Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Farewell, Kirkbride

The end has come.

For years there have been battles over the fate of the Kirkbride administration building at what used to be the Greystone Park psychiatric hospital. When N.J. Gov. Christie Whitman, after a number of scandals involving the century-old hospital and its outdated facilities and leaky security, had the hospital closed down and a newer, smaller hospital built on the western-most end of the property, the bulk of the land was sold to Morris County for $1 and became a park.

The stone wards built to stand the test of time came down. The space is open and green. There are ball fields, playgrounds and, late in coming, hiking trails. But Kirkbride stood, a decaying hulk, on state-owned land. Nearby stood two "cottages" and the old train station.

Many plans were circulated to "save" the historic old building, the wonder of its age with the largest continuous foundation in the world until the Pentagon was built in Virginia. But each plan included residential housing and commercial space and many, including me, were worried about the effect on the park and the populations of Parsippany, where the hospital was located, and Morris Plains, literally just down Central Ave., which leads to Kirkbride's doors.

Legislation was introduced to tear the structure down and turn the state land over to the county to add to the park. Morris County is one of the more congested counties in the most congested state in the U.S., so opening more parkland to the community rather than putting up hundreds of townhouses - creating hundreds more cars and people with their traffic and demand on local services - is a better idea.

The people who wanted to preserve the Greystone building as an example of fine architecture claimed a deal had been rammed through the legislature to pull the building down without due process or public input. Had more people complained, it wouldn't have happened, they claimed.

I am not so sure.

I've written about this battle many times before and I maintain my opposition to anything that would have added more people to the area. That this proposed development - shops and luxury apartments plus a museum of mental health was in the latest plan - would've taken place in an already established county park made the whole thing seem ludicrous. The park is crowded enough when there are soccer or lacrosse or cross-country events but where do you put the parking for the stores and the apartments?

The issue went to court and there were rallies, but the court did not stop the demolition.

So bit by bit, the building has come down. First the back buildings and "cottages" that flanked Kirkbride, then the back part of the building. Each day, more comes down. About the only thing standing was the main entrance. I wondered if the preserver people were going to get their wish - toward the end they harped on that museum of mental health more than shops or apartments.

But the other week, the newspaper reported the head of Preserve Greystone had thrown in the towel, saying too much had been taken down for the building to be of use. Last week, the ornamentation around the windows and doors was removed, and I hope they aren't dumped in the meadowlands as part of the old, beloved Pennsylvania Station were discovered to be.

So it will be only a matter of time before the last of it comes down, the debris removed and the fencing. At some point, the land will be taken over by the county and the old farm buildings in the back, from the days when Greystone was built to allow inmates to work in the country air, will be removed and perhaps trails put in for hiking. Before then, people have been coming by to take pictures of the building, as I have here.

There is a lot about the Central Park of Morris County I do not like. I did not like seeing forests taken down for the soccer/lacrosse field. I did not like the long wait before something resembling a trail was put in. I am not crazy about the disc golf course put in across the road, which means I must be even more aware of my surroundings when I am walking around the old ice pond or hiking up the hill than usual.

But I agree with the removal of Kirkbride. If the state wanted to preserve it, it should have done so when the building was newly abandoned and the park not yet created. It could've done a lot with the old stone building but instead it left it to rot, and then said it was too expensive to rehabilitate it. I wouldn't have wanted my county or state taxes going to pay for that.

So I say farewell to you, Kirkbride, and hope your ghosts find another resting place.

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