Abandoned Norfolk Regional Center, Part 1

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” Aristotle

Author’s Note: Since first writing this, the hospital has been demolished. My most recent article features the most recent photographs I took of the facility.

My husband and I visited this location in the dead of winter, in 30 below weather.  I have Reynaud’s Phenomenon with my autoimmune disease and my hands and feet don’t react well in the cold, so I had to keep returning to the truck to warm my appendages in between pictures. Out of every place I have photographed, this one has stuck with me the most. I think about it at least once every week, of course the photographs of its broken windows, ragged curtains waving in the breeze hanging on my wall help to remind me.

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The history of the place was what first attracted me to the hospital and the abandoned factor helped. I found the following history from Asylum Projects, as well as the two older photographs.

The reason for the establishment of a state hospital at Norfolk was because of the fact that there was no hospital located in the northern part of the state, the two hospitals existing being located, one at Lincoln, Neb., in the southeast part of the state, and the other at Hastings, Neb., in the southwest part of the state; the City of Norfolk is located in the northeast part of the state.

 225px-Norfolk_Neb_SHThe Original Hospital

The first building erected in 1885 was a large brick asylum building, as constructed in those days. In the late fall of 1901 a fire destroyed most of this building. More information on the fire. It was rebuilt on the cottage plan, so that there are now three cottages constructed of brick and two of stone, besides the one wing of the old asylum building erected before the fire, which was repaired and reconstructed. All three buildings are still standing and are in pretty good shape. I could not go inside YET, but I hope to return one day with permission to go inside.

Norfolk_Neb_1901_Fire_01Aftermath from the fire in 1901

I found some conflicting information about the facility undergoing multiple name changes, but when I dug deeper, two of the names turned out to be the facilities in Hastings and Lincoln. The facility had four types of patients: Geriatrics, Alcoholics and drug addicts, and the criminally insane. The Norfolk Regional Center is currently a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility for adolescent and young adult males who have been paroled from the Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Center in Kearney, Nebraska (Nebraska Dept of Health).

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 The building above was the employee building

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In total 902 individuals were sterilized in Nebraska. 53% of whom were women. 80% of those sterilized were deemed “mentally deficient” The lobotomies began in 1917 and ended in 1963.

The first law regarding sterilization was passed in 1915, after a failed initial attempt by state legislators in 1913 was vetoed by Governor John H. Morehead. This law was revised in both 1929 and 1957. The 1915, law provided for the sterilizations of the insane and feeble-minded inmates of state institutions before they were paroled. The state institutions specifically mentioned in the statute included “institutions for the feeble-minded, hospitals for the insane, the penitentiary, reformatory, industrial schools, the industrial home, and other such State institutions” In 1929, the original law was repealed and a new law was enacted, which included “habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sexual perverts“—those individuals convicted of rape or incest—as well as the original groups.

So sex-offenders were put inside with the other people who were in the facility for mental illness, but some people were there for just being different. That is probably the biggest reason this place haunts my thoughts. I’ve always been different, weird, odd, and at times a bit crazy. If I would have been living in a different time, with a different family, who knows. I could have been locked up in one of these old asylums for not complying with society.

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The ratio of men to women sterilized is relatively equal, indicating no presence of bias toward either sex. In 1929, the Nebraska legislature altered the sterilization law to include those individuals convicted of sodomy. This amendment included individuals who had been deemed “moral degenerates or sexual perverts”.

Now it is renamed the Norfolk Regional Center, and has 120-beds in part of a Sex Offender Treatment Center providing Phase I services in the Nebraska Sex Offender Treatment Program. The Nebraska Sex Offender Treatment Program is a three-phase treatment program meant to reduce dangerousness and risk of re-offense for patients involved in treatment.

My husband and accidentally stumbled across the Regional Center on our way out of the hospital, and it’s surrounded by razor wire and cameras. We were both pretty intimidated.

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There are 2 cemeteries on the property, both only have a handful or markers. The “old” cemetery contains less than 100 graves and has 3 markers. The “new” cemetery has around 500 burial and about a dozen markers.

The cemetery was hard to find with the fresh blanket of snow on the ground, but I plan to go back at some point and look again. I’m sure my husband will be thrilled….

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A friend of mine, who is a nurse had inside information that one of the psychiatrists was murdered in the facility, but I could not find anything to back it up online. If anyone has any additional information on this I would love to hear more about it.

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More information can be found on The Institutional Care of the Insane in the Untied States and Canada.

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I kept picturing the hundreds of lost souls who once roamed the cold brick halls, and I wondered how many still watched longingly from behind the jagged windows, unable to break free. An old metal song came to mind.

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“Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves and no one will. Moon is full, never seems to change. Just labeled mentally deranged. Dream the same thing every night I see our freedom in my sight. No locked doors, No windows barred. No things to make my brain seem scarred.”-Metallica. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

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My husband stuck by our vehicle to watch for authorities, since we were both nervous about trespassing. I explored as much as I could, until I felt so sick we finally had to leave. I will go into more detail in Part 2 of this post about how the place made me feel.

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“Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.” ―Madeleine Roux, Asylum

Trish Eklund is the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, and Family Fusion Community, an online resource for blended families of all types. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over and Pocket Abandoned. Check out the new Bonanza Store for AFD merchandise! Follow on Instagram and Facebook. Trish is regularly featured on The MightyHuffington Post Divorce, and Her View From Home.  She has also been featured on Making Midlife Matter, and The Five Moms, and has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.

Trish at Beetison2

 

 

36 thoughts on “Abandoned Norfolk Regional Center, Part 1

  1. The only thing I have to comment about is the mention of a crematorium. There is no such place on the facility. What you saw is the power plant of the facility. I had my mother committed there when I was very young, and I worked there when the Veteran’s home was located on the property. Part of the training was learning what all the buildings were along with learning about the underground tunnels of the facility. The buildings were each used for various things, but no crematorium was on the property. There was however a bakery, laundry/clothing production building, meat processing plant, farm area, farm animal area, along with schools and such as it was its own little town like place. All their needs were taken care of there from entrance to either leaving or death.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sandy! My husband and I were totally guessing by the way it looked, which was hard to tell in the snow. I should have specified that in the article. I will change it. 🙂 There were underground tunnels??? Wow, how interesting. I suppose most hospitals have them. I worked in an emergency room for several years, and we had some. May I ask, do you think in this day and age would your mother have been committed or do you think it was mainly due to the times? You don’t have to answer, I know it’s a very personal question. My step-mother was mentally ill and was committed in Colorado. I will go into that a little more in part 2. I know we have a long way to go for mental health, but we have made some huge strides!

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    1. Sam, The last I heard, they are demolishing all of these buildings, and plan to use the land to build something else on it. They have already begun the demolition as far as I know, which is sad. I will have some more pictures coming soon.

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      1. This is true. The last remaining building to be demolished was taken down in the last week. It had been converted to low income housing and was variably known as ‘Crown Point’ or ‘Low Cost Dorms’. It closed in 2013 over failure to meet new sewer codes. The only remaining building is still in use, to house high-risk sex offenders in treatment; remainder of the land is being sold to Northeast Community College for some kind of IT center.

        I used to live at Crown Point, and I’m convinced that it was indeed haunted. The building had three stories, and the third story was perpetually closed off. Management cited the reason as being too difficult to air-condition and heat, but this was bullshit since there was neither heating nor air conditioning anywhere else in the building. The only way into the third floor was the inner stairwell, and that door was chained shut. The exterior fire escape door was boarded over.

        A buddy and I took bolt cutters to the chain because we kept hearing noises up there at night, including what sounded like a woman crying. We got up there, and nobody was there. Just weird occult shit spraypainted on the walls and old furniture stacked up. No animals either. After we checked it out, things got really noisy up there for a while even though the door was re-chained the morning after we broke in.

        I managed to get in a few weeks ago, took some video footage. Wanted to get a few more memories of the place before they demolished it. Couldn’t get much on camera since it was late at night, place looked like it was being squatted in (empty bottles, used needles, etc). There was definite supernatural activity going on; managed to catch some of it on video. Turned back after reaching the second floor because I saw something very disturbing.

        I’m not making the video footage public, but if anyone would like a copy of some of it, I’ll send it to you. Just drop an email address I can reach you at.

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      2. I would love to see the video, and thank you for telling me it’s down! My email is: trishwriter@gmail.com

        I was inside the employee building, and also hand an experience. I have many photos to publish. Now that she’s down I’ll get them ready! Thanks for sharing.

        Thanks, both of you for your comments.

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      3. I would not publish, and I understand your discretion. I got pretty creeped out in there too. I was in the employee building, and explore the grounds to photograph again before it was demolished, and I think something followed me home, paranormal-wise. I will share the story in the article for sure. I can’t imagine having lived in that place for a while.

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  2. all these years living in this area, and never went by this majestic place, heard many stories, but never took the time to drive by. Thank you for sharing your photos with everyone,

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    1. I hate to rain on your nostalgia, but the place was not very majestic at all. Three of the closed buildings were boarded up and unless you were willing to break in, they were inaccessible. They started sealing off the tunnels in 2008 and finished sometime in 2009, so that route of access was gone too. The only buildings still used were the sex offender housing (and you don’t want to be there), and Crown Point, which was overrun with heroin addicts and more sex offenders (it was extremely cheap to rent, and it was one of few places sex offenders were tolerated). Also hosted a huge population of rodents and cockroaches, and more than a few unhappy ghosts. The place’s history is nothing but pain, suffering, and darkness, and now it’s been demolished. Still, I can’t help but feel a certain amount of sadness now that it’s gone. That place was a big part of my life for a while. A dark part to be sure, but still very much a real part.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello. My name is Marti and I am writing an investigative audio story on this place and it’s past. I was wondering if I could quickly interview you (over the phone if that’s easiest for you) as I was not fortunate enough to experience this place while it was still standing. I don’t want these stories to be forgotten. I think it’s important to know our Nebraska history as I had never heard of this place before this piece I am working on. Please feel free to email me at Mvaughan2@outlook.com
        Thank you

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  3. I was lucky enough to do some exploring of my own in these buildings a couple years back. As a history nut, it was like stepping back into time. Besides what had been left there from squatters, there was furniture, papers, and I even found a candy jar. I went into the tunnels, and although I didn’t experience any paranormal activity, it was still a much darker feeling. I remember one room on the main floor was just full of stuff, shoes, clothing, chairs, just odds and ends, but it was all shoved against a wall. I don’t think this was from the squatters, so that was extremely eerie. But so much history was to be learned from those buildings. They were beyond beautiful even though what had happened in those buildings probably wasn’t beautiful. I would have loved to have gone again in the daytime. I knew they had plans of tearing down, which saddened me, but had no clue they were completely gone until as of recent. I live in Norfolk but hardly drive out that way until I did about a week ago and noticed there’s nothing left. That’s when I looked it up online and stumbled across your post, so thank you for posting it. It saddens me that the history is gone and I will never get another chance to visit.

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    1. You’re welcome, Jasmine! That’s really cool you were able to see it a couple of years ago and explored the tunnels! I was saddened as well. So much history just gone, but I am grateful that all of those poor trapped souls are now set free.

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  4. Sorry to read that the buildings have been torn down. I’m coming out to Wisner NE for a funeral this weekend and I was going to try and get this place on Monday. I was hoping to find my GG Grandmothers grave.She passed away there in 1901. Does anyone know if the cemeteries still there or did they get moved?

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    1. Hi Deana, I believe they are still there.

      Here is my latest article on the place. I wrote about my last visit. There is actually another reader who wrote about the cemeteries. I’ll find her link for you.

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  5. In 1951 I was a 12 year old 8th grader born on a farm in Boone County, Nebraska. I attended a rural school and in the spring of 1951 all the rural Boone County 8th graders were taken on an 8th grade field trip. One of the stops was the “Norfork Insane Asylum”. Can you even imagine a more inappropriate place to take a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds! I was completely creeped out by one woman who kept following me as we passed through a communal room or lounge. She kept pointing at me saying, “There’s my daughter. There’s my daughter!” It scared me so and I couldn’t wait to get out of that place.

    The only other part of the field trip that I recall that day was a tour of an alfalfa mill where I couldn’t breathe when we were inside and had to get permission to go back outside in the fresh air. Obviously, Oma Thompson, the county superintendent of Boone County rural schools at the time, couldn’t find more “educational” places to take 8th graders on what was probably an almost non-existent budget.

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    1. Wow, Jody! My youngest is an 8th graders! I can’t even imagine taking her to a mental health facility for a field trip. Wow! It really speaks to the time though. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  6. Thanks for the article. I was a patient at Norfolk regional center back in 2005. I actually had some good times there. Even saw the lobotomy room!🏄

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    1. That’s really interesting Matt. As someone who has suffered from mental health issues on and off, I can relate, and I’m glad you have fond memories of the hospital rather than negative. What was the lobotomy room like? I’m not sure if you saw the most recent article, but it was about them demolishing the buildings and has some pics of the inside.

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  7. Hello again. The second article was great. Lots of awsome pics. My memories of Norfolk regional center are a little vague. It might have been 2003-4 I was there. The lobotomy room resembled a dentist office. I remember the chair and big lamp over head which could have been used for that too maybe. The staff I was with said it was used for lobotomies. I remember playing volleyball and some of the staff had a band so they put on shows which was cool. Its too bad they tore it down. I think places like that are an interesting yet dark as well part of our history. I was in hastings regional center as well. I’ve been back to explore it. They will probly tear it down as well. Oh and yes I’ve been in the tunnels, they are a bit creepy but kept us from walking in the cold lol.👍🍁🏄

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    1. Matt, Thanks so much. I agree, I wish I could save all of these buildings. I think they should be kept and deemed historic! Hastings is another one I hope they don’t tear down. So far since they still have patients in some of the buildings I think they might leave the others in tact, but I don’t know for sure. I wrote about it over a year or so ago, so comb through the archives on here if you haven’t already. I was unable to go inside, but the grounds were enough. One day I would love to photograph the inside though.

      The tunnels would have been interesting to explore to say the least!

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  8. All of this was really interesting reading. I just started looking for the grave of my Great Aunt who was committed there and found out she died there in early 1900’s at the Norfolk Center but they did not say where she was buried. So I finally found out going to the Genealogy of the County she was from and after several changes of information I gave it popped up and they gave her burial as Norfolk, NE in the Regional Centers OLD cemetery unmarked. I cried because i so wanted to go and put flowers on her grave and now I must find out if they know what plot is hers if any records?????? Since it is closed I need to find her records. I also read somewhere that part of the cemetery was destroyed. A gal that found her uncles records got them with a court order years ago when they were still open. She gave me encouragement and help as to what she had to do to get their records. I am not giving up yet. It is just so sad. This woman was totally forgotten by her family. My mother mentioned her to me before she died in 2005. I did not get much information because it was a big secret back then. All the family is gone that could tell me anything about her. I just know what my mom told me and it was not a lot. I am just so glad there is still information around. My heart is so sad for her. I do not think she was very old when she died. So much to this story I lay awake thinking about her. Thanks for your articles.
    Connie

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    1. Connie, I’m so glad my articles bring you at least some peace of mind. I’m not sure if you noticed that a fellow writer, Traci Muller Rylands wrote about the Norfolk cemeteries, and their history. I linked them in one of my articles, the one about saying goodbye, but I will add the link right here to her two articles, as I think they might have some useful information for you! I am so sorry that your loved one was forgotten. So many people from this time period have fallen through the cracks like this it’s just so sad. If I would have had money and the means I would have loved to have saved those buildings and everything around them. I just feel so much of our history-people’s ancestors are just tossed aside and forgotten. Anyway, I hope these articles about the cemeteries help! I think you will like Traci’s blog. Thanks for reading, Connie!!!

      https://adventuresincemeteryhopping.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/gone-but-not-forgotten-the-cemeteries-of-nebraskas-norfolk-regional-center/

      https://adventuresincemeteryhopping.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/gone-but-not-forgotten-part-ii/

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  9. How interesting to stumble upon this website! I found out a few years ago that my great grandfather was murdered there when he was a patient in 1919. He was an alcoholic who became quite violent when on a bender. Apparently he went after my great grandmother and my 14 year old grandmother with an axe. He was carted off to Norfolk and the rumor is he was murdered by a fellow inmate. His death certificate was very vague about cause of death. My grandmother never told a soul about her father. I always thought it was strange that the only picture we had of him was a polaroid of an old picture. Grandma painted him to be a hero, yet she had very few stories of him. It wasn’t until after he died, and I tried to find any details of his heroism that I stumbled across the truth from a distant 3rd cousin. I tried hard to get his records from Norfolk, but even after nearly 100 years, a court order is required to access them. The archival staff at the hospital could neither confirm nor deny my great grandfather’s presence there. I was told that if he had been there, and I had the court order, that records would indeed exist, though some doctors back them wrote tons of records, others kept only basic information. When I present the court order, they’ll be able to tell me how many pages of records they have and I can determine how many I wanted copies of (at a cost per page). I have yet to find a lawyer who even has an idea of how to file for such records. It’s beyond frustrating.

    A few years ago I too made the drive to Norfolk and snuck over the road block to look at the buildings. They were indeed spooky and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was paranormal activity there. I was involved in a ghost hunt at an insane asylum (Glore) in MO and was FLOORED by the things I saw and heard there. I wasn’t brave enough to try to go inside any of the buildings. The doors were chained and the nearby tunnel entrances filled in. I would have had to sneak in a broken window. I’m not that brave. But for me it was enough to walk the road and get a feel for how the place must have been back in my g grandpa’s day. He was fortunate (?) that his family paid for him to be brought home by train for burial in the town cemetery. He was 63 years old when he was died there. I don’t know how long he was there before he died. My grandmother took her secrets to her grave.

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    1. Lisa, I’m so glad you found the site. It’s sad it is still so difficult to obtain records of your loved one! I hope you are able to find out what happened to your great-grandfather, and finally get some closure.

      I am also not surprised you experienced some paranormal events at the other mental hospital in MO! Every single place I have been to like this with any significant history I have had some kind of paranormal activity.

      Thanks again for reading, and keep me posted.

      Trish

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  10. I found this to be a very interesting post, especially since I was born in Norfolk, Nebraska in 1966 and placed for adoption immediately through a private adoption attorney though my birth mother was from South Dakota. When I was first looking for any information about my birth family the only thing that was confirmed by a very nice clerk was that my birth mother was from South Dakota. Some people who knew my story would ask, “Is there a State Hospital in Norfolk”. I didn’t even know what they were asking or why. Never even researched it though I researched every other lead I could. By a miracle my birth sister looked for me on the internet back in (December of 1997) with only the name she knew which I was given originally at birth, which I didn’t know, Michelle Lynn, and my name on adoption certificate and still today of course was different but the same initials She found me in less than 24 hours by finding the only post I had ever put online (back in April of 1997) that said I was looking for medical and heritage information from birth mother that had me in Nebraska but was from South Dakota and showed my initials MLC. The odds were higher than winning the lotto that I would ever know anything about my beginnings since the records in Nebraska courts are signed and buried. My birth mother and birth sister, along with 2 half sisters and their families came to meet me in Florida all the way from Minnesota. She told me the story surrounding my adoption and it wasn’t an Oprah moment story so I blocked most of it. It basically devastated me and my self worth for a long time. Actually, this past December will make it 20 years since I found out the information surrounding my birth. When I saw this post it reminded me of all those people who had asked the question about the possibility of a State Hospital in Norfolk and reminded me of some of the story my birth mother told me 20 years ago. She was put through shock therapy while she was pregnant with me and she also tried to take her own life by jumping out of a 2nd story building. So maybe that is why she was in Norfolk and happened to be pregnant but didn’t show until she was already committed. I did continue a connection with my birth mother for years following our initial meeting but could not tolerate her and finally cut all ties with the entire family. Too much crazy for me. That being said, this very well might not be the case but there is a possibility and that somehow gives me a better feeling of closure than what I had from the discovery 20 years ago. Perspective can make all the difference in the world. Thank you for sharing. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an incredible and sad story! Thank you so much for sharing. You must have been a fighter from the start if that was your beginning in this life before you were even born. I’m glad this gave you a bit of closure. It sounds like you were definitely meant to be adopted by the family you were put with, and thank goodness! Also, good for you knowing when to cut ties and set boundaries with people who are unhealthy for you. That is one of the most difficult things in life!!! Hugs to you. You are a very brave, strong person.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It was very typical “back in the day” to send sane people to insane asylums. It was quite common for alcoholics, unwed mothers and people with disabilities to be sent to those places- as there weren’t other places to send them. The goal was not to get them help. The goal was to give them a place to hide out where they couldn’t bring shame to their families (which is probably why so many people asked you about the mental hospital). Many likely ended up “crazy” due to isolation, frustration and so much exposure to the ones who truly were insane. Your poor birth mother… her story sounds quite tragic. I hope you did find your closure, even if it wasn’t the truth you’d hoped to find. I hope your adoptive family was loving and kind to you- a real family.
    Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

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