What am I talking about? Well, on August 18, my husband and I took an early morning walk in Norristown Farm Park. No art drop off, just a walk.
It was a lovely morning and we decided to do a circuit including the trout farm area and the hay barn. From the parking lot on Whitehall Road we moved along these cornfields. I really like how the plants’ roots look like skinny toes digging into the dirt.
When we got to the hay barn, I took it into my head to veer off the route, and we headed into the state hospital grounds.
As you may remember, the Farm Park is the former farm (and now a county park) attached to Norristown State Hospital; in the past, patients worked the farm if they were able, as it was thought therapeutic. Many relics of that past still exist in the park landscape, such as the hay barn. Additionally, the grounds of the hospital are open to visitors for walking. The hospital houses a small number of forensic patients but is otherwise closed. Many buildings have been torn down and of the remaining ones, some are rented to various county and related agencies, and the others are mothballed.
We ended up near this building, a barn of some sort:
I am interested in how this building is becoming part of the landscape, and yet its solidity and architectural detail are still apparent.
Now I get to the feature of this walk that I wanted to show you. Do you remember that in previous posts about the hospital, I mentioned the system of tunnels connecting the buildings? There was an extensive network of below-ground and partially-aboveground tunnels that carried people traffic and also pipes for water and heat. Here are a couple of photos from previous visits:
Today, we were near this section of the system pictured below. What looks like a wall is actually an above-ground section of a walkway that dives underground as it heads to the right of the photo.
But what happens next? From previous visits, I think it continues straight ahead to another building. But I also know there is maybe more to the story now, and here is why. My husband spied an interesting clue on a previous trip to the grounds. Here are our findings.
As we stood on that road you saw in the previous photo, looking at the tunnel structure I just mentioned, to our right there is a steepish rise of ground.
We turned around 180 degrees and walked a little way along it. Look. A door in the hillside.
You know what it is – an entrance to a tunnel. So, it seems possible that from that half-submerged walkway across the street, a perpendicular branch tunnel came under the road and rose again, buried under this berm. We followed it along – the berm parallels the street we’re on and it’s very obvious what it is, once you know. But the door is well hidden, if you don’t know. The arrow reveals its location.
We continued to walk, heading toward a large building.
It seems clear that the tunnel is heading for that building. But how does it connect? We found that answer, too. First, we headed past the little shed-like structure (and hold it in your thoughts, we will come back to it) and finally arrived at the side of the large building.
We are now at the back of a large E-shaped building, this being the part of the E that would be the bottom short leg. The arrow points to where it looks like the tunnel emerges and accesses the building in the middle of that short leg.
Well, what do you think of that? Remember, we’re speculating. But it seems to me that another secret of this landscape can be deciphered and understood.
Here is the large building after we have passed all along its length to the other side. I am thinking it was a patient residence in the past – those are sunrooms on the ends of the wings, I would guess from the look of them, and that is a feature I’ve seen on residence buildings all over the hospital grounds. They provided light and fresh air for patients while remaining secure spaces.
That’s my guess, anyway. I don’t really know for sure.
This building is still in use, leased to an outside agency; around the front side, there are cars in the lot, people moving around, and other signs of activity. What I wonder, though, is this: can the tunnel, if it as we think it is, can it still be used? Maybe so. That steel gate over the external entrance looks relatively new.
I’d love to get a look around inside the tunnel.
All right, I’ll end with this last little bit of detail. Remember the tiny brick shed building?
Here is what is inside. I have to admit I was half-expecting it to be a deep shaft, like a well, but it has a concrete floor. I will need to do some research to see if I can find anything out about this building and what it was used for.
But it seems clear this machinery is meant for something to be wound around it, like a hose.
Well, you figure out one mystery, you get another one coming up right behind it. Thanks for going along with us on this walk today.