Attitudes towards mental illness have changed a great deal in the 21st century. People accept mental illness as just that– an illness, that doesn’t need to be hidden away or ashamed of. But our modern attitude is modern. The 4th definition of the word asylum in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is listed as “somewhat old-fashioned : an institution providing care and protection to needy individuals (such as the infirm or destitute) and especially the mentally ill.” Asylum is an old-fashioned word, and with that in mind, read this sentence: South Boston in the 19th century was home to the Boston Lunatic Asylum and that hospital** is the subject of this Caught in Southie History Lesson.
The land for the hospital, off of First Street, was acquired in the 1830s and construction was started in 1837. The facility was completed in November, 1839. It was enlarged by the addition of two wings in 1846. The hospital which was made of brick, occupied about four and a half acres of land, if you included its yards and gardens. The land can be seen on this map here!
The mission of the hospital was “intended particularly for the benefit of the insane of Boston; but for many years certain of the State pauper insane were accommodated there.” The hospital caused controversy in the neighborhood (imagine that!) because people thought it didn’t help local businesses at all and was seen as the city dumping “undesirables” into the neighborhood, even though they were locked away. Attitudes towards the treatment of the mental ill were changing as well, and the South Boston facility was viewed as not big enough to accommodate its patients and was considered too urban to be beneficial to them. There were people being treated at the hospital in South Boston until 1895 when all patients were transferred to other facilities and the site was closed down.
Judging by the map, this area might now be M Street Park.
** We are going to refer to the Asylum as a Hospital from now on in this History Lesson.