Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Road to Nothing

February 2016 (Margo D. Beller)

You might wonder what you are looking at. Obviously it is a road on a snowy day. The road seems to go on forever but if you look closely you see it ends at a fence. Through holes in the fence you can see much dirt and rubble.

This is Central Avenue, a road that begins in Morris Plains and runs into Parsippany, N.J. Until recently this street led to the front door of the administration building, known as Kirkbride, at what was once the Greystone Park psychiatric hospital. Unless you are a local, as I am, it's nothing worth noting.

However, the calm belies the history of the place. This was a major psychiatric facility at a time when it was considered healthy to let patients walk and work in the open air. There was a farm here, behind the administration building, but soon people complained about "inmate labor" and the more common practice of keeping people in massive wards took its place. Then the deplorable conditions were publicized, the facility closed down and the hospital moved to the west. Most of the land was sold, for a $1, to Morris County to turn into a park.

But while the stone wards came down on the county property, the buildings on the state land, including Kirkbride, stood and deteriorated while there was debate on what to do with them.

There were battles, public hearings, newspaper columns and court fights to "save" the second empire structure that is Kirkbride. But in the end, the State of New Jersey, after talking to consultants and developers, decided it would cost too much to keep the old hulk standing and there were too many protests by local area governments against letting a private group buy the building and turn it into a massive housing complex. Luxury housing, yes, but housing all the same, whose residents would put a major strain on Parsippany for services while increasing traffic everywhere, especially into nearby Morris Plains.

The building came down in pieces all summer - those grey stones were built to stand the test of time - until the front door and the central tower were all that was left. Then that was gone.

Despite winter's dark, cold and snow, every morning at 6:30am trucks start picking up rubble and move dirt around. We still don't know what will go on the site. The land on either side of the road leading up to the destruction site is owned by Morris County. What had been Greystone has become Central Park filled with playgrounds, soccer fields, a dog park and even a couple of walking trails.

When the above picture was taken, we had had a blizzard that dropped several feet of snow. The county crew plowed the streets but not much else so one had to walk in the street unless you were wearing boots or cross-country skis.

(Margo D. Beller)
So MH and I were walking along the avenue. When we turned around I beheld what you see and took the picture. We had used Kirkbride as a landmark, the way some in Boston use the Kenmore Square Citgo sign not far from Fenway Park. It made an otherwise drab, uninteresting area more distinctive.

Now, Central Ave. is just another road.

When the state let Kirkbride deteriorate after building the smaller, more modern facility in the western part of its property, I knew it was a matter of time before it was taken down. The state has pulled this before. I wish it could've remained standing but that would create a liability, an attractive nuisance, an eyesore.


So the state pulled down the old trolley station along with the "cottages" on the state land and finally Kirkbride. There are no longer any traces of the old hospital. Even the "road to nowhere" that once was the driveway of one of Greystone's biggest wards, Curry, no longer has the street sign I photographed above.

This is the road to nothing now.

Kirkbride, end of Central Avenue. (Margo D. Beller)

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