The Lippitt building is one of dozens of early 20th century structures at Norwich State Hospital that have been left to decay. Lippitt, it turns out, is one of the earliest buildings of its kind. Built expressly as a medical facility to treat the mentally ill, it was at the beginning of the era when mental illness would be seen more commonly as an organic brain dysfunction rather than demonic possession or weak morals.
With the biological understanding of the mind, came the hope it can be treated like any other dysfunctional or diseased part of the body. But this equivalence of the mind as another organ like the spleen or the gallbladder, parts that can be therapeutically excised, lead to woefully underinformed procedures like lobotomies. In the decades before pharmaceuticals could modify the brain from the inside, scalpels and saws were the tools of choice, however poorly matched they were for the job.
I truly believe that most physicians of this time were noble in their intentions. But in the long and complex search to reach a deeper understanding of humans as animals and organisms, the opportunity to mistreat and devalue people who have profound disorders arose far too many times.
And so Lippitt’s role in the history of psychiatry and psychosurgery is both hopeful and horrible.
A tour of Building 253 at Hunter’s Point Shipyard in San Francisco.
A tour of the Anchor Glass factory in Antioch CA. This structure has since been demolished. Click here to see my gallery of photos from here.