When Tropical Storm Irene hit the Waterbury state office complex 11 months ago, it left many of the buildings uninhabitable. But there is a silver lining to the storm.
Part of this building is now slated for demolition. But before it goes, Vt. State Curator David Schutz wanted to see what may have been left behind when employees and patients moved out. That's when he made a surprising discovery.
"An incredible trove of artifacts," Schutz said. "And from that we began to realize that this place really had preserved its history for a long time."
Schutz says old records, antique medical instruments and patient artwork were crammed into an archive room, unofficially maintained by staff throughout the decades.
"This is an old sign from the hospital, long out of use, but nobody threw it away," Schutz said.
It was a peek into the past that revealed the evolution of mental health treatment in Vermont.
"There were big changes going on in how people viewed the mentally ill and how they ought to be treated," Schutz explained.
Among Schutz discoveries-- straightjackets and weights staff strapped to patients' shoes to keep them from fleeing.
"This is part of that past," he said. "We can't just sweep it under the rug. It's better to know our past and that's what these artifacts allow us to recapture and understand."
The furniture is not what most curators would flag for preservation. The plywood and wicker creations hardly look like valuable antiques, but Schutz says photographs helped him determined their historical significance. Turns out many were made by patients during the dawn of occupational therapy. Photographs will continue to fill in the blanks, but he says they can't solve all the mysteries.
"We've preserved a lot of things here that we have not the foggiest idea of what they are," Schutz said.
The original state hospital with its unique circular wards will be preserved as office space. But where the old brick meets the new-- that will be demolished. Getting rid of the 1950s addition is part of an architectural plan for flood mitigation. When the renovation is complete, many of these artifacts-- once hidden from view-- will take center stage in the new building.
The demolition of about 13 buildings in the Waterbury complex is slated for later this summer. The rebuilding will take three to four years.
Tuesday, May 21 2013 12:32 AM EDT2013-05-21 04:32:23 GMT
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