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Brattleboro Retreat
Brattleboro Retreat 1.jpg
entrance to the main building (2012)
Location Linden Street and Upper Dummerston Road
Brattleboro, Vermont, U.S.
Area 620 acres (250 ha)
Built 1834
NRHP reference No. 84003478
Added to NRHP April 12, 1984

The Brattleboro Retreat is a private not-for-profit mental health and addictions hospital that provides comprehensive inpatient, partial hospitalization, and outpatient treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults.

Located just north of downtown Brattleboro, Vermont, United States, the Retreat is situated on approximately 300 acres of land along the Retreat Meadows inlet of the West River. Founded in 1834, the retreat was "the first facility for the care of the mentally ill in Vermont, and one of the first ten private psychiatric hospitals in the United States". It is considered a pioneer in the field of mental health care in the United States.

The retreat is a member of the Ivy League Hospitals. More than 600 acres of the campus, including most of its buildings, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Origin and history

Brattleboro Retreat in 1844

The Brattleboro Retreat was founded in 1834 as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane through a $10,000 bequest left by Anna Hunt Marsh for the establishment of a psychiatric hospital that would exist independently and in perpetuity for the welfare of the mentally disordered. The institution was renamed as the Brattleboro Retreat in the late 19th century in order to eliminate confusion with the state-run Vermont State Asylum for the Insane.

Taking its inspiration from the York Retreat in England, the retreat originated as a humane alternative to the otherwise demeaning and sometimes dangerous treatment of people with mental disorders. The focus on "moral treatment", an idea derived from a Quaker concept, introduced by William Tuke in the late 18th century, which approaches mental disorders as diseases and not as character flaws or the results of sins. This remains the institution's guiding philosophy.

For much of the 19th and 20th century, treatment methods emphasized fresh air, physical activity, educational enrichment, therapeutic farm and kitchen work, and supportive staff. Some of the techniques used at the retreat were influenced by the Quakers and Benjamin Rush, a physician and American Revolutionary War supporter. The first superintendent, William Rockwell, was instrumental in putting many of these ideas in place, following in the footsteps of his mentor Eli Todd. The life of Hiram Harwood, one of the Retreat's early patients, is a good example of how Rockwell's methods were used.


Brattleboro Retreat 3
One of the buildings on the 1000+ acre campus

Until recently, the president of the Brattleboro Retreat was a doctor who lived in the main building with his or her family. The last residents of the executive apartment were Dr. and Mrs. Beech.

A unique back-lit clock tower with four faces sits atop a rotunda on Lawton Hall—a feature originally intended to provide any sleepless patients a sense of the time and comfort. The clock is visible from everywhere on the 58-building, college-like campus, which is situated on a grassy plain between a seasonally-flooding meadow and downtown Brattleboro. The hospital agreed to allow a hydroelectric company to flood the Retreat Meadows on the condition that it could be used for ice fishing, boating, and other recreation.

The hospital has extensive landholdings throughout the area, including the site of the castle-like Retreat Tower, which was constructed by patients and staff in the late 19th century. The Retreat Dairy Farm is now separate from the hospital but is well preserved and still functional. Patients no longer work at the bakery or carpentry shops. Programs have been adjusted for changing populations and the main clinical buildings are named after former doctors, such as Tyler and Osgood.

The indoor swimming pool in Lawton Hall was the first at any hospital in the world. It was closed after a polio outbreak outside Vermont decades ago and has not reopened. A new complex featuring tennis courts and an outdoor in-ground pool provide patients with facilities for outdoor activities.

The land owned by the hospital is open to the public and can be hiked or cross-country skied. Dozens of ice fishing huts pop up each winter on the frozen Retreat Meadows. Occasionally, ice skating can be observed.

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