kirkland and designed by architect Nataniel J. Bradlee. Construction began in 1874 and was completed in 1878 at $1.5 million. As was the style of the day, elegant state hospitals were built at an enormous cost to provide the best treatments for the mentally ill.
Tall Gothic spires rose from the eight wings that radiated from the 130-foot tall central tower. This enormous hospital on the hill covered over 70,000 square feet and was designed to care for 300 patients. By the 1930s, over 2,000 mentally ill patients were crammed into every available space.
Due to substantially inadequate state funding, what was begun as an ambitious effort to help the mentally ill with real treatments, evolved into the warehousing of human beings. Low wages created staffing shortages, and overcrowding at the facility led to substandard care. Instead of researching treatments and administering therapy, patients existed on the most minimal care the overtaxed system could provide, and the results were a nightmare.
The hospital was designed like a bat spreading its wings across the hilltop. The wingtips were where the most violent, hopelessly “incurable” patients were housed with the least violent towards the center tower. Sensational newspaper articles of the day proclaimed the outermost wards a “human cesspool”.
DHS held over 2,400 patients during its peak operations and employed many controversial treatments including lobotomy, insulin shock therapy, electric shock therapy, and medication abuse. The state accused the hospital of using these therapies as a means of controlling or subduing the patient population. Amidst the legal battles, horrific stories of abuse and torture surfaced.
The state began the long process of deinstitutionalization in the 1960s, releasing patients to group homes or other institutions. Closing of the facility began at the wingtips and by the 1980s, almost all services had been relocated. The entire building was closed and boarded up in 1989 when it became one of the most famous abandoned places in Massachusetts.
Security on site has arrested more than 120 people for trespassing since the year 2000. Many explorers were drawn to the site by stories of hauntings at the hospital. Many urbex were interested in the historical architecture or exploring the abandoned operating theaters. The hospital was used as a film location for the movie Session 9 in 2011.
Killer Urbex Note: In 2007, three-quarters of the Kirkbride building was demolished to make way for the new residential condominium complex, Avalon Bay Danvers. The central tower and several wings of the original building have been restored and made into condominium residences.
Another movie filmed at Danvers State Hospital, Home Before Dark (1958), features rare footage of the hospital interior and exterior during operations. Today, the Gothic spires and central tower built in the 1800s, are incorporated into the modern residential community.
Fernald State School
Since its opening in 1888, this school has been known by many different names, such as the initial name, the Experimental School for Teaching and Training Idiotic Children. Which was changed to the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded, later to become the Fernald State School. Named for the third superintendent, Walter E. Fernald, this mental institution was to become infamous for its eugenics-obsessed warden and illegal radiation testing.
The school was initially founded by Samuel Gridley Howe in 1848 and was located in Boston. It was moved to Waltham in 1888 and grew into an enormous complex consisting of 72 buildings on 196 acres. Originally a school for boys of low IQ, it was transformed into a place to warehouse children many of whom had normal IQs but were simply orphaned or poor.
The school was highly regarded by many as the finest educational facility in the field of mental health during the period when Walter E. Fernald was superintendent. He was a firm believer in eugenics, the practice of selective breeding for the improvement in intelligence in the general population.
Believing this to be the best way to advance society and improve the human race, Fernald undertook a separating of the masses, not allowing unwanted and inferior people to reproduce. While on paper his philosophy applied only to the mentally-retarded, in practice this spread to include the abandoned, unwanted, and the poor.
Despite the enormous size of the school, living conditions were very poor due to overcrowding, under-staffing, and general squalor. Many reports were filed about the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of the residents. The standard of education was poor and the boys were stuffed into over-capacity dormitories.
The situation at the school became even more deplorable when medical experimentation began there in the 1940s and 50s. MIT and Harvard, with funding from Quaker Oats, systematically exposed students to harmful levels of radiation to study its absorption and side effects. This nightmare did have the consent of inmates’ parents or legal guardians but many of those insisted the study operators were less than forthcoming about the details of the medical experiment.
It was not until the 1970s when lawsuits forced the state to take action that the facility attempted a turnaround to correct the horrific living conditions. In 1998, Quaker Oats, Harvard, and MIT settled a massive civil lawsuit regarding radiation experimentation. The patient population continuously dwindled until its closure in 2014.
Although videos and stories of explorations of this creepy abandoned school made it one of the most famous abandoned places in Massachusetts, not much exploring goes on now. The school is still abandoned but owned by the state and patrolled by state police. Many urbex report police harassment and arrests for trespassing. Posted with No Trespassing signs and monitored by police and video cameras, they sadly do not want any future internet fame.
The Taunton State Hospital
The neo-classical Taunton State Hospital, originally named the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton, was designed and built by the Boyden and Ball Architectural Firm in 1854. Considered both an architectural masterpiece and a therapeutic environment for the insane, the firm went on to build similar hospitals throughout the state of Massachusetts over the next dozen years.
Built on a tranquil farm north of Taunton on 154 acres, this sprawling hospital expanded and enlarged over the years to finally include over 40 buildings and other structures such as a greenhouse and power plant. Unique elements of neo-classical design adorn the buildings such as cast-iron in the capitals, cornices, and many ornate copulas across the roofline.
The hospital was designed according to the Kirkbride Plan, a method devised and developed by prominent psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Dr. Kirkbride theorized that plenty of fresh air and sunlight helped cure insanity and so, the hospital was built in the design of a bird with wings extended, to make the most of natural sunlight and air circulation.
The three-story hospital had enclosed curved breezeways connecting the 70-foot tall domed center building to the infirmary wards. “The building form itself is meant to have a curative effect,” wrote author Carla Yanni in “The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States.” The Kirkbride hospitals such as this one were so comforting, pleasing, and tastefully-ornamented that Dr. Kilbride himself lived at one of his hospitals in Pennsylvania until his death from pneumonia in 1883.
Society’s view of the mentally ill and their treatment changed over the years expanding the definition of mental illness and increasing hospitalizations and commitments to the facility. Learning disabled, deformed, or handicapped individuals, women experiencing “menstrual anger” and men who excessively masturbated were hospitalized alongside violently ill criminals.
Some notable patients included serial killer Jane Toppan, a nurse who confessed to killing 31 patients with medication overdoses; she was committed to the hospital for life. Known as “Jolly Jane” by the staff, Toppan laid next to her patients while they died. Another famous patient who was committed at Taunton was Thomas Hubbard Sumner, developer of the celestial navigation system known as the Sumner Line; he was also committed here for life.
Treatment for the patients included lobotomy, insulin shock treatment, electroconvulsive therapy, dietary restriction, beatings, shackles, and all manner of abuse. This pseudo-science, barbarity, and ill-treatment continued at the hospital through the 1940s. The public-exposure and changing societal view of mental illness started the deinstitutionalization of the hospital in the mid-1970s.
Killer Urbex Note: The Kirkbride building was closed in 1975 and left abandoned and neglected while the eastern infirmary building remained in operation. In 1999, the large dome collapsed and the site was left abandoned and in ruins.
Reported paranormal activity at the hospital attracted ghost hunters, while urbex filmed and documented architectural features of the structure. Internet popularity made the hospital one of the most famous abandoned sites in Massachusetts. A large fence was erected around the property in 2000 to discourage urban explorers and looters.
The state announced the full closure of the 169-bed hospital in 2012. Many elements of the Kirkbride building were sold or auctioned off, including timber, marble, iron gates, antique plumbing fixtures, and slate roofing tiles. Rumors of restoration and expansion continued till 2015. Even today, people are curious about what “America’s Most Haunted Asylum” looks like and there is still much internet activity about the site.
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Worcester State Hospital
Built in 1869 on a tract of land away from the city, now along Route 9, stands the remains of this once proud hospital. Worcester State Hospital was an insane asylum built following the famous Kirkbride principle – wings spread wide from the central administration building, one wing housing male patients, the other wing, female patients. Housing the most violent lunatics at the wingtips, far from the “curable” patients near the center of the building.
Construction began in 1863 and was completed three years later. Designed by architect George Dutton Rand of Weston & Rand, the brick and flagstone building stood 4 stories tall with a Gothic clock tower dominating the center. The hospital was an impressive looking structure.
In the 1950s the patient population stood at its peak with over 3,000 patients. Additional structures were built on the campus to alleviate overcrowding and the Bryan Building (known as “Camp Joy”) was opened. Overcrowding and ill-treatment of the patients at the facility continued and the state began “deinstitutionalization” of the facility.
By the 1980s, all remaining patients at the hospital had been moved out of the antique Kirkbride Building leaving it empty and neglected. In 1991, an enormous fire destroyed the abandoned building, destroying much of the structure. The rubble was cleared and an effort was made to salvage parts of the remaining hospital, such as the iconic clock tower.
These remaining structures provided a perfect urbex experience and the historical hospital became well known as a famous abandoned site in Massachusetts. Fencing soon surrounded the grounds but the structures remained abandoned and neglected.
In 2008, the state decided to build a new psychiatric facility at the site. The remaining structures, which survived both fire and long neglect, were only the rotunda and clock tower. Feasibility studies were undertaken to determine how much of the original building could be restored and incorporated into the new building.
Determined to be beyond salvageability, a project was undertaken to de-construct the clock tower, brick by brick, and rebuild a new clock tower using original materials. For $2.3 million, the project was paid for by Preservation Worcester Historical Society.
For a closer look at this hospital and its colorful past, read Asylum by Dr. Enoch Calloway or A Century of Silence by Norman Mongan.
Lyman School for Boys
The Lyman School for Boys was established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1886 replacing the State Reform School built nearby in 1846. The school was named for its principal benefactor, Theodore Lyman, philanthropist and mayor of Boston in 1834. The old State Reform School was refurbished and became the Westborough Insane Hospital in 1886.
The new school was built on a thousand-acre farm on Powder Hill just across Lake Chauncy. Constructed in the “cottage-style” campus system, the school moved away from the singular congregate prison-style building to smaller, detached structures. The institution consisted of dormitories, an auditorium/chapel building, the administration building, and a 500-acre working farm.
“Cottage” was a misnomer really as the boys were housed in large brick dormitories originally built for 30 students, but ended up holding as many as 100 boys. Each building housed separate living quarters for the married couple who administered the dormitory; they were assisted by a schoolteacher and a laundress. This living arrangement was meant to simulate a family for the boys, most of whom were abandoned or orphaned.
Many of the boys sent to the school had committed severe crimes but some were merely guilty of truancy, poverty, or “stubbornness.” Despite housing some violent criminals, the institution had no gates or locked doors and resembled an open campus prep school. Instead of iron bars, residents were trained to stay at the facility using honor, education, and the threat of corporal punishment.
Though security may have been lax, daily life at the school was strict and heavily-regimented. Religious education was mandatory as was learning a trade from a skilled tradesman. The boys also worked the farm, cooled the food, and repaired and maintained the buildings, all skills intended to be used upon their release at age 21.
Killer Urbex Note: During World War II many of the students and staff enlisted in the war effort leaving older men and boys to tend the farm, work the kitchen, and stoke the coal-fed boilers. Education was delayed while they stayed busy working at the institution.
Following the War, Lyman’s student population became ethnically-diverse for the first time. The new students were more violent, criminally convicted of gang violence, alcohol abuse, weapons and assault charges, and worse. The master-matron model was discontinued, replaced by guards.
Trade Unions protested the use of free child labor and in 1956 the farming ceased and the work animals were sold off. The school no longer offered extra-curricular activities, vocational training, or mandatory religious training. Most of the boys were left with household chores or watching television as the only way to pass the time. Those with trustee-status could tend to the outside landscape or work in snow-removal. For the most part, the boys were confined to their cottages.
Despite the lack of educational or reformative opportunities, the school’s population continued to grow. Famous students of Lyman include Robert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler. While administrators sought to de-institutionalize the facility and empty the school, the legislature struggled to fight overcrowding.
In 1971, the facility became co-ed with two cottages now housing female juvenile delinquents. Things spun out of control at the school with many incidents of violence and arson requiring police intervention to restore order. The fire whistle blew constantly signaling yet another runaway. Despite efforts to restore control, the facility was closed in 1972 after 135 years of service.
At the time of closure, many of the original buildings remained along with 200+ acres of surrounding farmland. Many employees who lived at the facility, now jobless, stayed behind as caretakers for the now-abandoned property.
Soon discovered by urbex, the Lyman School became one of the most famous abandoned places in Massachusetts. Though still boarded up and “inaccessible”, pictures have surfaced on the internet of the buildings and their interiors. At this time, many of the original buildings have fallen into their foundations leaving an eerie desolate feeling at the site.
Westborough State Hospital
The now-abandoned State Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts was originally opened in 1848 as the State Reform School for Boys. Inmates were held at the 600-acre facility, working the farm, going to school, attending religious instruction, or caring for the campus and grounds until they reached 21 years of age or were “reformed.” The population of inmates soared at the school until 1858 when over 590 boys lived at the school originally designed for 300.
In 1859, a massive fire was set by one of the boys, gutting the building. While repairs ensued, many of the younger boys were housed in the old mill while the older boys were sent to sea to work on several prison ships. Reconstruction of the facility now included a prison-style dormitory for the older most ill-behaved boys.
In 1878 a riot broke out exposing cruel and unusual punishments received by the boys. The legislature closed the facility considering the congregate-style reform school a failed experiment. A new reform school was built for the boys a few miles away. In 1886, the Lyman School for Boys opened leaving the present facility empty.
In addition to the negative press the boy’s school received, the state of Massachusetts was also being scrutinized for its care of the mentally ill. The elaborate and expensive Kirkbride institutional models, built in Worcester (1877) and Danvers (1878), were now considered a massive waste of taxpayers’ money. Critics bitterly referred to the hospitals as “palaces for the insane”. Even worse, the colossal creations could not even house the number of patients committed at the time.
Thus, the old reform school in Westborough seemed an ideal place to open a new mental hospital. The scenic views of Lake Chauncy and the hilltop location made it a favorable location. And the state would save money by repurposing the facility.
George Clough of Boston was hired to remodel the building and turn it into a hospital for the insane. New wings were added to the original building and a new dining hall and chapel were built. An H-shaped building was erected to house committed patients, connected to the main building by long, elegant conservatories. These semi-separated houses displayed a new attitude toward the treatment of the mentally ill. The enormous Kirkbride model was abandoned – Danvers would be the last Linear Plan hospital built in the state.
The institution opened in 1886 as the Westborough Insane Hospital immediately received 200 patients from nearby overcrowded facilities. Dr. N. Emmons Paine, of the State Homeopathic Asylum for the Insane in Middletown, NY, was hired as the first superintendent. Unlike other psychiatrists of the time, Dr. Paine believed insanity could be cured by embracing a homeopathic treatment plan. Treatments at Westborough included hydrotherapy, massage, hypnotism, specialized diets and exercise programs, and plenty of rest.
Although the hospital’s treatments were considered controversial at the time, Westborough had a relatively high number of patients recover and be discharged. Due to its success, a Nursing School was added in 1891. The facility expanded, adding new wards along the lake. The 650-acre farm kept the hospital stocked with fresh food.
Killer Urbex Note: Westborough’s patient population reached its peak in 1959 with 2,100 patients and 800 staff. Deinstitutionalization began in the 1970s and the patient population dwindled until 1984 when only 200 patients remained at the hospital. Unused buildings were boarded up and left to decay.
The hospital was finally closed in 2010 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The abandoned site became popular with urban explorers and pictures of the interior of the buildings surfaced on the internet. Medical treatment rooms, patient rooms, furniture, and even some patient treatment cards were discovered and documented online. Soon urbex made this hospital another famous abandoned place in Massachusetts. The future of this facility is unknown.
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Franklin Park Zoo Bear Cages
Franklin Park, a partially-wooded 527-acre nature park, was founded in 1912 in the city of Boston. It is the biggest park in Boston and the site of the Franklin Park Zoo. Maintained by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the park was designated a Boston Landmark in 1980.
Opened as a country park, the facility brings together scenic views of the city with secluded woodlands, picnic areas, and 15 miles of pedestrian and bridle paths to explore. Recreation areas host sporting events and concerts while the modern zoo draws in millions of visitors yearly.
The biggest draw to the park in 1912, at the time of its opening, was the Bear Dens. Visitors walked down a path through the Long Crouch Woods arriving at a grand stone staircase leading to the Bear Dens. The large iron pens held domestic bears for visitors to view and enjoy. Stone relief on the wall in one of the pens displays a crest of the city of Boston encircled by two large bears and the year 1912.
The Bear Dens, considered modern for its time, featured large stone pools of water for the bears to swim and play in. The bears were enjoyed by Boston families for generations. Plans changed for the park and a new zoo was added in a different area of the park. Original designs which included expanding the Long Crouch Woods area of the park never came to fruition and this original section of the park was abandoned in 1971.
This part of Franklin Park has stood abandoned and neglected ever since. When the Bear Dens were featured in the 2003 Sean Penn film, Mystic River, the dens received national attention. Urban explorers discovered the site was easily accessible and relatively untouched since its closure. Interest in the site was heightened by videos posted online and soon Franklin Park became one of the best abandoned places in Massachusetts for urbex.
Walking through the Long Couch Woods, visitors find the huge stone staircase leading to the abandoned dens. At the top of the staircase, explorers can view the thick iron bars of the enclosures and wander in to see the wading pools where the bears once entertained Boston’s families and tourists. Although long neglected, the still-standing stone bear dens bear witness to the once-grand attraction. Visitors to Boston should check it out while they still can.
Steinert Hall, of Boston, is one of the most famous abandoned places in Massachusetts. Built at a time when Boston was renowned for its piano manufacturing, the German immigrant family Steinert & Sons opened the hall in 1896. Architects Winslow & Wetherell designed the six-story limestone and brick Beaux-Arts style building with elaborate ornamentation and copper cornices.
Inside the building was a piano store, but four floors below the ground was a hidden concert hall. Originally designed to showcase pianos manufactured at the site, this ornate hall became the center of musical culture in Boston by 1911. With near-perfect acoustics, this famous underground concert hall hosted many of the world’s top musicians and opera talents of the day.
Unfortunately, the hidden hall was closed in 1942 due to new fire codes implemented following the famous Coconut Grove nightclub fire. Unable to afford the expensive upgrades to the concert hall, the owners simply closed the doors and abandoned the venue.
Steinert Hall is still left abandoned, rotting away with time and neglect, its opulence slowly fading. Employees at the surface level store are generally reticent to discuss the concert auditorium located just below the floor and visitors are not welcome to explore. Elton John is said to have been given a tour of the once-famous concert hall but the less-famous urbex may have to settle for photos online.
Rutland Prison Camp Ruins
Hidden deep in the 914 acres of woods that is Rutland State Park, is a hidden gem for exploration, the Rutland Prison Camp Ruins. Built in 1903 to house petty criminals and drunks, the prison was also a fully functioning 150-acre farm. The farm raised meat, produce, and dairy for the prisoners kept under lock and key. The farm produced so much milk the surplus was sold to the general public.
In addition to the farm, the prison camp contained cell blocks, staff housing, and a tuberculosis hospital. Despite being a successful farm and prison, the site was built in a low-lying drainage area and after repeated flooding, the prison camp was closed in 1934.
Left to decay with rot and neglect, the site is an interesting area for exploration. Original stone buildings, abandoned and crumbling, are now decorated with colorful graffiti. Videos online have spurred interest in the site and made it one of the most famous abandoned places in Massachusetts. It is still open to the public for exploration.
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North Truro Air Force Station
High atop a cliff in Cape Cod, overlooking one of the most dangerous maritime shipping routes, is the North Truro Air Force Station. Nearby, Highland Light still warns ships of the treacherous cliffs, as it has since 1870. But this Cold War-era relic stands abandoned and dilapidated.
Built in 1950 as a radar listening station to monitor Soviet bombers, the base was home to the Air Force’s 762nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. The 110-acre site contained administration buildings, family and bachelor living quarters, a chapel, and a bowling alley.
Once the home of hundreds of people, the station was decommissioned in 1994 at the end of the Cold War. Most of the land was sold to the National Parks Service and is now part of Cape Cod National Seashore Park. As part of the park and open to the public, the old base gained recognition as one of the most famous abandoned places in Massachusetts.
The station remains vacant and will probably remain so since much of it contains asbestos siding and flooring tiles, and a serious black mold problem. With the cost of renovation impractical, the station is now a collection of dilapidated 50s style housing quarters, office buildings, a bar, and a bowling alley. The grounds, once immaculate and manicured, are now overgrown with weeds.
While it looks like an interesting place for exploration, visitors will be advised about the health risks of entering the buildings. The area is complete with bike paths and maps are provided by the park service. Looking like a place frozen in time, maybe North Truro Air Force Station will be featured in some future post-apocalyptic thriller. For now, though, it sits as yet another example of the incredible abandoned places in Massachusetts.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has a long history filled with exploration. From the time of the Pilgrims, adventure seekers have long sought out this state. From historic prison sites, to state hospitals, modern day explorers will find a variety of urbex adventures to choose from.
Choosing one may prove to be hard, so visit them all. There are many famous abandoned places in Massachusetts to satisfy your curiosity and taste for adventure.
Those who are into urban exploration in the Massachusetts state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Massachusetts, should get comfortable with Massachusetts trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Massachusetts, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Massachusetts, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.