Medfield Insane Asylum

Medfield Insane Asylum was built in 1892 and was Massachusetts first state run institution for mentally ill patients. It was built like a college campus with numerous buildings in order to house patients by need. The asylum was self-sufficient with it’s own water supply and farm to provide for ultimately 1700 patients and 300 employees 

Today, Medfield is boarded up and listed on the National Parks Service’s Register of Historic Places. Several movies have been filmed there such as “Shutter Island,” “Knives Out,” and “The Box.” According to Trip Advisor, walking around the old asylum is #3 on their list of things to do in Medfield.

Medfield was also the asylum that Oliver Fisher, a Surfman from Nantucket Island ultimately had to send his first wife Adelaide Fisher. Oliver and Adelaide had three daughters Alice, Florence and Evelyn born in 1900, 1902 and 1905. By 1910 Census, only Oliver and Adelaide are listed in the home and Evelyn is listed as a boarder with the Brown family. This supports the vague murmuring within the family that the girls were not safe in the home due to their mother’s mental illness but it also shows that Oliver was not able to care for them alone especially with a position as a Surfman for the Madaket Lifesaving Station.

Adelaide ultimately died while institutionalized at Medfield on May 30,1911. The official cause of death was Pulmonary Tuberculosis. She had been at Medfield for 2 years, 8 months and 2 days with the official diagnosis of Manic Depressive Insanity. 

Oliver eventually married Helen Gibbs and two more girls, Marriott and Hazel were born. Alice Fisher Lundquist remained close to the family and was a favorite aunt to Hazel’s twin girls. It was a shock to the family and the twins, who had just stepped off the steamboat in Nantucket, after visiting Alice to hear of her sudden death by a stroke at age 57.

Florence and Evelyn could easily have been forgotten by the family as they died much earlier than Alice and there was very little spoken of them other than the murmurings of  mental illness. Florence married Oliver Jones and settled in New York state. They had a daughter named Alice. In the 1940 census, only Oliver and Alice are listed in their home in Guilford, NY. In 1945, the death Florence at 43 is listed in Binghamton, NY which was also the location of the New York State Inebriate Asylum. Evelyn married Frank Long in 1924 and settled in Nantucket. Evelyn died in 1925 at the age of 20 in Taunton, MA which had a facility called the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton. Both Florence and Evelyn were interred in Nantucket. 

The details of Florence and Evelyn’s deaths are still being investigated through genealogical research. It is one of those things that can become lost to history because of the reluctance to talk about mental illness. As new details emerge, this post will be updated.

For further reading:

https://www.nps.gov/places/medfield-state-hospital.htm

https://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/785184

https://www.boston.com/culture/entertainment/2020/08/14/shutter-island-medfield-state-hospital

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