While planning for its new, $302 million mental-health facility in Worcester, the state had intended to raze the facility’s predecessor, the historic 135-year-old Worcester State Hospital. But after a dogged campaign by local activists and public outcry, state officials have wisely decided to preserve the building’s 150-foot iconic clock tower while tearing down the rest.
Losing so much of this architectural gem is a shame: The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 because it is a prime example of Victorian-Gothic style. But the decision represents a graceful compromise. A tragic fire destroyed much of the structure in 1991, so rehabilitating it would have been prohibitively expensive. Converting the tower into a monument is a less expensive option, and one that befits a beloved structure that has helped define Worcester’s skyline for over 130 years.
The monument will also befit the historic work that took place there. When it was established in 1832, as the Worcester Lunatic Hospital, it was America’s first state-owned hospital dedicated to humane treatment of the mentally ill. It would have been tragic if the state, in its efforts to pioneer new methods of treating mental illness, had simply erased the very place where those efforts had begun.