Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The End Has Come (Goodbye at last, Kirkbride)

October 16, 2015 (Margo D. Beller)
It was not long after MH and I moved to our home that I was curious enough to walk up Central Avenue to the front door of what had been the administration building of the Greystone Park pyschiatric hospital.

That Second Empire-style building where the road led was grand and imposing but, because it had been abandoned years before, it had a haunted look. So did the stone hulks of the old wards and the "cottages" for the patients who were considered getting better and so were removed from the general population to halfway houses.

I have been writing about Greystone and that administration building, known as Kirkbride, for some time since then, both on this blog and elsewhere. It has been an interesting time since the hospital was closed, the much-reduced patient base moved to a more modern and smaller building on property still owned by New Jersey and the 600-plus leftover acres sold to the county transformed into a park known as the Central Park of Morris County.

There were battles to keep Kirkbride standing, to turn it into, variously, housing, a mental health museum, office space, shops and all of the above. But the state of New Jersey, which allowed the buildings on its land to fall into ruin, finally decided it would cost too much to keep them up and so slowly but surely they have been demolished.

The last to go has been the central tower. MH and I had wondered if there was a deal being worked out to keep just this central portion - which would need significant renovation as well as new walls once the extensive wing system was removed. However, the head of Preserve Greystone finally said there was no use fighting anymore because the destruction was too far along.

And so the picture at the top shows what is left of the old tower. What it looked like is below.

Kirkbride before the wrecking ball. (Margo D. Beller)

I have mixed feelings about the whole business. As I've written many times, including this year, every plan put forth by developers - those sought by the state at first and then those brought in by the preservationists - included housing - apartments or condos - to pay for the cost of all the work that would be needed to make the place livable. Kirkbride was a sizable building, at one point with the largest continuous foundation in the world. It could've held hundreds of people, all of whom would need a place to park their cars, schools to send their children and roads for driving to jobs.

The effect on my little town, literally down the road, would've been catastrophic. Traffic on streets that have never seen a stop light would back up as it already does on the main drag, Route 202. Even the township where Greystone is located, Parsippany, NJ, came out against any residential plan because of the increased costs it would face in providing services, including schools.

I had said back in 2012 it would be better to tear the hulk down because the only things that could live in it were birds and ghosts. Now that it is almost down I am wondering what happens next once the debris is removed and the fences come down. Walking trails? Yet more ball fields? Untouched and left to overgrow?

In 2012, woods where I had seen several types of flycatchers, bluebirds and hawks were ripped up for soccer/lacrosse fields. When I step out my door in the evenings now I can hear the shouting from competitions. If there are low clouds or fog I can see the bright lights reflecting off them, adding more light pollution.

I can do without more soccer/lacrosse fields but this is a minority viewpoint. Most taxpayers will pay for a park only if they can use it for what they want -- so that means dog parks, soccer and lacrosse fields or a cross-country track. This park has all three, as well as a disc golf course.

What it doesn't have is a lot of quiet, open land for old-fashioned things like taking a walk.

By contrast there was another battle going on in Somerset County between the Duke Farms Foundation, which had been running the property since the death of heiress Doris Duke, and about 100 people who didn't want to see the mansion where she had lived be torn down. They said it had historic significance. The foundation said it had been added to so often over the years any historical features were long gone. It had sat empty since Duke's death in 1993 at age 80.

What I could see of the Duke mansion from a trail. (Margo D. Beller)
The Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission agreed with the foundation and the mansion will be razed.

This is another case where I side with those who want to tear the building down. Right now, it is in a remote corner of a huge piece of property that is already used for hiking, biking and quiet contemplation of an astonishing number of birds, including nesting bald eagles. The foundation plans to open the area up to visitors and join it to the rest of the park.

This is a good use of land. But that is a private foundation that has an environmental plan running things. I have no idea what New Jersey or Morris County have in mind for the land once the Kirkbride debris is cleared beyond "open space," whatever that means.

I fear the worst.

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