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Grafton State Hospital and Hillcrest Cemetery


Grafton State Hospital was created in 1901 to expand capacity of Worcester State Hospital and was used as a farm colony.


Grafton State Hospital classified its patients by their behavior instead diagnosis. Patients were classified as violent, excited, quiet and peaceful. "Colonies" were named after types of trees: Pines, Elms, Oak and Willows. The Pines colony were brick buildings (reminiscent of Kirkbride buildings) designed for excited females that were locked and had large numbers of patients. The Elms colony for excited males had a similar design. The Oaks had unlocked cottages for male patients and the Willows female were for the quiet and peaceful patients. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/443875ee-8824-4720-9dd3-fa43affbacff and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grafton_State_Hospital


By 1945, the agriculture became the primary focus at the hospital and other areas of treatment started to subside. The occupancy rose to 1,730 patients that same year. As the 1970s approached, public perception of mental illness and treatment of those who were institutionalized started to change. Grafton State Hospital finally closed in 1973. 


Redevelopment of some of Grafton State took place in 1978 when it became the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Some of the old hospital buildings on the campus have been reused as seen in the picture above. In another area of the Grafton State campus, the Grafton Job Corps program has reused and redevelop some of the buildings. The rest of the hospital that has been abandoned (buildings seen in the photos above in the trees), the town just sold the land and will be redeveloped. It is unclear if those buildings will remain, but some of the buildings have experienced roof collapse.


Hillcrest Cemetery, Grafton State Hospital


Hillcrest Cemetery has 1,041 former patients buried there. Still standing onsite is a large stone portion of the water tower that helps mark the location of the cemetery. The grass was really overgrown and the granite block grave markers were hard to find at first.


As you first walk in, there is a central monument with the names and grave markers of those who served in the military. It is so wooded and overgrown it was disorienting and I was glad to have the central monument as a marker to find the path back out. Once I located a few grave markers, it was easy to find rows of them.


According to a Community Advocate article I found, Richard Glispin (fire chief for the town of Grafton), Phil Johnson (Parks and Cemetery Superintendent for the town of Grafton) and Richard Perron (veterans’ agent for the towns of Grafton, Shrewsbury and Northborough) were responsible for the research to find the names of the veterans buried at Hillcrest. Phil Johnson explained in the article that "indigent patients were not buried in vaults, just cardboard boxes," along with the numbered granite blocks. The 2014 article mentions that the cemetery is "maintained by the state with help from the Grafton Job Corps. Now the site is mowed regularly, and the small, square gravestones are clearly visible." I am guessing with COVID-19 they may be behind, or the Job Corps may not have been open so they may not have been able to take care of the cemetery right now. https://www.communityadvocate.com/2014/11/03/hidden-hillcrest-cemetery-honors-veterans/


This is one of the best cemeteries. It was amazing the way it opens up once you are inside and is truly secluded. It is almost like a secret garden. I plan to go back again when I can spend more time, it was amazing. I went as the sun was going down and really had a breathtaking feeling inside. It was hard to maneuver with the grass and not being able to see the stones well between the light and the long grass, I did not want to trample or damage anything. It does really make me wish the State would be better about taking care of these places. With the stones being so close to the ground and the grass being so long, I worry that it is setting up conditions for erosion of the stones. But again, I don't want to judge too harshly because with COVID-19, it is hard to know if it is just because of COVID or if it is true neglect. The best I can do is check back to see if any changes have happened over time. This was definitely worth a trip though, I loved this spot. Keep haunting your local haunts and let me know if you have a favorite cemetery!

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