It served the region for more than seven decades, providing care, treatment, and comfort to young victims of tuberculosis and others.
But Plymouth County Hospital closed its doors in 1992, and today, the once-busy complex in Hanson sits idle and decaying, its old buildings fire-damaged and crumbling. The bleak and forlorn appearance of the 55-acre property has made it an object of eerie fascination for ghost hunters and others, and a magnet for vandals.
Now, town officials have launched a fresh effort to find a new, productive use for the High Street site, which Hanson purchased from Plymouth County in 1999.
The Old Colony Planning Council is exploring options for the property in a study it recently initiated for the town. The effort, funded through a technical assistance grant from the council, will culminate in a report to the town by December.
“What we are trying to do is have a completely independent evaluation of all the potential uses of that property that the market will bear,” said Town Administrator Ron San Angelo. “We want to look at everything — potentially housing, light commercial uses, town uses.”
Hanson undertook a study of the site about a decade ago, but a subsequent bid to redevelop the site ended in failure.
The town sought proposals from developers and chose one who proposed an assisted living facility and 55-and-older residential community. But after acquiring the land, the developer went bankrupt and never proceeded with the plan, according to San Angelo. The town regained ownership of the land at no cost around 2009 following court proceedings.
Selectmen decided to revive the search for a new use several months ago at the suggestion of San Angelo, who assumed his position last July.
“I had been told this property was sitting there a long time and that nothing had gone forward with it since that last development effort,” San Angelo said. “I thought it was important to update the feasibility study and look at the best uses of the land in today’s marketplace.”
“I think getting the study done and investigating what can be done with the [property] and giving us options is always a good thing,” said Selectman Stephen Amico. “As of right now, it’s just sitting there. . . . It’s a beautiful area. Hopefully, we can get something done up there.”
Part of the impetus to find a new use for the site is public safety. Although the town has erected fencing, the site continues to draw vandals and other trespassers, and it was heavily damaged by two suspicious fires, in 2004 and 2006. Officials worry about liability to the town if anyone were to be injured roaming through the rundown old buildings
“We don’t want anyone on that property, it’s not safe,” San Angleo said.
The Plymouth County Hospital was opened in 1919 as a long-term care facility for children with tuberculosis, according to an account of the hospital’s history that appeared in the Hanson Historical Society’s newsletter, The Trunk, last summer.
The state funded the project and turned over care and maintenance of the hospital to the county on condition that it continue upkeep of the facility, according to the account, written by the newsletter’s editor, Melinda Barclay.
The hospital staff kept the children active, Barclay wrote. “The nurses would take them outdoors for fun activities such as sledding in the winter and running through the sprinklers in the summer. . . . There was a large theatre located inside the hospital where the children would gather for entertainment.” There were also classrooms for the students to be educated.
In the 1960s, the hospital was converted to a long-term care facility, according to Barclay. It served that function until its last patients were relocated in 1991 and the hospital officially closed the following year.
In 2002, the town sold four of the lots fronting High Street for development of single-family homes, raising enough income to cover most of the original $985,000 acquisition cost, according to Eric Arbeene, community planner for the Old Colony Planning Council.
The former hospital includes a 46,000-square-foot, two-story main building and several smaller former administrative buildings and other structures totaling 9,800 square feet. The only current activity on the site is the use of one of the smaller buildings — outside the fenced area — by the Hanson Food Pantry and the Plymouth County Extension Service.
Due to its deteriorated condition and the presence of asbestos and other hazardous materials, Arbeene said, the main building would probably not be preserved in a future development.
Arbeene also said that because of it contains wetlands, much of the site may not be buildable. The existing hospital buildings are concentrated near the front of the site, which is bordered by residential homes and a cranberry bog.
The Old Colony Planning Council is a regional planning agency serving 16 communities. The study is being funded through a state program that enables regional planning agencies to provide technical help to communities for housing, sharing regional services, and economic development.
Arbeene said council staff have begun meeting with town officials in Hanson to gather information and observations about the site and potential uses. They will also seek the views of real estate professionals, and solicit input from residents, notably those abutting the site.
“We are going to look at the variety of uses that could be on the site, taking into account zoning, infrastructure, and environmental constrains, and perform an economic analysis of the various options,” Arbeene said.
“There is definitely potential to do something good there,” he said. “It’s not very common for a community to have 55 acres at its disposal. It’s a unique opportunity.”