Seaside Sanatorium – Waterford, Connecticut - Atlas Obscura

Waterford, Connecticut

Seaside Sanatorium

Ruins of a historic medical facility with a troubling past sit eerily by the water. 

This brick fortress, designed in 1934 by architect Cass Gilbert, was America’s first medical facility designed to offer heliotropic treatment to children with tuberculosis. This type of treatment involved spending prolonged periods of time in the sun, in hopes that the exposure might help cure the patient.

The theory is literally built into the facility, which is renowned for its Tudor Revival architecture. Massive terraces facing the sea wrap around the main building, so the children could try to sun themselves to health. It wasn’t long, however, before new drugs were developed that rendered this treatment obsolete.

As such, the building’s role would shift several times over the next six decades before it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Over the ensuing decades, the facility would turn first into a home for the elderly, then into a traditional medical hospital, and finally into a hospital for the intellectually disabled. Tragically, during that last period, hospital staff were frequently accused of abusing patients, and the hospital became notorious for its high mortality rate. It closed in 1996.

Now a Connecticut State Park, visitors can enjoy the grounds and walk the perimeters of the various buildings. But they can’t get too close. Chain-link fences and copious “No Trespassing” signs—along with persistent rumors of paranormal activity—serve as sad reminders of a pained past. (Staff housing, however, can be approached un-fenced at the back of the property.)

Still an architectural marvel, the Seaside is today a complicated monument to both genuine attempts at medical innovation and to victims of horrific abuse and malpractice.

Know Before You Go

Vehicles should be left at the parking lot or grassy area before the gate. The only way to enter the park is by foot. (No stickers or fees required.) While the main buildings of the sanitorium are located on the grounds of a publicly accessible state park, it should be noted that the park rangers are adamant about patrolling the area. Even with cameras in hand and away from the fenced perimeter, be prepared to possibly be stopped and answer their questions regarding your visit. The staff housing located not far from the main buildings are not secluded by fencing. However, they are in extreme proximity to residential homes (with loud dogs) and appear to be equipped with silent alarms and surveillance.

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