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Memories of Henryton State hospital fading with buildings demolished

The Henryton complex, originally built in 1922 as a sanitarium for African-Americans with tuberculosis. Closed since 1985, there've been 70 fires there over the past decade. The abandoned buildings are slated for demolition.
The Henryton complex, originally built in 1922 as a sanitarium for African-Americans with tuberculosis. Closed since 1985, there've been 70 fires there over the past decade. The abandoned buildings are slated for demolition. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

It was 30 years ago that Henryton State Hospital was closed by the state of Maryland. The sprawling facility included 19 buildings with a total footprint of 30 acres in Marriottsville, about seven miles from Sykesville in southern Carroll County.

Over the years, researching the history of hospital has been difficult. What little information on the hospital that was found was sometimes conflicting, inconsistent, and only appeared in anecdotal accounts; often without a comprehensive context.

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Historian Betty Jane Lee has uncovered a number of documents, and articles from the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, about the hospital and the Henryton Tuberculosis Sanatorium Training School for Nurses, a training facility that was also once located on the hospital's grounds.

She reported a portion of her research during a meeting of the Carroll County NAACP Branch 7014, of which this writer is on the executive board.

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According to an undated history of Henryton discovered by Lee, "In the year 1918, the General Assembly of Maryland … authorized the construction of a tuberculosis sanatorium for Negro patients who were residents of Maryland… It was opened in September of 1923. It is situated on the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad…. The original bed capacity was 88...The terms were $3.50 per week for paying patients but the majority of beds were free…"

After a major reorganization of state government in 1963, Henryton was no longer utilized as a tuberculosis sanatorium. Along with Rosewood State Hospital, it was converted into a "developmental disabilities facility," according to a Maryland inventory of historic properties report prepared for the Maryland Historic Trust around June 2000.

After years of oblivion, the facility was rediscovered in the early 2000s for all the wrong reasons. According to an article, "Inside the abandoned Henryton State Hospital," in The Sun on April 1, 2013, "For years, the old Henryton State Hospital has sat abandoned in rural southeastern Carroll County as officials decide what to do next with the decaying … facility. Closed since 1985, there have been 70 fires over the past decade, as the complex like others, falls victim to vandalism and deterioration."

On April 28, 2011, Sykesville Deputy Fire Chief Brett Pearce wrote, "Yet another fire at Henryton State Hospital." "The hospital grounds have been the scene of many suspicious fires in recent years, including several in the theater section of the main building. There are no utilities to the building. The cause of this fire has not been determined.

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"Sykesville fire officials are urgently requesting state officials to address the dangerous situation at Henryton, preferably by razing the buildings to avoid future fires, or even worse, injuries or deaths…"

According to oral tradition the place is haunted — quite haunted. No wonder. The Washington Post reported on Aug. 17, 1945 that the hospital came under intense scrutiny after a child died there, and the body was cremated and "disposed" of before the parents were notified.

An article in the Afro-American on Feb. 15, 1947 reported, "According to figures reported by the Monumental City Medical Society, 142 patients have died at the Henryton Tuberculosis Sanatorium during a period of eight months…"

Two years ago, in June 2013, the entire complex, all 19 buildings, was removed from the property at a cost of more than $4 million.

The entire property, totaling 105 acres, according to the Maryland Historic Trust, is to be absorbed into Patapsco Valley State Park.

The legacies and history of the hospital will soon vanish into a nondescript grassy knoll in the middle of a park, along a river and railroad tracks that lead to nowhere. Only the ghosts, now homeless, will remain.

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