As a result of the constant lobbying and persistence of Dorothea Lynde Dix, a nurse advocating for better care of the mentally ill, the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum was opened on August 18, 1876. A tract of land, 743 acres in size, was purchased in 1871 and 1872, and construction began on the new 673,706 square foot facility.
Designed for a maximum of 600 patients, it was alleged to have held the record for largest continuous foundation up until completion of the Pentagon in 1943. The layout of the building utilized the Kirkbride Plan, and Thomas Kirkbride himself was involved in the construction. Each ward was to have 20 patients, and featured a dining room, exercise room and parlor. Most wards had wool rugs that ran their entire length. Victorian stuffed furniture, pianos, curtains, and fresh flowers further added to the pleasant, restful environment that Kirkbride envisioned for the patients. Wards for more difficult patients, however, were less lavishly appointed.
When it opened, 292 patients were transferred from the overcrowded hospital in Trenton, NJ. Within 4 years, however, the number of patients swelled to around 800. In 1887, exercise rooms and attics were converted to create additional rooms. In 1901, a Dormitory Building was constructed, and the dining rooms on each floor were also converted for additional bed space.
By 1914, despite having expanded its capacity to 1,600, the number of patients actually exceeded 2,412.
In 1924, the facility was renamed Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Three years later, the Curry Building was constructed to handle administration and reception, freeing up space in the centre section for more beds. The population reached its peak by 1953 with a staggering 7,674 patients, largely as a result of post-traumatic stress disorders stemming from World War II.
With the advent of Thorazine and the concept of deinstitutionalizing patients, numbers finally began to wane by the 1970's. In 1975, the Clinic Building was closed, and the following year saw closure of the Curry Building. All patients had been removed from the Kirkbride main building by 1988, and the Dormitory Building was closed in 1992.
Stories of sexual assaults, suicides, patient pregnancy, and the escape of a twice-convicted rapist are largely credited along with the age of the building as the reasons for its final closure by 2003.
UPDATE October 16, 2015: Demolition of the main building has been completed.