What is today known as , a 426-bed facility located on a 200-acre campus in Catonsville, has a storied history dating to 1797. That makes Spring Grove the second oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital in the country. It was established by the state of Maryland at a time when the predominant mode for the care of the mentally ill was largely one of confinement.
David S. Helsel, current chief executive officer, and Trevor Blank, a graduate student at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute, co-authored a pictorial history book, Spring Grove State Hospital, published in 2008 as part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. Many of the photographs featured in that book reside in the library’s Catonsville Room.
The hospital was originally located in Baltimore and moved to its present “country” location in 1872. Indeed, when in Baltimore it once served as a hospital for soldiers and sailors wounded in the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812.
According to the authors, “In the 19th century, Spring Grove adopted the principles of moral therapy, a model that promoted recovery through structure, occupation, fresh air and a healthy lifestyle.” Patients participated in therapeutic activities
Concerning this aspect, a brief history on Spring Grove’s website confirms that patients were kept quite busy.
“In 1901 there were 7,404 separate articles manufactured and 18,579 items repaired by patients. The men’s industrial shop produced durable goods such as trousers, coats, vests, overalls, boots, shoes, wicker settees and other pieces of furniture, brooms, baskets and tents.
“Horses and mules were shod in the Blacksmith Shop—while curtains, awnings, cushions, upholstered chairs and lounges, mattresses and many other items were manufactured in the Upholstery Shop. The women’s Sewing Room produced thousands of items such as dresses, petticoats, night gowns, socks and stockings, aprons, chemises and other undergarments, sheets, napkins, table cloths, blankets, shirts, curtains and even shrouds. In 1901 the women’s Sewing Room made 60 masquerade suits for a fancy dress ball.”
The defunct Short Line Railroad once served as a means of delivering coal to supply power for the hospital. Today, the community-based Catonsville Rails to Trails has acquired the rights to the Short Line Trail, with over three miles of pathways. According to its website, the CRTT has removed and recycled over 125 tons of scrap metal and rail. Portions of the trails have already been cleared for walking trails.
For those interested in learning more about the history of Spring Grove, the volunteer-staffed Alumni Museum is located in the Garrett Building, open on the first and third Wednesdays of every month, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 410.402.7856.
Thanks go to Bryce Rumbles, librarian at the Catonsville Branch, and Lisa Vicari, Catonsville Room volunteer and board member, Friends of the Catonsville Library, for their research assistance. Anyone interested in ordering digital reprints of any of the historical images featured in this series, should contact Bryce Rumbles at firstname.lastname@example.org.