Today, the Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital is a contaminated site, often visited by Weird NJ fans and ghost hunters. But for 67 years, it was a state-run institution for the mentally disabled.
Recently, the state announced its plan to clean up the property, which has become an environmental hazard, and turn it over to Marlboro for recreational and open space use.
After more than six decades of the hospital running under state funding, it was shut down after a state investigation, prompted by an undercover operation. On July 1, 1998, the state hospital closed its doors for good.
Closing the state hospital came 11 years after State Senator Richard Codey went undercover in the hospital, hired as an orderly. Codey chronicled his experience in New Jersey Monthly magazine, saying he witnessed “inhumane care and treatment of mental patients,” as well as poor living and working conditions.
Codey’s undercover work sparked a Senate Task Force in 1994, which investigated the inner-workings of the hospital, from environmental practices to the use of funds designated for patients.
The hospital, built in the 1930’s, came under scrutiny as the senate team found evidence of illegal environmental practices, bribery and a “range of irregularities,” that the task force reported had been going on since the late 1980’s.
The task force’s 1994 executive summary said, “The results of the investigation reveal a tableau of waste, fraud, thievery and corruption in which the squandering of taxpayer dollars virtually has become business as usual at this institution.”
According to the Senate’s executive summary, the Marlboro State Pyschiatric Hospital was one of seven state-run psychiatric institutions in New Jersey. In its final years, it served 780 patients per day and employed 1,157. The report cites the the hospital’s 1995 state budget, which was $55.5 million.
The closing of the hospital was the first in a series of changes, as the state re-evaluated its state-run institutions and investigated de-institutionalizing the mentally ill. According to Codey in New Jersey Monthly, many of the task force’s suggestions became state law.
But the closing of the hospital did not come without opposition. A July, 1998 New York Times article said unionized workers at the hospital as well as families of patients opposed the closing of the doors. Neighborhood groups also worried that patients that were not transferred to another hospital and instead determined they could live alone would be a danger to communities.
The Marlboro Township history book, published in 1999 by Arcadia Publishing, said, “Security issues for the facility were long a local concern. State mental health practice in the 1990’s focused on getting patients into ‘community’ settings,’ with a reluctance to maintain costly in-patient hospitals, regardless of the ongoing need.”
Marlboro Township documents cite more than 780 calls for police between 1988 and the closing of the hospital in 1998, many of which were reports of patients leaving the grounds without authorization.
Patients were transferred to non-permanent treatment, state-funded independent living and other psychiatric hospitals. Currently, the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital holds the medical records of former patients, and accounts records are held at the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services.
The Large Hospital Property
The hospital property is overgrown and currently environmental hazard. It is 411 acres with 600,000 square feet of buildings.
According to the original real-estate listing by the New Jersey Department of Treasury, in 1998 the environmental issues included concern for 13 underground oil tanks, six of which were determined unnecessary. When the property was up for sale, land-use suggestions included a corporate campus, assisted living or nursing home facility and an institutional facility, among others.
The listing encouraged consideration to maintain open space and preserve the land.
The township and the state have been officially negotiating the future of the large property since 2001, when the state granted Marlboro access to the property and attempted to agree on a sale.
In 2003, the township was slated to buy the property for $20 million. The Township Council and the Marlboro Planning Board originally planned for the development of hotel-conference buildings, a limited number of homes and municipal use, according to a 2003 News Transcript article.
But some members of the former council asked for another look at the development plans, seeing the property as a potential for open-space preservation, according to the News Transcript archives. Ultimately, the council decided the original redevelopment plan was no longer attainable due to environmental regulations.
In 2008, when Mayor Jon Hornik took office, he asked the state to outline what would happen with the property. According to township documents, The Township Council took over the plans for redevelopment.
This year, the state approved a $3.5 million grant through the Clean Waters bond fund will go toward sewerage improvements. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the 411-acre property does not meet the state standards for sewerage treatment facilities. The hospital’s water facilities still serve the addiction treatment center New Hope.
On Nov. 18 this year, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno officially announced it will clean up the property, knock down and clean up 600,000 square feet of buildings, all without costing Marlboro taxpayers money. The Township will purchase the property in 2014, through open space funds, to preserve the large piece of land.
A Popular Weird NJ Location
Since its closing, the hospital property has been used for military exercises. However, due to ghost stories about the hospital and its persona as a mental institution, it has become a popular Weird NJ location. This has forced Marlboro Township police to guard the property on a regular basis, although the property is owned by the state. However, recently the township secured a $150,000 grant for the state to pay for the policing of the property.
Township documents cite more than 100 police calls for trespassing, theft and criminal mischief between 2010 and 2011.
Many ghost stories surround the property’s slaughterhouse, but most have been written off by Weird NJ fans as muddled rumors of paranormal activity. Some rumors suggest the slaughterhouse was the scene of several murders committed by a disgruntled butcher, but the history books, as far as Patch can tell, don’t reference slaughterhouse murders.
Local legend says the hospital was originally built on a cattle farm, where the slaughterhouse stands. Stories told say the original owner of the land wound up as a patient of the hospital. In the ghost hunting world, some tell stories of hearing squealing pigs and cows at night as well as footsteps and voices.
Regardless of the reality of paranormal activity on the premises, the hospital will likely remain a popular site for the daring and the curious, until the buildings are knocked down, and the land cleaned up and re-developed for other use.
However, those found on the gated property are subject to arrest and fines for trespassing.