“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
I still remember it as if it was yesterday. My white Forever21 sandals, now stained with mud and gravel dirt, were slowly making their way up the back hill that led to the place I had been dreading to visit- Henryton. Of course, me being the “fabulous fashionista” I am, thought that at any moment this outing could turn into a spontaneous photo opt.. So, like any girl, I was more than ready and ridiculously dressed in a summer dress and sandals to go urban exploring, of all things.
I had always been enamored with scary movies and horror flicks, but never had I been given the opportunity to explore an abandoned building that, in my mind, very well could have likely been the site of an atrocious mass murder or haunting. It was a very different feeling to be horrified in reality than it was to watch it on the big screen. After all, in the movies, you have popcorn and Goobers to comfort you. I had always heard people talk about visiting this particular abandoned place and experiencing something “unexplainable”. Believe me, I was praying with every step I took that I would be an exception to this haunted tradition. I remember reaching the top of the hill and seeing a small, feeble white cottage and thinking, “Awe, this is cute“. Then, I noticed the 6+ other decrepit buildings on the property behind it and thought, “My good god…this is it. I’m gonna die in here“. Spoiler alert, I didn’t die. In fact, I was mesmerized by the ability for something abandoned so long ago to stay frozen in time, as if it never ceased to exist. I quickly became obsessed with Henryton and every secret it hid behind each door.
Being the good, aspiring journalism major (at that time) that I was, I researched the crap out of Henryton. The building was opened in 1922 and was originally used as a sanitarium for African Americans suffering with tuberculosis. As modern medicine advanced, there was no longer a need to dedicated an entire center towards tuberculosis. In 1962, Henryton was transformed into a hospital for the mentally ill, ages 18+, and was equipped to treat roughly 400 patients. But, just like Rosewood and many other mental health hospitals in Maryland, Henryton began to lose it’s residents as mental healthcare reformed to an outpatient approach and they closed their doors in 1985. The history of the place enthralled us and Henryton quickly became our place of choice.
Every photo shoot, hangout and free summer moment was spent exploring the massive site. My fear quickly dissipated with every visit (although, I was never able to hype myself up enough to walk through the basement– basements are always the place of origin for everything haunted, duh!) Like most teens in the surrounding counties, we thought Henryton was our secret place. To us, if you were lucky, we would take you with us or tell you how to get there. There were, like most things in life, two ways to get there; the easy way and the adventurous/scary way. 1) The East Way— Drive up Old Frederick Rd. until you hit Henryton Rd. and continue on until the dead-end, get out of your car and wade through the river and up the hill. 2) The Adventurous/Scary Way— Drive up Old Frederick Rd. until you reach Marriottsville Rd. and keep going until you hit the train tracks, get out and walk about a mile along the train tracks, walk through the extremely dark and cold tunnel and up the hill. On most days, our way of choice was almost always the latter. Henryton symbolized adventure and bravery to me. It was a time in my life when I was truly finding who I was and creating memories with people I will never forget. I can remember standing on the rooftop of the main building and just feeling at peace. A couple months later, my friends and I departed for college without taking a second glance at the past. We all thought Henryton would always be our place and that it would forever remain the same.
But, like most good things in life, Henryton didn’t last. Vandals continued to demolish the property. During it’s last decade, Henryton was the source for over 70 emergency calls (fires, OD’s, violence, etc.) When I returned during one of my last visits to Henryton, the main building was almost unrecognizable. The turquoise window trim had been torn off and every window was broken in.The feeble white cottage was soon burnt down, along with one of the administrative buildings. There was orange construction tape everywhere.The once beautiful and abstract graffiti pieces were overrun with meaningless murals. Dumpsters and fences lined the perimeter. Every entrance and exit was blocked off with temporary construction walls. Henryton had gained the attention of state officials.
There were always talks that Henryton would be demolished in the next 2-3 years, but nobody had ever taken action before. Henryton was originally slated for demolition for May 2014, but a fire incident and hazards caused officials to advance the date. The demolition started in June 2013 and what was once a property filled with history, character and memories, now remains a flattened, re-claimed part of nature.
Henryton was much more than just an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere. It’s walls witnessed history and centuries of love, heartache, pain and even death. It stood during times of segregation, integration, reform and recession. It walls told the story of abandonment well. As silly as this may sound, Henryton shaped who I am. My first step onto the property pushed me to challenge myself and overcome fear; something I was up against quite often as a teenager. I cherish the memories that occurred there and consider myself lucky enough to be shaped by a building that had been shaped by the past.