Northern State Hospital

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Sedro-Woolley, WA
United States
Northern State Hospital

Washington State commenced construction of a treatment facility for the mentally ill in 1909 in response to criticism regarding the struggling, over-crowded Western State Hospital in Steilacoom. With this new hospital, the State hoped both to provide occupational therapy and to design a self-sustaining industrial and agricultural institution. Dr. A. H. McLeish was hired as the farm’s superintendent, with Olmsted Brothers and architects Saunders & Lawton commissioned to lay out the site and buildings and to produce a planting plan for the campus. Together they created a master plan of roads, water systems, buildings, pastures, agricultural land and dairy barns. Fourteen acres were devoted to lawn, 400 acres to gardens and tillage, 220 acres to rock buttes, 440 acres to woodlots and pastures and 26 acres to roads, building footprints, ponds, and streams.

Olmsted Brothers designed a spatial organization with a southern orientation, allowing the ward facilities and therapeutic landscape to greet staff and visitors while serving patient needs. Facility operations were located to the rear of the ward buildings and farm operations at the east. Agricultural lands served as a buffer zone around the site’s north, east, and south edges. Staff and patient farm and facility operations, while not hidden from public view, were afforded some separation to limit distractions and interruptions.

By 1914, the initial 600 acres purchased in Skagit County had grown to 1,086 acres. Onsite amenities included a dedicated reservoir, a lumber mill, quarry, steam plant, agricultural fields, an orchard, green house, and a full collection of livestock. The cluster of dairy buildings and structures were so significant, they were sited on the rise overlooking the main road, becoming a point of pride and renown for the institution, whose dairy herd ranked among the best in the state.

The hospital closed its doors in 1973. Since that time, the site is split between the North Cascades Gateway Center, owned by the State of Washington Department of General Administration, and the 726 acres of former farming operations constitute the Northern State Recreation Area, owned by Skagit County. One of the few intact agricultural landscapes designed by Olmsted Brothers, the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.