Monday, July 11, 2011

Abandonment Issues: Rockwood Insane Asylum

rockwood insane asylum

Rockwood Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Every few weeks as we walked the circumference of the insane asylum looking desperately for an entry point, to no avail, the irony was never lost on us.

During the 1850s, Kingston Penitentiary was deemed to be overrun with mentally ill and criminally insane prisoners. To remedy this, Rockwood Criminal Lunatic Asylum was to be built on the shores of Lake Ontario, just west of the penitentiary. To save tax-payer dollars, it would be built by the prisoners themselves. Construction began in 1859 and although it was not completed until 1870, men began to occupy portions of the building as early as 1862. Female prisoners were admitted during this time period and lived in the old horse stables that remained from when the property was a private villa. In 1868, the female inmates were also moved inside. Once completed, the asylum housed 300 patients.

Rockwood Lunatic Asylum 1871 Report

This was the criteria an inmate had to meet to be transferred to Rockwood Criminal Lunatic Asylum:

1. Convicts in the penitentiary becoming insane while under sentence there.
2. Certain classes of lunatics committed to jail as lunatics dangerous to be at large.
3. Persons charged with some offence of which they had been acquitted on the ground that they were insane at the time such offence was committed.
4. Persons indicted for any offence, and upon arraignment thereof found, by a jury especially impanelled for the purpose, to be insane.

Patients wore distinctive canvas uniforms bearing the word LUNATIC. The medical goal in the mid 1800s was not to cure criminal lunatics, but rather to calm them. Chloral hydrate and alcohol were used to pacify patients, and they were also often bled. Dr. Litchfield, the only physician at Rockwood at the time, had a simple treatment plan that relied heavily upon "a pretty free use of alcohol by day and sedative by night." Treatment also involved restraints, blistering, leeching, enemas, and blood-letting.

It has been reported that during this period, physicians may have performed some of the first neuro-surgical procedures (lobotomies) on patients at Rockwood, using trephines to drill into patients skulls.

Criminal lunatics were not the sole inhabitants of the asylum, the staff lived on-site and unsound Kingston residents were also admitted. This population included patients up and down the spectrum of mental health disorders as we know them today, as well as lepers and promiscuous women.

Rockwood Insane Asylum patient ward circa 1880s
Rockwood Insane Asylum patient ward circa 1880s

In the late 1800s, the psychiatric focus shifted from strictly therapeutic interventions to classification and treatment based on scientific evidence. By this time, many other changes had also taken place. The canvas LUNATIC uniforms were eliminated and the old tin cups and spoons were replaced with ceramic dishes and cutlery. The adjacent farm was purchased and the asylum began to grow it's own food, providing broader menu choices for patients and staff. The asylum's interior was painted with bright cheery colours, bedding was upgraded from straw sack mattresses and pillows, and sitting rooms were outfitted with beautiful furniture and decorations. Patients were treated to outings into town, chartered yacht rides and an on-site 14-piece orchestra that was widely considered the best in town. Rockwood was also one of the first buildings in Canada to be outfitted with central heating. Most notably though, a full-service medical infirmary was built on site and a school was created to teach English to the female patients, many of whom were illiterate. The separation of classified patients was also a monumental shift, criminal lunatics were never again able to socialize with the growing population of patients being admitted from Kingston and surrounding communities.

In 1959, one hundred years after ground was broken, Rockwood patients were transferred to the new buildings constructed on the same property, and the former asylum eventually became known as 'The Penrose Building', which was a residence for people with disabilities. Penrose closed in 2000 and the historic building has sat empty ever since, surrounded by the splashing waves of Lake Ontario and the newer buildings that make up the mental health facility complex that is currently known as Providence Care. 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. After a half a dozen extensive circumference scopes of the abandoned asylum over several months all resulted in the same failure, this time would be different, we thought. And it was.

From a personal point of view, this was a remarkable experience. Speaking as someone with a history of mental health issues in my immediate family, and also as someone that has spent years working with people with autism and other developmental disorders, this was another unique and special exploration for me. I couldn't help but think about a young female client that I had out west, who spent most of her teenage years in a helmet in a white room. She was on her last shot at societal integration during our time together, sadly, she failed to meet the standards set for her, and she was re-institutionalized. I wondered what had become of her for what seemed like days, but was a mere matter of seconds, before my focus shifted to my brother. I get a sinking lost feeling like there is nothing that I can do when I think about my older brother. Like if I just had one more piece of the puzzle I could help him put himself back together. His experiences locked in psych wards and modern day institutions such as this have impacted him greatly, to the point that he insisted that he accompany me on the Mental Health Services Facility explore. And he did. And when we found the psych ward he had visited by force in the past, a strange excitement came over him, followed by a sense of calm that I've never seen in him. He was very much in my mind in the asylum on this day. Not to say that the treatment he receives today is working overly well, but I'm grateful that we live in a day and age where he isn't restrained all day and lobotomised, or preyed on by criminal lunatics.

In July of 2011 when our insanity paid off, the lights were still on, a few of them anyway, buzzing overhead, full of thousands of fly carcasses. The plastic was peeling on many of the windows at this point, but the efforts made to protect the building from moisture have been remarkably effective. Hallway doors were already propped open with miscellaneous objects, preventing an explorer from getting ironically locked in the insane asylum. The screeching noise of metal on metal must have been caused by the wind, I thought, but there wasn't so much as a soft gentle breeze on that humid summer day. The echoing click-clack-thud sound was surely just a door closing slowly down the long corridor behind us, but I don't think it was. It sounded like someone tripping over something. I don't believe in God, or any of that paranormal ghost nonsense. But, if I did, I would have sworn that we were not alone in that asylum. It could have been other explorers, or a security guard, or a squatter, or a routine fire inspection, or maybe somehow a raccoon found a little P.O.E. of its own? Or who knows, maybe it is fucking haunted? We were in there for hours, and someone or something was in there with us, no question about it.

In the following three years, we have continued to indulge our insanity and return to attempt entry on a fairly regular basis, finding success a half a dozen times. With each visit we discovered new areas and watched the building begin a transformation from a neglected abandonment to a preserved historical structure, as workers began to clean the building's interior, even sweeping the peeled paint chips from the floors, and setting up massive scaffolding to restore the exterior limestone. The building is now owned by Infrastructure Ontario (formerly the Ontario Realty Corp.) and they appear to be investing millions of dollars to restore and preserve this historic limestone monolith, which is protected by it's heritage status and has an unknown future.

Our most recent visit was yesterday, and this time, we were most definitely not alone, as we managed to successfully gain entry and explore every inch of the building whilst evading a large construction crew working inside and the new 24/7 security guard on site. It was a magical afternoon.

These images were captured on six separate visits between July of 2011 and March of 2014. Shouts out to all of the friends that have accompanied me on these various adventures into Rockwood, including Ninja IX, Mr. Nutz., Andrea, Lindsay and LJJ.

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum
Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Up in the different attics and peaks of the towers, we always take the time to chill and enjoy the view of the Kingston Penitentiary and Prison for Women out the attic windows.

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

IMG_0329

And then we descend from the attic into the basement.

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rumours abound regarding the torture inflicted upon patients in some of the rooms found meandering through the fascinating labyrinth of underground tunnels.

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Back outside, time after time, we embrace our freedom.

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

Rockwood Insane Asylum

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Rockwood Insane Asylum as I've seen it over the past three years. Thanks for taking the time to check it out.

click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES

37 comments:

Sherman Cahal said...

Excellent photographic work and detail. What was the purpose of the sink seals? To prevent moisture intrusion?

jerm IX said...

Yes, all of the windows and plumbing had all been sealed to prevent moisture making the place look like Muskoka Sanitorium (full of mould and moss). And thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

WHOAAA ! We're you there like just last weekend? The 9th or 10 of July 2011??? My friend and I were down in Kingston from Ottawa to visit Fort Henry and tour about. I went to school at St. Lawrence College up the street 13/14 years ago and this place always fascinated me. We were looking all around it last weekend. I'm so happy I've seen these pics. I guess it was just closed down prior to the great ice storm because I remember they opened it up for shelter to the people who had lost power in the area. Freaky eh?

Scott if you have any more photo's please post them !

jerm IX said...

It was very recent, yes.

Anonymous said...

Very beautiful write my young brother. It touched me deeply and reverberated through my soul. I'll never forget the day that I climbed into that building and was able to recall that part of my life... I was so thankful I was able to relive that part of my life with such a loving and caring brother.

I love you homie,

-sieco

jerm IX said...

you too man.

Anonymous said...

If you explored into the basement you'd find evidence that Rockwood staff DID keep the most unruly patients shackled up down there ... all the pieces I have surfaced fit together nicely. You have the old corridors in the basement which have "feeding" holes along the bottom which is where the staff would slide the patients tray of food in to them. These corridor walls would protect the "feeding" staff from agressive patients. Recently, I have found 2 remaining eye hooks embedded deep into the stone work in the basement ... these eye hooks are definately where the patients were shackled as I can't come up with any other usage for them. With so many patients, all the pain and suffering that went on inside these walls, there's no doubt in my mind that this place IS haunted.

Suganutz said...

Hello. I don't think the arched holes in the basement are feeding slots. An entire human body can easily pass through these holes. They are more likely service access holes for the myriad steam pipes I observerved inside these holes. If I recall also the ceilings were too low in there as well , though it was dark and I might be wrong about that. I am not saying that some crazy shit didn't take place there. I am just saying these holes likely don't denote that.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me what point you used as access? I plan on a trip in there myself however I can't see a good place for entry

Anonymous said...

I'm Not Sure if you know but there is asbestos in there when the worker go in there now they have to wear protective gear. just thinking of Ur health my uncle died from being around asbestos

Anonymous said...

how do you know that?

Anonymous said...

i was recently in there this summer. not able to find some of the rooms you were in, like the kitchen. I'm going back. Could you please let me know where abouts the kitchen is if you remember.

chasing lightning bugs said...

i walk through these buildings everyday. i live just over the fence from them and i've photograph them constantly. but i'd love to get inside. your photos are wonderful.

DaisyDukes said...

I was there this past weekend, but only on the outside. I am with a paranormal investigation group and would love permission to go inside and do some investigation. Does anyone know whom I would contact? I took some awesome outside photos this weekend and caught some creepy paranormal activity. I can only imagine what the inside is like.

Anonymous said...

I've been inside twice.. both at night. It's quite the experience. Asbestos is bad, would say to anyone wanting to go in to wear a mask, also to watch out for security!
I had went in souly for the fact of exploration, and to see Rockwoods insides. A lot of history here, and definately felt energy. Although I hadn't exp. any paranormal activity, I did see a ripped up teddy bear which was pretty disturbing.. some other teenagers had told me prior to my engagement to Rockwoods interior that they had heard slamming doors and voices telling them to 'get out'
Zoiks Batman!!

Anonymous said...

who did you contact to get in?

jerm IX said...

I didn't contact anyone. I just did it.

Nick said...

Hey there recently went im from kingston but it seems all doors are locked. Obviously im going to take pictures and its really for the experience but i was wondering if you could message me and let me know how you got in? im not there to take or vandalize. Please email me if you could my email is nick7manutd@hotmaill.com

Nick said...

Looking for information on how to get into the actual site... Please email

anonono said...

i went in there apprx. 3 weeks ago, everything was going great until i heard a ringing sound like from a phone, and im sure there is no phone in that building, the sound was not there when i entered but it followed me out and i could still hear it as i was walking away from it outside.

Anonymous said...

I use to go to that place all the time with my dad when he worked for the gov as a health and safety inspector, that was one of his stops. It's a very creepy place to walk through, I never believed in ghosts or pharanormal but that place is F#CKED.

Anonymous said...

Things to think about for sure.
WOW

Anonymous said...

hey guys if i am right you have to get a hold of the security company that is on the grounds to get acess to the building and the only way in now is to climb up onto the roof but its one of hell of a climb and i really dont recommend it because the security is really bad right now 10 people have been caught with in the past month so the security is heavy but i was there the other night and saw some stuff in the windows but i have also been inside and had some werid expereinces of my own

Anonymous said...

I worked at penrose in 1984 ....that building was the best place to work .... I myself never seen or heard anything while working there but would love to go in there now after it being closed for so long.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine's parents both worked here when it was reopened for a 10 year period I think in the 80's or 90's? Friend's mother said at that time there were still shackles in the basement as well as tubs where I guess leaching took place. Friend's dad actually found a secret passageway down there that actually runs for what seems like miles under the city. Fascinating..

Mental Health Nurse said...

Hi everyone, Penrose once housed clients of Ongwanada. They moved out due to the condition of the building, and to reintegrate the clients back into the community. The "dungeons" in the basement did house the very volatile patients. This was long before any medication was available to calm them. Some of the treatments also used were ice baths, insulin shock, and having the client lie flat in bed with sheets laid over top of them so they couldn't move. The sheets would be wet and tucked in very tight on both sides of the bed. Lobotomies were also done on a regular basis. The tunnels underneath the Rockwood building apparently connect to the Westwood building. (The current mental health hospital). There was a movie filmed there many years ago, I believe the name of it was Vendetta with Christopher Walken 1999 HBO movie. I haven't experienced any paranormal stuff there, but I have had a few from the Westwood site. Happy Hunting!

Anonymous said...

I worked at Penrose in the early 90's, loved it! there defenitialey was dungeons in the basement with shackles! I have had a couple experiences with paranormal stuff, would love to return for another tour with my kids who want to go inside and tried i guess with no luck lol, I did bring my kids in while I worked there when they were little babies to visit staff.
The pics are great bring back lots of memories!!

Anonymous said...

Actually in the basement those were feeding slots from when it was an insane asylum. The patients were kept chained behind and no it wasn't big enough to stand or really lie down. I know this as part of orientation years ago when hired at Ongwanada was a tour of that area...of course by that time the only thing down their we're pipes and storage and I believe lots of ghosts.A few years back their was a book published on the history of Ongwanada and in it are some pictures of when it was Penrose if people want to see what it looked like inside when opened.

Anonymous said...

Excellent photos and written commentary! Fascinating! Thanks for posting all this.

LJJ said...

One of the coolest places I've ever checked out!!!!!! Thanks for the trip my friend!!!!!

minara said...

I love your photos. I just stumbled upon the asylum yesterday, not really knowing what the buildings were when I was out with my camera. But now, I am intrigued. Could you tell me how you gained access to the asylum? I would love to take a walk through and explore. I'm a history fan and I love spooky places.

Anonymous said...

you seemed obsessed with the photos of the long halls. I kept waiting for a shot that showed inside the rooms from the hall to indicate where you were shooting from.

Anonymous said...

I've been in the asylum myself on a couple of occasions, but only at night. Its nice to see pics of the inside during the day. Mine are all at night, and most of the time i couldn't see what I was shooting, as we used flashlights sparingly, for fear of being seen. I have some of the same shots as you taken in the pitch black.

Jerm IX said...

Thanks all for the comments!

Anonymous said...

My friend and I found some interesting pictures in a book from the library. I cleaned one up so you can read the text easily.

[IMG]http://i59.tinypic.com/103gy35.jpg[/IMG]

[IMG]http://i59.tinypic.com/103gy35.jpg[/IMG]

Marica said...

Excellent post! Walked the grounds there a few weeks back for the first time and am returning again this week. What a place!

Anonymous said...

Just found your beautifully written post. Sending your brother best wishes from thousands of miles away.