Legacy Of Greystone Lives On After Demolition

By: J.L. Shively

Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital stood for more than 100 years and had become a well-known, if not imposing sight in Morris Plains, until its demolition in 2015.

Despite the loss of this building, Greystone’s memory has lived on and has even become a source of inspiration for the many people who rallied around it.

This memory has not only inspired continued discussion on the topic of Greystone and medicine but has given strength to the preservation efforts of similar structures.

The current exhibit at Acorn Hall, “The Cutting Edge: Medicine in Morris County 1876–1976,” is an example of this inspiration. This exhibit ties in with the 125th anniversary of the Morristown Medical Center and “pays tribute to the medical history in Morris County,” states Exhibit Curator Kim Smith.  This exhibit is planned to be on display until June 3, says Smith.

The Historical Society also had a series of lectures planned to tie in with this exhibit, the next being “Woody Gutherie’s Wardy Forty: Greystone Park State Hospital Revisited,” which is set for Sun., March 24 at 2 p.m. at Acorn Hall.

The last of these programs is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum bus trip, which is set for Thurs., April 12 to Sat., April 14.

The first lecture held in collaboration with this exhibit was given by Rusty Tagliareni and Christina Mathews, co-authors of the Images of America book “Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital,” which chronicles not only the original history of Greystone, but also the preservation efforts and the final demolition of the building.

Tagliareni and Mathews also created and maintain the website entitled Antiquity Echoes, which archives the many abandoned locations they visit.

“Abandoned buildings are temporary,” explained Tagliareni at the first of these lectures, “and we don’t greatly like these buildings being abandoned.”

This lecture was the first of a two-part presentation held by Tagliareni and Mathews entitled “Greystone’s Legacy.”  The second of these discussions was set to be held on March 11 at the time of this article.

 “These buildings are extensions of the community itself,” Tagliareni expressed at this discussion, explaining the drive behind a desire to save them.

Greystone itself was designed by architect Thomas Kirkbride and first opened its doors in 1876.  It was one of the last of an estimated 15 Kirkbride structures remaining in the U.S. and was heralded as the largest, single foundation building in the world until the construction of the Pentagon.

It is largely the fascination with the architecture, which is not likely to be seen again, that rallied groups around saving the structure and rallies them still in an effort to continue to preserve the past.  It is this message that Tagliareni and Mathews express in their discussions of Greystone and their ongoing efforts to save similar abandoned places.

 After the demolition of Greystone, the group Preserve Greystone did not so much dissolve but become something new.  The group gave it’s 501c3 status to the emerging group, Preservation Works.

The president of Preservation Works, Christian J. VanAntwerpen, describes the rise of the group and his involvement in it as an “interesting journey,” which he states began with watching an episode of the show “House M.D.” which features the doctor being admitted into Greystone.

It was this, VanAntwerpen states, “ignited his interest in these types of buildings.” His story is very similar to many others’ sudden fascination with these giant, abandoned structures.

The foundation of Preservation Works was laid at a conference held in Traverse City, MI at the restored Kirkbride building.  This conference, VanAntwerpen states, was held “smack dab between two Kirkbride buildings;” Greystone, on which demolition had just begun at the time of the conference, and Fergus Falls in Minnesota, which Preservation Works is currently trying to help save.

The mission of Preservation Works, VanAntwerpen explains, is to “provide resources” for the community in which these buildings stand to assist them in saving these structures.  Utilizing what was learned after the demolition of Greystone, the group helps to advocate the reconstruction and repurposing of buildings which have an “architecturally beautiful concept,” states VanAntwerpen.

A memorial to the Greystone structure is planned to be raised on the original site of the main building.  This memorial, Tagliareni states, is planned to be constructed with the 180 pieces of the original façade that was saved before the building’s demolition.

Tagliareni notes that the possibility of this memorial was made possible by the quick thinking of concerned Kirkbride enthusiast, Robert Duffy, and the generous efforts of the group, Northstar, which was in charge of demolishing the building.  Taliareni explains that Northstar donated all the materials needed to remove the façade, as well as an entire day in which to complete the work.

Currently these materials are warehoused in a safe location, where they have been inventoried to aide with the effort to generate a concept for the memorial design.  A completion date is not yet set as groups involved work through structural details.

For more information on events with the Morris County Historical Society visit morriscountyhistory.org or call Acorn Hall at 973-267-3465.  For more information about Preservation Works visit the website at www.thepreservationworks.org or email info@thepreservationworks.org.  For more information on Tagliareni’s and Mathews’ work visit antiquityechoes.blogspot.com/p/welcome-to-antiquity echoes.html#.WqGMwfnyvIU.

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