Forest Haven Asylum: Abandoned Home for the Abandoned

Maple Cottage at Forest Haven

Welcome to Forest Haven, one of the most deadly institutions in the United States. This asylum for the mentally ill was built not far the nation’s capital in 1925, hidden in forested acreage away from the busy city center. The campus was beautiful, however care and treatment would deteriorate rapidly as the city’s budget tightened. Under-staffing issues were common, and for decades reports of resident abuse and neglect went ignored.

The District treated Forest Haven like a dark secret nobody wanted to discuss. A combination of budget cuts and lawsuits eventually forced the institution to close in 1991 after 80 years. But before Forest Haven was shuttered, hundreds of residents died and thousands more deteriorated while enduring a horrific quality of life.


cover photo: Maple Cottage

photos courtesy Dino D’Addario

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Forest Haven campus (courtesy Bing)

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When the facility first opened in 1925, it was known as the “District Training School for the Mentally Retarded.” The compound was placed in an idyllic setting over 20 miles away from the city center.

It was hailed as a forward-thinking institution, part of a progressive movement sweeping Europe and North America at the time.

At the time, doctors believed the setting designed at Forest Haven would satisfy the period concept that the mentally ill – who overwhelmed their families and languished at home – would prosper if they could live, receive treatment, and specialized training away from the stresses of urban life.

The designers of the facility had plans for a peaceful place. Twenty two buildings were situated on a 200-acre forested property in Laurel, Maryland (map). Buildings were referred to as “cottages” and most were given bucolic names: Dogwood, Elm, Hawthorne, Hemlock, Holly, Magnolia, Maple, Oak, Pine, Poplar, and Spruce.

[ S-I reader Mike Perry has assembled an 18-page .pdf of Administration Building facts, history, and photos (warning: 23.3 Mb). Thank you Mike! ]

Original Forest Haven site map (courtesy Mike Perry)
Original Forest Haven site map (courtesy Mike Perry)

The main administration building was designed in the classic institution architecture of the era and contained dental examination rooms, doctors offices, and x-ray rooms. Adjacent structures contained various evaluation facilities as well as rooms for electroshock, hydrotherapy, and post-dosage observation.

vintage photos courtesy Mike Perry

[ Jump to S-I’s Forest Haven Facility Map & Breakdown ]

Forest Haven’s amenities sounded appealing on paper. The property featured a theater, gym, several basketball courts, baseball field, cafeteria, and a recreation center.

Behind the administration building was the chapel, which had large stained-glass windows and could seat 200. Inside were a decorative pulpit, an organ, and rows of pews.

Multiple common areas were located around the landscaped grounds. Exercise and recreation were frequent stated goals.

In the early days, counselors taught residents to milk cows and tend to crops.



Reviews at opening were glowing, drawing positive conclusions on the concept rather than the execution. The facility was also described as “state of the art,” an estimation likely based on the cost of construction rather than patient results.

Forest Haven administrators reported overcrowding and under-staffing concerns early and often – issues which would plague the facility its entire operational life.

We only have two social workers for 1,300 residents.

– R. Rimsky Atkinson, Forest Haven Director

A lack of funding and stifling of newer treatments kept Forest Haven from evolving with modern medicine. When the District began suffering from its mid-century financial crisis, all education and recreation programs at the facility were terminated.

By the 1960’s political attitudes toward the institution model had changed. Hundreds of people with treatable learning disabilities were lazily categorized as “retards” and sent to Forest Haven.

Thus valuable limited resources of the asylum were being directed toward capacity rather than rehabilitation.

A plaque by the entryway to the administration building reads “Yet while I live, let me not live in vain.”

Some of the worst cases featured those patients who were not mentally retarded at all. The deaf, dyslexic, illiterate, epileptic, and non-native speakers were just some of the those misunderstood by society or just too much for their families to handle.

Admin building main entrance
Admin building main entrance

When a nearby orphanage closed in 1974, twenty orphans were relocated to Forest Haven. Rather than find alternate orphanage lodgings, the children were re-classified from “orphan” to “retarded.”

In the most unfortunate of self-fulfilling prophecies, some of them started to function at a retarded level due to their treatment.

In 1975 the asylum director estimated 400 of the residents “don’t belong here” and admitted the facility contributes to the handicap of retardation.

One-third of the residents could benefit from training activities rather than the babysitting we give them now.”

Current D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray visited Forest Haven as a psychology student in the late 1960s. He called his experience “horrifying” and “the most dehumanizing thing I had ever seen.”

By the middle of the 20th century the United States was moving away from institutions. Deregulation of the mental health industry would see each become fossils of a 19th century treatment model.

The exceptions were places like Forest Haven, where a district faced a shrinking budgets and was desperate for care and treatment facilities. With no funding to build new care centers, some cities were forced to use the institutions well beyond their expiration dates.

Forest Haven admin building, third floor
Admin building, third floor

Until the 1970s, there were few alternatives to institutions such as Forest Haven.

[ John Kennedy Jr. was the son of a retired district cafeteria worker and committed to Forest Haven in 1962 at age 9 because he was “impossible to control, mentally slow, and suffered from seizures.” Shortly after he arrived, his mother noticed “all of his teeth were knocked out.” On a following visit she found him standing naked against a wall with other patients, being blasted by an employee with a hose for “unruly behavior.” ]


Conditions & Under-staffing

Forest Haven Curley Building
Curley Building

Forest Haven utilized a program based on concepts in operant conditioning. To reinforce positive behavior patients were awarded tokens, which could later be cashed in for candy, toys, or “outside time.”

Social interaction was allowed in the common areas; curfew was at 11.

Male patients between ages 10-24 who were least-capable of caring for themselves spent their time in the Curley Building, a massive 68,000 square-foot building completed in 1971. (pictured above & below)

Curley Building dayroom
Inside a Curley Building dayroom (courtesy Mike Perry)

Those who were toilet trained and could dress and feed themselves eventually “graduated” to the Poplar Cottage, one of the five original dormitories. The reward at Poplar was greater independence and less supervision – albeit in older and even less-staffed facilities.

Forest Haven Curley Building
Curley Building

[ Click here to read the story of Forest Haven resident Mattie Hoge ]

Just how understaffed was Forest Haven? A 1972 report found the facility had over 100 vacant positions resulting from Congressional cutbacks and District job freezes. Successful rehabilitation and training programs require specialized staffing Forest Haven didn’t have the budget to accommodate.

Congress only built Forest Haven in order to exile people with mental retardation from the nation’s capital and hide them in a rural area.

Tony Records, Developmental Disabilities Authority

The frustration was not lost on the institution’s administrators, who shared the concerns and routinely lobbied for additional funding.

According to Forest Haven director R. Rimsky Atkinson, at least 50 of the asylum’s school-age children who had lesser learning disabilities could have lived at home, but did not because city schools lacked adequate educational programs for them.

Said Atkinson, At least 135 adults are ready for job training programs which could help them acquire skills, employment, and self-sufficiency outside the institution.”

But,” he lamented, Forest Haven has funds for only 50 on-the-Job placements off its grounds. If we had group homes and social services—we only have two social workers with 1,300 residents—we could return at least one-third of the residents to the community.”

Abuse cases against the District for the poor treatment of those in the institution were first brought to the D.C. Superior Court in 1972. The case lasted several years and uncovered chronic mental, physical, and sexual abuse at the facility.

The case also revealed Forest Haven was spending $18 per patient per day in care while the national average cost per patient per day at the time was just over $30. The lower budget, prosecutors argued, resulted in a lower quality of care to District patients.

D.C. Commissioner of Social Services Barbara Burke-Tatum acknowledged Forest Haven was understaffed.

There’s obviously a lot of patchwork repairs. I’m not going to argue, it’s a bad environment. But we can’t move people out and just put them anywhere… We have to make sure that they will get care at least as good as they’re getting at Forest Haven.”

We’ll have to learn to do more with less

– Barbara Burke-Tatum, D.C. Commissioner of Social Services

The common denominator was the lack of money; while the eventual closing of Forest Haven was a step in the right direction, it didn’t solve the underlying problem.

The continued abuse in group homes after institutions closed only underscores that point.

Forest Haven Elm Cottage
Elm Cottage

photos courtesy Dino D’Addario

[ Click here for list of former Forest Haven residents who later perished in group homes ]


Decade of Litigation

Forest Haven Elm Cottage from the Chapel
Elm Cottage from the Chapel

The fortunes of Forest Haven would change in 1968 with the admittance of 8 year-old Joy, the dysfunctional daughter of Betty and Harold Evans.

When Betty and Harold admitted Joy to Forest Haven in 1968, they had good intentions. In an interview Harold admitted there were few options for a mentally ill 8 year-old who required 24-hour care.

The school system had rejected her and private schools were too expensive. Both he and his wife worked, so it was impossible for them to care for Joy on their own.

At first glance Forest Haven appeared to offer the ideal solution to give Joy the 24-hour care she needed. It wasn’t until her parents visited her at the facility they realized the poor conditions and took action. When they found Joy tied to a bed in a cell behind bars, the wheels of reform started turning.

Forest Haven article 1976
Forest Haven article dated 1976 (courtesy Mike Perry)

Joy’s parents spearheaded the group which filed the Federal class-action lawsuit on February 23rd, 1976. The suit detailed the abuses at Forest Haven and challenged a range of items:

The lack of comprehensive habilitation programs to meet individual needs of residents; the unsafe, unsanitary, and unpleasant condition of the Forest Haven facilities; inadequate staffing, lack of training, and abuse of residents by staff; inadequate medical, dental, and mental health care and nutrition; inadequate record-keeping; lack of after-care and rehabilitation programs and vocational training for former residents; and inadequate funding.

– Allegations in 1976 lawsuit

SONY DSCJoy died at Forest Haven in 1976 from aspiration pneumonia, a swelling or infection of the lungs caused by food, saliva, or vomit.

In short, Joy choked on her own food as patients were often fed laying down (this is also part of the reason surgery patients are instructed to not eat at least four hours before an operation).

Joy Evans was 17.

Once committed to Forest Haven, the only way out is to die.

– Betty Evans

Forest Haven youth found dead 1974
In the 1970’s, articles reporting deaths at Forest Haven were commonplace. (courtesy Mike Perry)

The Evans trial would last for years, and during the litigation conditions at Forest Haven marginally improved only after repeated court orders and threats of revocations of Medicaid payments from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).

Forest Haven Magnolia Cottage
Magnolia Cottage

Staff members locked dozens of residents, naked except for adult-sized diapers, in rooms stripped of furniture other than wooden benches

– Allegations in 1976 lawsuit

Forest Haven death probe gregory sterling 1974
Authorities investigate the death of 26 year-old patient Gregory Sterling in 1974 (courtesy Mike Perry)


Bertha Brown & Earline Thornton

Forest Haven Maple Cottage
Maple Cottage

Throughout the 1970s the families of abused residents continued to build cases against Forest Haven by tracking the deaths and patient mistreatment and turning their findings over to the Justice Department.

One visiting family in 1977 spoke of residents being bound to urine-soaked mattresses in locked wards.

One disturbing story which came to light in the case against Forest Haven was the tale of resident Bertha Brown, an incontinent woman who suffered from a disease which caused her to try to eat anything in sight. When Bertha was tied to a toilet and left unattended, she tried to eat her feces and choked to death.

A D.C. human resources director recently placed in charge testified during the trial he had inherited “40 years of neglect” at the facility

The Justice Department had reviewed evidence and agreed to take action. The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation sent a sworn affidavit to John Pratt, the Federal judge presiding over the case, regarding the poor conditions and treatment of patients at Forest Haven.

Justice Department civil rights attorneys presented evidence of patient mistreatment to Judge Pratt eight times over a span of 18 months, but Pratt failed to act.

The case started to gain further momentum when Forest Haven resident Earline Thornton died in March of 1977.

Her brother Ricardo, also a former Forest Haven resident, recently released a statement before a U.S. Senate committee:

My sister Earline died at Forest Haven. She was on Thorazine or some strong medication. She used to be drugged up a lot. She had broke her hand fighting. The staff told her to put ice on it. It hurt. They took her to get X-rays. They said that it was nothing. For two months it was just swollen, but they took her to the hospital and they put a cast on it. That was the last time I saw her. They told me she woke up with her hand hurting and they gave her medicine to cool her down, but she overdosed.

They told me it was best not to see her. I went to school. It didn’t bother me much, but I went to my grandmother’s and everybody was crying. It really hurt then. The counselors wanted to know if I was going to sue. My aunts were saying, ‘They killed your sister. They killed your sister.’ ” Forest Haven officials said that Earline Thornton’s 1977 death certificate shows she died of natural causes as a result of a blood clot.

– Ricardo Thornton


Ordered to Close

On June 14th, 1978, Judge Pratt ordered the institution to close when he signed what was known as the Pratt Decree. As part of the resolution the District was to relocate Forest Haven residents to community group homes – as well as overhaul the mental health system.

The decree stated the residents would no longer be subjected to “acts of physical or psychological abuse” and should receive “proper medical, dental, and health-related services.”

The Thornton case was a tipping point  and combined with the Evans family efforts, they brought about the Mentally Retarded Citizens Constitutional Rights and Dignity Act, passed in 1978.

By the late 70s the average population of Forest Haven had fallen to 1,300; the shift of patients away from Forest Haven had begun, but the crimes against the mentally ill would continue.

April 1976 Forest Haven article
April 1976 Forest Haven article (courtesy Mike Perry)

• In memoriam of Forest Haven residents •

07/1976 Joy Evans, 18 • 03/1977 Earline Thornton, unk •

In September of 1981 a Forest Haven staff member was convicted of stealing $40,000 from residents’ savings accounts. Two years later there were allegations of sexual misconduct.

Our church group visited Forest Haven patients every week. We saw heavily medicated adults living in cribs–others never saw daylight. Patients were scared–of staff, of medications, and of leaving the institution.

– Kay Williams, volunteer

A cottage at Forest Haven today

As part of the structured closing of Forest Haven, the court appointed the District of Columbia Association of Retarded Citizens (DCARC) to monitor conditions at the sixty year-old facility.

In 1986 the association hired an expert in developmental disabilities to submit a proposal for a program to train facility staff proper patient feeding techniques.

The proposal had a modest budget of $24,698, but it was quickly shot down when the city said it had no funds for such a program. In a controversial effort to save money, the city did allow the Regional Addiction Prevention Program (RAP) to temporarily move in to an unused section of the Forest Haven campus in 1987.

• 05/1978 Bertha Brown • 5/2/1989 Sheila Dabney, 38 • 8/4/1989 John Schneider, 60 •

RAP was an 18-month drug rehabilitation program which included counseling sessions, writing classes, and programs aimed at building self-esteem and developing life goals. RAP’s lease at it’s previous location had expired. While it was searching for another permanent home, the District allowed the program to operate out of Forest Haven – which it did until September of 1988.

[ Click here to read the story of Forest Haven resident Virginia Gunnoe ]

The Retarded Citizens Association vocally opposed the move, worried about the danger of co-locating the two groups in such close proximity. At the time Forest Haven had 250 residents while RAP had 50 enrollees.

Alas, ten years after the 1978 Decree the facility had still not closed.


The Garden of Eternal Rest

Forest Haven rarely held funerals because society had already forgotten them. From 1928 until 1982 Forest Haven buried its dead – often without ceremony – in a field two thousand feet away. Internet lore speaks of how the asylum handled the deceased, with bodies allegedly “...loaded into coffins and dumped from garbage trucks into unmarked graves.

Sounds despicable, but the truth is less sinister: The asylum didn’t have a hearse so the staff used the maintenance crew’s flatbed truck.

The graves were indeed unmarked, as high cost prevented the deceased from receiving proper headstones. Instead a metal disk was centered between four graves, with four numbers indicating each plot.

The numbers could be cross-referenced with a master list of 387 names, but like most important records at Forest Haven this list was lost, and it would not be unfathomable to suspect the real number of deceased to be higher than officially reported.

How did the death toll reach such numbers before any investigation began? Forest Haven was in the jurisdiction of the U.S. Park Police, the agency in charge of Federal park land.

Part of the problem was the Park Police were already understaffed themselves, and they are not trained to investigate homicides or medical malpractice suits.

• 8/8/1989 Arthur Harris, 17 • 10/11/1989 Marcia Carter, 31 • 10/18/1989 Joseph “Joe Joe” Hardy Jr., 22 •

In 1989 the families of former residents purchased a single ceremonial headstone to remember those who perished at Forest Haven. (pictured above & below)

The granite monument sits in field known as the Garden of Eternal Rest, located on River Road about 2,000 feet north of the administration building. (map)

Several reports indicated the graves had recently become disturbed due to area flooding and erosion. Our photographer concurs; it appears the deceased have since been moved, leaving patches of sunken earth where the former graves had been located.


The Death Stretch

SONY DSCBetween 1989 and 1990 ten deaths occurred at Forest Haven – not the most deadly period in the institution’s history, but the highest death rate, considering the institution had just 252 residents at the time.

Medical care and living conditions had deteriorated to the point the Health Care Financing Administration took the unusual step of cutting off $8 million in Medicaid funding for the already-crippled facility.

The District opted to take no action to recover the lost Medicaid money, which it could have delayed the withholding by filing an appeal.

The residents would suffer further. Half were Medicaid-funded and comprised $22 million of Forest Haven’s annual budget.

In addition, the 1978 court order to shut down the facility ensured no capital improvements or repairs were made to the buildings for over a decade. The continuous use stressed the structures beyond their designed capabilities; the campus was crumbling.

After five deaths prosecution attorneys pushed Judge Pratt to force-close the facility in 1989. Dr. Robert Kugel, an expert on medical care for the retarded, toured Forest Haven and concluded in a report that the medical care and practice at Forest Haven exposes residents to unreasonable risks of harm.”

Between 1989 and 1990 ten residents died at Forest Haven.

Despite the deaths and mounting evidence, Judge Pratt offered the competing counsels 120 days to reach a settlement on their own.

Five more Forest Haven residents would die of complications related to aspiration pneumonia before Judge Pratt held the next hearing.

• 12/8/1989 Mary Elizabeth Reeves, 35 • 12/17/1989 Willie Marie Gil, 21 • 01/10/1990 Walter Tolson, 31 •

Forest Haven View from the 3rd floor of the Admin Building
View from the 3rd floor of the Admin Building

[ Camp Good Counsel volunteered at Forest Haven in the 1970s. GC Members reported seeing “multiple windows broken… it would be cold and drafty inside, even as the heat was pouring out of the radiators, the place reeked of urine, and you could hear moans of agony in the building. Many residents wear oversized diapers with ‘D.C. Government’ stenciled in ink on them. They wander about the large, barren rooms In bizarre, dazed postures.” ]


Compelled by the Court

Forest Haven asylumIn July of 1989 the Federal Government asked that the District be held in contempt for failing to carry out the court order requiring improvement of conditions at Forest Haven while residents were being transferred out.

Said assistant Attorney General James Turner, in each previous instance the District signed the agreements it was not followed by a discernable commitment to redress the conditions. We’re hopeful that these contempt proceedings will get the District’s attention.

The order got Forest Haven staff’s attention. In January of 1990, a Justice Department lawyer inspecting Forest Haven as part of a scheduled visit met so much resistance from the employees he was forced to ask a Federal Judge to compel the staff to cooperate.

A January 1990 report noted just two physicians were serving Forest Haven’s 232 patients, and one – Dr. Yin Chuan Hung – was found to be “professionally incompetent” in 1988 by the Maryland Commission on Medical Discipline.

Forest Haven basement of Elm Cottage
Basement of Elm Cottage

Attorneys asked Judge Pratt to threaten to fine the District $10,000 – plus a daily fine for every day the city exceeded the court-imposed deadline. The Judge complied, and in April of 1990 he gave Forest Haven a hard deadline of October 1991 to finish relocating the remaining 233 residents and close.

• 02/20/1990 Michael Pipkin • 04/21/1991 Charisse Marcella Gantt, 28 • 06/02/1992 Willie B. Reese, 26 •

The Judge set a goal of 39 resident relocations every 3 months; failure to satisfy this standard would result in a $10k fine and additional fines of $100 per resident per day. The per-resident fine would climb to $200 per day after 30 days.

On Nov. 14, 1990, the Justice Department filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the court to act on the government’s motion for a contempt judgement against the District for failure to comply with the previous consent orders. (For non-lawyer types: A seldom-used legal maneuver was submitted which asked an appellate court to compel Judge Pratt to adjudicate the case or make a ruling since he had not done so on his own.)

Forest Haven basement of Elm Cottage
Basement of Elm Cottage

At least eight Forest Haven residents died between May 1989 and January 1990, yet the court inexplicably has refused to decide whether sanctions are necessary to force defendants to comply with its orders.

– Justice Department petition

The appellate court denied the writ three months later, saying that not enough time had passed for the Judge to be compelled to take action. The District was given 21 days to respond, at which time oral arguments would be heard.

Forest Haven stairwell to rooftop, Curley Building West
Stairwell to rooftop, Curley Building West

By April of 1991 progress had been made on the patient exodus, and it couldn’t have come sooner. The final ninety-one poor souls arguably had it the worse than any residents prior.

At this time Forest Haven was listless, running extremely lean, and absent of funding for some of the most basic care.

The last residents often choked on their food because there were too few attendants around to make sure everyone ate properly. Staff funding had been cut and qualified volunteers were nowhere to be found, so residents were left unattended in their beds.

Bowel obstructions, aspiration pneumonia, rashes, and muscle atrophy accelerated in the final months at Forest Haven.

Attorneys asked the District for $395k to hire two more doctors and six additional therapists to help with the patient transition, but the request was declined.

The case would continue for years until presiding Judge John Pratt passed away in August of 1995. After his death the case was reassigned to Judge Stanley S. Harris, and after Harris later retired, Judge Ellen Huvelle.


[ Watch “Asylum” short film about Forest Haven by District 7 Media ]

[ Watch “Nevah” video of Forest Haven by OperatorPerry ]


Closing & Migration to Group Homes

The final weeks at Forest Haven were hectic. Residents were readied for their moves while the now-bare bones staff packed the residents’ belongings (hairbrush, toothbrush, and other basic toiletries) into small footlockers.

When possible instructions detailing food, hairstyle, and music preferences were written down on cards and accompanied the residents to their respective group homes.

October 14th, 1991: Forest Haven officially closes

The last fifteen residents were moved out in late September of 1991. On October 14th, the Forest Haven institution officially closed. It had served the District for 66 years.

I didn’t think it would take this long, but you’re talking about a population where the majority of people don’t have a political voice.

– Betty Evans

Curley building as seen from administration building
Curley building as seen from administration building

Each of the residents were assigned to one of the District’s 160 group homes, most of which were run as a for-profit business by healthcare entrepreneurs. In 1990 privately-operated group homes received Federal subsidies to house about 1,100 of the 8,000 mentally ill D.C. residents.

Forest Haven ChapelHowever some advocates warn residing in a group home does not promise a better life. Reports of abuse in group homes were nearly as common as of those in the institutions, a scary thought considering just a fraction of group homes were properly evaluated on a regular basis.

In the early 1990s, mentally retarded workers could be paid less than minimum wage for work done as part of a treatment or job-training program.

District inspection and social worker budgets did not increase, leaving the same staff previously responsible for Forest Haven now responsible for the monitoring of 160 different group homes. It was the familiar refrain of budget issues and understaffing – only now the job was 160 times more difficult. Standards were inevitably going to suffer.

Forest Haven Chapel
The chapel is in better condition than the rest of the facility

The logistics complications posed to city investigators and social workers over the geographic separation of group homes reminded everyone of the economic justification behind institutions in the first place.

But social policy had changed, centralization was out. Mankind had won the battle against the asylums, but in the darker corners of suburban America abuse and exploitation of the mentally ill was still rampant.

A tour of Forest Haven, courtesy Matt Carl Design:


The Settlement

Forest Haven dentist office admin building
Dentist office, Admin Building

In 1994 the District settled with six families who had filed a lawsuit in 1992 over the poor treatment of residents at Forest Haven.

The suit stated the residents, aged 22 to 35, were kept in cribs and restraints for years, lying in soiled diapers on filthy sheets in rooms that smelled of urine.

Each of the residents cited in the suit died from aspiration pneumonia. It was alleged the deaths resulted from the staff feeding the residents while they were laying down, and then failing to subsequently seek treatment when the residents first exhibited symptoms.

The staff were often vilified and became the punching bags of the prosecuting attorneys. One Forest Haven social worker felt compelled to share her side of the story:

It would take me 20 to 30 minutes to properly feed one [resident]. A lot of workers were required to feed eight or 10 residents in that time. And it’s made quite clear to them that they’ll lose their job if they don’t get all their people fed.

– Kathy Senior, social worker

The settlement reduced the original suit’s request of $20 million in damages to $1.075 million, which the District agreed to pay the families.

Why did it take so long? A lawyer from the case of mental patient Marcia Carter offered his explanation: “I could make as much money suing someone for the wrongful death of your cat as I could from suing the city for the wrongful death of Marcia Carter.”

During the case, the Department of Human Services (DHS) acknowledged that because of budget and staff cuts they had not been monitoring the group home program for four years.

The inside a Forest Haven cottage today
The inside a Forest Haven cottage today

As a result, immediate improvements of services and conditions in group homes was required of the District. A therapist was hired to monitor and review group home conditions – but the individual was paid by the group homes, not DHS.

Because the city was not financially capable of paying therapists, the conflict of interest was overlooked.


Right Hand not Talking to the Left

In September of 1994, local safety officials were upset when they discovered the Youth Services Administration (YSA) had assigned 20 juveniles to Forest Haven as part of a rehabilitation program – without the knowledge of the Department of Human Services. Even worse, emergency services did not realize the facilities were still being used.

I thought all the buildings were closed except for the administration building. No one from D.C. notified us of anything.

– Ray Smallwood, local Fire Chief

BrandenburgThe U.S. Park Police, who patrol the area and are also responsible for apprehending escapees, also indicated they had been kept out of the loop. When they were made aware, commander Lt. O’Brien requested security fencing be installed at the cottage still being used by the YSA at Forest Haven.

01/10/1997 Frederick Emory Brandenburg (pictured at right) 57 • 07/09/1999 Patrick Dutch, 41 

YSA spokesperson Larry Brown expressed surprise at the controversy. “It’s not like we are trying to slip anything by here,” he said. Brown added the entire complex has been in constant use by the District in one form or another since closing, and the occupants are not required to notify local authorities “every time somebody turns a light out.”

Hopes for improved monitoring of group homes in the late 1990s would fall flat; records indicate there were only a handful of visits to group homes by monitoring staff between 1995 and 1998.

A 1997 report uncovered that many of the city’s 170 group homes had gone completely unmonitored by the Department of Health.

City officials offered unpopular but pragmatic off-the-record comments explaining the failures. Simply put, those who served the retarded during the District’s budget crisis were non-priority creditors.

At times the group homes had to wait months for their promised payments. This gave the District little leverage in demanding quality care and disincentivized other private practitioners from opening group homes, snowballing the District’s shortfalls in care for the beleaguered Forest Haven alumni.

Forest Haven Morss Cottage
Morss Cottage

Forest Haven

A 1999 story revealed the cost of publicly-funded care was about $100,000 per person per year. In December of that year, Department of Health officials turned over death certificates for 116 people who had been under care in group homes – 47 more than previously disclosed.

Many of the death certificates had been altered or partially destroyed, giving no indication of who had died where, how, or under which group home’s care.

Forest Haven is nothing but a warehouse for people.

– Betty Evans

A January 2000 report indicated none of the 116 deaths in group homes for the mentally ill since 1993 had been investigated. Further incriminating was the admission by a human services caseworker to shredding documents when authorities started asking questions.

photos courtesy Dino D’Addario

By the late 1990s, judges had fined the district repeatedly for late payments to group home operators – but a fine for poor treatment of the retarded was never assessed.


Boot Camp & Juvenile Detention Center

In July of 1995 the District considered plans to convert one of the Forest Haven buildings into a maximum-security transitional juvenile detention center for girls. The Spruce Cottage building at Forest Haven was already being used by the YSA, but it was the best candidate for the conversion.

The conversion, which was estimated to take 20 weeks, was met with fierce opposition from local residents, politicians, and the state of Maryland. But in this case the District’s dearth of options trumped social concern.

Spruce Cottage
Spruce Cottage today


Forest Haven Elm Cottage
Elm Cottage

Three months later a separate quasi-military boot camp program was announced at part of a $1.4 million Federal subsidy for youth programs. The newly-renovated Jones Hall building at Forest Haven was chosen to be the base camp and dormitories.

Twenty-five juveniles would go through one of the eight month long programs at the facility as part of probation under the D.C. Superior Court’s Urban Services program. The juveniles wore Army battle dress uniforms, woke up at 6 a.m., and spent most of the day drilling before their 9 p.m. curfew.

Forest Haven Chapel exterior

I don’t remember [my natural parents] at all. My caseworker and I went downtown and tried to locate records, but they didn’t leave nothing behind. It don’t bother me, but once in a while it do. I try not to think about it.

– Donna Thornton, orphaned Forest Haven resident


Facility Deterioration

In early December 1998 regional news broadcaster Tom Sherwood visited Forest Haven, by this time closed for seven years. Sherwood discovered nothing less than a disaster, and his accounts were eye-opening to the levels of neglect at the institution:

Vandals and fire have destroyed much of what is left [at Forest Haven], but unbelievably, much remains inside. Textbooks and general interest books. Hundreds of them. Many so new they were never read. Thousands of unused test tubes are in one room. Tens of thousands of manila envelopes stacked to the ceiling in another room. Several rooms full of school desks that some classroom probably needs right now, stacked by the hundreds. Lots of office furniture, file cabinets and paper cups. . . .

D.C. police uniform jackets, from 1979 -hundreds for the taking by crooks and pranksters. And it’s not just the incredible waste of badly needed supplies. Lights and power still run wastefully in the buildings. One telephone we found was dead, but remained lit up. Fresh water spills nonstop from broken pipes, and steam still pours full blast from heating units in buildings with thousands of broken windows. . . .

Officials say recent medical records were removed [but] we found thousands of private, personal medical records here, laid bare. Usable children’s clothing lies in heaps in one hallway, and cartoon characters on the walls only hint at what was here before it all became this.

– Tom Sherwood, news broadcaster

Sherwood and others believed the mismanagement of records and other logistics failures occurring at Forest Haven were not accidental, and that longtime D.C. officials knew the property was being used as a dumping ground.

Was this malfeasance simply a poor attempt at equipment disposal and records destruction by a closed facility with no operating budget, or the result of nefarious political cash-grab activities? Those who knew weren’t telling.

Forest Haven dayroom in Curley Building East 1
Dayroom in Curley Building “East 1”

A March 2004 audit of the 1986 decree discovered gross mismanagement of the property by the District since Forest Haven officially closed in 1991. The report found none of the unused buildings had ever been secured.

Inexplicably, many still had power and running water. Vandals and homeless had become frequent visitors, as “unauthorized access to these buildings has been easy and constant.”

Teen-age partyers and other trespassers have started about fourteen fires this year.

– Ray Smallwood, Fire Chief

Tony Records was director of the Pratt Monitoring Program, established to track the court’s order that the facility be shuttered and the residents relocated.

He admits the facility itself did not garner attention when employees were scrambling to get residents resettled. We certainly didn’t focus on the buildings.”

Forest Haven was the site of one of the top 10 worst cases of institutional abuse in U.S. history.

– Tony Records

Curley-Building-Forms-2The code violations at Forest Haven accumulated for years as officials continued to sweep dirt under the rug; documents were shuffled into different buildings rather than destroyed or secured.

When the computer and medical equipment were stored, they were functional – albeit outdated. By now vandals have destroyed whatever nature or time had not.

By August of 2011 the District had finally earmarked funds for the proper document handling & facility closure of Forest Haven.

The Division of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) released a solicitation order for the “retrieval and disposal of documents in three facilities at Forest Haven.

DCAM-2011-B-0185-001 was issued seeking bids for a shredding and remediation operation to last no more than 14 days, and which “requires special equipment for working with and disposing of hazardous materials.”


Social Attitude Drives Change in Language

It’s no secret our sensitivity to language varies over time. Robert Burgdorf, professor of law at University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, acknowledged as much in 2007:

The term ‘mental retardation’ is rapidly being replaced by the phrase ‘intellectual disability,’ the now-preferred terminology for the condition. The evolutionary pattern of terminology for referring to disabilities, in which new, unsullied terms gradually get loaded up with stereotypes and derogatory connotations and are eventually replaced with fresh, unbiased terms, and the cycle begins anew.

– Robert Burgdorf, professor of law

The first professional organization and leading authority on mental retardation was founded in 1876. It was known as the “Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feebleminded Persons.”

The group later changed its name to “American Association on Mental Deficiency,” and then “American Association on Mental Retardation,” which it would be come to known for almost 100 years.

On July 25, 2003 President George W. Bush signed Executive Order No. 13309, changing the name of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

In 2007 the organization’s name was changed again. Today, the 138 year-old group is known as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).

Forest Haven stairwell in admin building
Stairwell in Admin Buiding

In all literature produced by the AAIDD, every mention of “mental retardation” was replaced with “intellectual disability.” However despite their efforts to eradicate the terminology from our lexicon, it is still widely used in quotations, statutory language, or citing of previous legal rulings.

Unfortunately the message hasn’t always been clear. Today the word “RETARDS” is crudely splashed in graffiti across a door of a cottage where the patients used to live. The word is repeated extensively around Forest Haven, appearing in nearly every building.


Forest Haven Present Day

Forest Haven dentist office admin building
Dentist office, Admin Building

Before the 2011 DCAM order, the abandoned asylum had enough antiquated equipment to fill an entire exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. Tape machine mainframes, Western Electric rotary and early AT&T/Bell touch tone phones were littered throughout the complex.

Record players were covered in cobwebs and mold. Dot-matrix printers, reel-to-reel projectors, and tube television sets could also be found in vandalized disarray throughout the buildings.

The destruction order of 2011 removed most of the equipment, but not all. There are still broken photo-typesetters and typewriters missing keys. Records which escaped document destruction can still be found in the administration and Curley buildings, as well as Spruce cottage.

And of course there is a piano. There is always a piano.

The dental offices still contain their exam lights and reclining chairs – and up until recently even had stocked paper towel bins. Couches and examination tables are still in various rooms. A previous visitor discovered the asylum had left x-ray records behind and felt compelled to distribute them across the floor.

Kids’ names still adorn the walls of some of the classrooms. The former resident room walls contain scratchings and vandalism in the form of eerie mental patient epithets.

File cabinets have been thrown to the floor, their records spilled out. Chairs once neatly stacked on desks have been re-arranged by nature and vandals. Paint curls up from every wall in every room. The monotony of the light-blue tiled hallways feels dreary and exudes that “hospital” feel, even in decay.

One of the more polarizing artifacts left behind are the suitcases. They contained all of the worldly possessions of former patients – some of whom might be buried in the Garden of Eternal Rest.

[ Sidebar: Suitcases aren’t the saddest things found in abandoned D.C. buildings ]

Forest Haven playground (view on map)


A medical report found on the floor by Urban Explorers recorded the story of 18 year-old Ray, an orphan with deformed feet. Ray was born as the 12th child to a North Carolina mother on welfare. The records indicate he was institutionalized at age 5 after his parents died. He could not communicate well and had a pattern of exhibiting self-injurious behavior. Ray had cataracts in both eyes and only partial vision in his right eye as a result of striking himself. The report said Ray was never enrolled in a school program in his life. “He is making some grunting sounds. He has a long history of striking his head and ears. Additionally, he strikes his face.

As a result of his self-injurious behavior he has cataracts in both eyes and questionable vision in his right eye. The Thorazine has not made significant changes in his behavior.” One thing the Thorazine apparently did was decrease his social capacity: “…decreased communication with others, lower amounts of interaction. Responsiveness to nurses nearly non-existent.”


Due to poor record-keeping the true number of patients treated by Forest Haven over the decades will never be known. Experts’ best estimates have 3,200 patients spending time at the institution. If we consider the 387 deaths at Forest Haven, it had an operational lifetime residential death rate of twelve percent – and that’s using the reported figures.

Outwardly Forest Haven appeared to be an earnest facility to rehabilitate and treat those with disabilities or psychological disorders. Inwardly it was a method to corral and segregate a class of people society deemed too difficult to accommodate.


Thank you for reading this Sometimes Interesting special feature with additional content & photographic contributions from Dino D’Addario and Mike Perry.


Extra Content


Former Forest Haven residents who perished in Group Homes between 1993 and 1999 due to similar cases of neglect:

[ Josephine Gaines • Marjorie Haas • Earl Veit • Donzer Ray Fonville • Marie Dickens • Vernon Brown • Dora Mae Christian • Deborah Lynn Key • Theodore Turner • Ruth Mae Boaze • Richard Smallwood • Cheryl Ann Bush • Patrick Wyman Dixon • Robert Allen Watts • Nancy Williams • Joanne Marie Curtain • Alonzo Fouch • Helen Andrews • Calvin Nielson • Joyce King • Richard Julius Braddy • Joshua Brooks • Viola Tillyer • Ernest Durity • Kevin Paul Turner • Marguerite Spaulding • Brugiere Palmieri • Steven Vasquez • Cecil Gobble • Lee Robert Shipman • Isaac Lloyd Williams • Daniel Bern • James Scott • Reginald Lovette • Antonio McCullers • Betty Tunstall • Lawrence P. Toney • Hazel Harris • Phyllis Mallory • David Abney • Stephen Sellows • Dorothy Simmons • David Wyatt • Peter Chipouras • Grace Marie Arnold • Antonio Silva • Eugene Robinson • John Wesley Hanna • Clara French • Levander Johnson • Male, full name unknown • Eduardo Echaves • Kenny Holmes • Emma Williams • Cassandra Cobb • James Henry Wilson • Henrietta Green • Kenneth Arnold Gavin • Denise Allison Smith • Steve Edward Moore • Melvin Seymore • Fred Brandenburg • Freddie Deperini • Francis Hanfman • Sheila Payne • Louis Parnell • Gloria Marie Davis • Roy Calloway • John Motika • Raynard Olds • Herbert Scott • Sara Walford Martin • Tony Snider • Helena Taylor • Charles Rowley • Kermit Gleaton • Gary N. Thomas • William Hillery • Michael Gilliland • Antonio Lucas • James Fairfax • Lemeka Edon • Eleanor Gleason • James Smallwood • Margaret Marie Bicksler • Hilda Redman • LaVon Green • Christopher Lane • Thelma Goldberg • Henry Laker • Dennis Edward Jackson • Carlis Spears • Nannie Jones • Reginald Murray • Desmond Brown • Hazel Pinkney • A. Rowe • Geraldine Howell • Patrick Dutch • James Dean • Joseph Addison • Annie Williams • V. Bennett ]


* The Story of Mattie Hoge *

Mattie Hoge: April 2nd, 1912 – September 15th, 1987. Mattie grew up as the deaf and undersized runt of twins to a single mother. At age 7, she entered Maryland School for the Blind at Overlea, also a school for deaf children. Mattie’s mother died when she was 12, at which point she became a ward of the District with her fate in its care.

At the age of 17 Mattie was declared “feeble-minded” and under period laws committed to Forest Haven. In 1930 the District tested Ms. Hoge and pronounced her “severely retarded,” justifying the institutionalization.

For 57 years she remained at the site. On June 10, 1987, a judge ordered the District to immediately release Hoge  then 75  and place her in a Group Home. Recent tests had indicated her IQ could be as high as 95, just below “normal.”

We are dealing with an individual who . . . has spent 57 years of her life institutionalized, when in all likelihood she should never have been placed there at all.

– D.C. Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler

Hoge was not re-tested until after a Federal lawsuit demanding improvements in care and treatment of Forest Haven residents was filed in 1978. The deaf elderly woman by this time partially paralyzed from a stroke told attorneys she had never been tested by someone who could communicate with her.

Mattie Hoge’s 1930 IQ test which classified her as “severely retarded” had been administered by someone who did not understand sign language.

In a suit filed on Hoge’s behalf in 1985, Judge Kessler ordered the city to create a timetable for moving the wheelchair-bound Hoge from Forest Haven to a Group Home. The District was also ordered to hire staff fluent in sign language, and to pay $55,350 to update the Group Home’s entry so it was wheelchair-accessible.

Psychologist McKay Vernon testified he examined Hoge and found that her IQ was at the lower end of the normal range. He also said the staff at Forest Haven had failed Hoge by neglecting to place her in an environment where she could communicate with others through sign language.

To deprive a person of information for more than 50 years of her life is, short of physical torture, about the worst thing you could do.

– McKay Vernon, psychologist who evaluated Hoge

Court documents gave the following outline of Mattie’s life: In 1929 Hoge was improperly diagnosed and admitted to the District Training School, the institution as it was known before later being re-named Forest Haven. On Nov. 4, 1930, a psychological test determined her IQ was 34 and that she had a mental age of 5 to 6 years.

Mattie-Hoge-spokesman-review-article-06101987However the documents state “…no accommodation was made for {her} known hearing impairment and sign language was not used by the examiner.” Hoge was not tested again for 48 years and no court reviewed her commitment from 1930 to 1984.

She suffered from the debilitating effects of a stroke she had in 1966 and used a wheelchair ever since. She had a hearing impairment that worsened over time; now she was completely deaf.

After her mother died in 1924, Mattie Hoge was placed in a foster home. Her foster parents reported she was difficult to control, and in 1930, at age 17, she was placed in Forest Haven because her father “was not financially able to care for her.”

Since at least 1972 Hoge had been housed “with residents who are severely and profoundly retarded . . . with whom she is unable to communicate at all,” according to court documents; her family argued it had been much longer.

In 1985 Hoge’s court-appointed lawyers filed a lawsuit asking that Mattie Hoge be released immediately, and that the city pay $5.5 million in damages. The case would take years to maneuver through the legal system, but by June 10th, 1987, a judge acknowledged Mattie was not retarded and ordered her to be released.

There’s no way to right a wrong of 57 years.

– Donna Waulken, Hoge’s court-appointed guardian

Hoge would enjoy just three months of freedom after her 57-year containment; the 75 year-old passed away on September 15th, 1987.

Five months later, on February 5th, 1988, a D.C. Superior Court jury awarded Hoge’s estate $80,000 in damages.


* The Story of Virginia Gunnoe *

Virginia Gunnoe was born in the Dominican Republic in 1909. Her family immigrated to Virginia when she was a child, and the household spoke very little English. Gunnoe eventually became a domestic worker in Quantico, and married at 13. By the time she was 24 she had five children.

It was Typhoid fever which first landed Virginia in the doctor’s office. When doctors subsequently admitted her to Forest Haven in 1933, her children were taken away from her and she was kept at the facility against her will. At the time it was not uncommon to see poverty-stricken non-native speakers labeled “retarded” and institutionalized – especially during the Depression.

Gunnoe did suffer brain damage as a result of the Typhoid fever, but it was relatively minor and she retained near-complete motor functionality. She was still an accomplished seamstress at the institution – the most skilled resident in the tailoring shop, according to Forest Haven nurse Gwendolyn Walls.

Forest Haven inside Curley Building
Inside the Curley Building

Virginia’s language barrier earned Ms. Gunnoe the label “moderately retarded” by Forest Haven officials, and like so many other Forest Haven official records – they are missing now.

Shortly after Virginia Gunnoe was admitted, her husband abandoned her. But before he did, he told her kids she abandoned them.


It wasn’t until thirty years later Hoge’s youngest daughter Mary discovered her mother had not abandoned them, was still alive, and committed at Forest Haven. In 1963 the 32 year-old lobbied officials for her mother’s release: “I kept telling the officials that she wasn’t insane (the legal reason for the incarceration of the mentally handicapped)  but they wouldn’t listen.

One of the [officials] told me to not write to him anymore.

Mary Hunter, Virginia’s daughter

Persistent inquiries by the family eventually yielded results. In June of 1978 Federal Judge Pratt signed a consent decree to release 1,000 of the Forest Haven residents to community treatment centers.

Gunnoe was among those allowed to leave because her family offered her a home. After 45 years of institutionalization, Virginia Gunnoe – by this time aged 69 – was finally reunited with her family.

Forest Haven inside the Curley Building
Inside the Curley Building

She now had six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren she had never met, in addition to her five children she had not seen since 1933.

Virginia received varying words of encouragement – depending on lucidity of the source – from her fellow residents as she left her Forest Haven cottage for the final time:

“Don’t do anything to come back.”

“Why can’t I get out of here, like her?”


Forest Haven Facility Breakdown

Disclaimer: Facility Map compiled from incomplete data sourced via decades of news articles,  facility visitor reports, and family witness accounts. If you have an addition, correction, or update – please let us know! (Special shout to Mike Perry for providing the map & filling in a lot of blanks)

(click to enlarge)

Forest Haven map
(courtesy Mike Perry)


1) Helen Curley Building 

Helen Curley 1958
Helen Curley, 1958 (courtesy Mike Perry)

This modern red brick behemoth across from the administration building was opened in 1971. The complex’s southernmost building nearly doubled the square feet of the existing institution – 68,732 square feet (6,385 square meters) by itself – and was intended to house 200 of the institution’s most disabled residents.

It was designed in modules to make it more “humanizing.” Contains everything from living quarters to classrooms. Stone walls formed circular courtyards for patients to roam during “outside time;” these can still be seen today on the map.

Employees sneaked reporter Murray Waas into the Curley Building for an unauthorized tour in the mid 1970s. Workers told him it was in this building he could find more than two dozen women – naked or in diapers – strewn across the bare floor. That was how Forest Haven patients spent their day: Sprawled on the floor. Today boxes of incident reports lay stacked in darkened rooms. Water damage has peeled the paint from walls, taggers have left their mark with graffiti displays on various walls. Graphics of the Peanuts characters adorn the hallways of the children’s ward. Kids’ spring-mounted toy rides are still mounted in the concrete play area, rusted from multiple decades of neglect.

Forest Haven Curley Building map
Breakdown of Curley Building (courtesy Mike Perry)

2) Jones Hall 

Original quarters for Forest Haven attendants and professionals, remodeled in the early 1990s and opened in 1995 as a “quasi-military” boot-camp program for youth aged 14-26 (pictured belowview on Bing maps). Guests here woke up at 6 a.m., dressed in Army battle dress uniforms, and drilled for hours before being in bed by 9 p.m.

Jones Hall, Forest Haven
Jones Hall, circa 2006 (courtesy Mike Perry)

3) Dr. Martha Eliot Infirmary (aka Eliot Cottage)

Former residence of Mattie Hoge and home to the most severely-retarded and incapable residents, until they were relocated into the new Curley building when it was constructed in 1971. Thanks to S-I reader Mike Perry, we know this building was later re-named for the former chief of the Federal Children’s Bureau. It was completed in 1958 at a cost of $813,500, and was designed to house 200 patients – mainly children.

S-I reader Cash offers the following insight: recently-used compared to the rest of the facility, and appeared to have been a children’s ward of some sort (cartoons on the walls, a Sega Genesis controller and game box, a barber shop with a rules sheet clearly written for a young audience) before being one of the main buildings used by RAP, as indicated by the numerous RAP records in the building.”

4) Magnolia Cottage

Offices and Medical Facilities. Original buildings to 1925 asylum campus. Each about 14,544 sq. ft. in size. Contain examination rooms, observation rooms, and low-level outpatient services. Also a cafeteria (dining hall) and in-processing. Some admin offices along with temporary special-needs housing for patients in transition or under extended evaluation. Additional therapy rooms such as hydrotherapy, electro-shock, etc.

5) The Central Administration Building

(30,000 sq. feet, construction began in 1938, opened in 1940) First lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the dedication ceremony on March 8th, 1940. When finished it was a two-story building known as the “Hospital and Administration Building” (the third floor was added later, sometime in the 1950’s). It initially housed 40 patients (38 hospital beds, 2 fracture beds, and 18 cribs) and had an operating room, lab space, and a “psychiatrist’s laboratory.”

Medical offices on first floor performed examinations. A pair of dental offices on the 2nd floor are still largely intact. The former x-ray room is on the second level. Upstairs has the former laboratory and main offices where facility was once governed. Today they are largely cleared out save for a few rusty typewriters missing keys and medical records carelessly strewn about – but none contain evidence of the botched lobotomies rumored to have occurred at Forest Haven. The morgue is on the lower level.

[ YouTube: A walk into the central administration building ]

One repeat visitor noticed the Social Security cards which had been stapled to the backs of the files had disappeared since one of his previous visits.

6) Oak Cottage

7) Maple Cottage

8) Morss Cottage

(Also known as Morss Hall, 31,144 sq. ft.) Named for A. Patricia Morss (1917-1984), chief of the Child Welfare Division of the District Department of Public Welfare. Today scattered desks and books indicate classrooms might have been here or at least desks were later stored here. Severe water damage (burst pipes, exposure to elements), tiles falling. Many rooms cleaned out. Recent reports indicate this structure has territorial squatters who will let you know you are not welcome.

9) Hawthorne Cottage

10) Dogwood Cottage

Dogwood Cottage was the residence of Joy Evans and described as a “veritable snake-pit.” A witness reported seeing a nurse open the cottage door only to find 80 “half-naked screaming women come running to the door.” The nurse quickly shut it. Joy, who died at Forest Haven, had back injuries caused by “urine burns from being restrained on a rubber sheet.”

Update: Dogwood Cottage was recently destroyed by an arson fire in January 2016 (pictures below courtesy Mike Perry).

11) Chapel

The chapel is the Forest Haven structure in the best condition. Most of the stained glass is still intact and the pews are still accounted for. A side room still contains the old organ and the pulpit was also still in decent condition according to recent Urbexers.

12) Elm Cottage

Elm Cottage, where fun days happened annually (see photo).

Sign reads “Elm Cottage 1st Annual Fun Day 8-4-1979”

13) Poplar Cottage

Poplar Cottage was males-only, 10-to 24-year-olds at about the same level of retardation as those in the Curley Building. Moved here when they have been taught to dress and feed themselves. Most were toilet trained. A rigorous program of “operant conditioning” was used in which tokens are given as rewards for acceptable behavior which can later be cashed in for toys or candy.

14) Spruce Cottage

Spruce Cottage, also known as “Unit 6,” was used in later years (post-1991 closing) for the Community Transition Program, where youths were sent before being released back into the community. It functioned as a transitional pre-release short-term juvenile detention facility. Spruce Cottage contained 20 beds along with examination, observation, and recreational rooms.

Former residents recalled having nothing to call their own because girls “wore identical clothes, and staff members used the same brush and comb on everyone’s hair.” Youths transferred here would await placement in long-term, residential facilities outside the District. From 1992-1995 Spruce suffered dozens of escapees prompting local outcry for a shutdown. Today the rec room contains pool table and various vending machines – including some several-decade old Pepsi vintage.

From 1993 until 1995 Spruce Cottage was used as a low-security facility for girls of non-violent offenses, such as truancy or running away from home. During this time each room had two beds, while every two rooms shared a bathroom. After 1995 the Spruce Cottage shifted to housing more violent youth when it became the only authorized facility in the city where girls could be kept in secure confinement. Razor wire was added to perimeter.

On November 10th, 2002, a 12 year-old girl was sexually assaulted by two other girls at Spruce Cottage.

The building was used as recently as 2005. After 2005 it was used for disposal of old documents and equipment. Improper record storage, stacks of old computers, monitors, etc. Some speculate this is where the bulk of record disposal impropriety took place.

15) Azalea Cottage

16) Food Services

The cafeteria/mess hall has an abandoned walk-in fridge/freezer and scattered tables inside (courtesy S-I reader Kyra D). Building is located across from the New Beginnings Youth Development Center today and vehicles still park in the lot, although nobody works inside the building. File cabinets and heavier equipment scattered about around the loading dock. (pictured below)

forest haven loading dock17) Pine Cottage

18) Holly Cottage

(12,609 sq. ft.) Built in 1932.

19) Hemlock Cottage

Hemlock Cottage was the detention center at Forest Haven. Included seclusion rooms,” 6 by 8 foot cells with nothing more than a mattress and a toilet. Heavy solid metal doors, two observation courtyards. Patients who misbehaved or were too much trouble to monitor were usually kept here – and these residents usually performed more labor.

The most violent residents were kept here, often chemically restrained with Thorazine, which left patients lifeless and still. Today it stores piles of old clothes and shoes from past residents. Very dusty, asbestos exposure likely. Severe water damage in the narrow hallways has eroded some walls and created a playground for mold. According to multiple visitor reports it’s the creepiest building on the grounds.

20) Garage

21) Laundry

(Update courtesy S-I reader Cash: Large rooms contain what could be old silk-screening equipment.)

22) Power Plant

The power plant was constructed with Forest Haven in 1925 when the original facility was “off the grid.” New 1,000-gallon steel tanks – used to store diesel fuel – were installed in 1967. The power plant was obsolete by the 1970s, after the area had joined the city of Laurel power grid.



  • Camelia Hall (or Camelia Cottage): Demolished in 2008 along with the Therapy Pool and Mary Zeigler School to make room for the new Oak Hill Detention Center (update & photos courtesy Mike Perry. Also see his before/after aerial photo below)
Forest Haven aerial 2005
Forest Haven aerial 2005 vs. 2011 (courtesy Mike Perry)
  • Forest Haven Superintendent’s House: The brick shell encountered in the forest on the way in to Forest Haven (map) was the former superintendent’s house. It was built in 1930. (info & photo courtesy Mike Perry)
  • Staff Housing: A group of buildings located near the entrance of Forest Haven, just SW of Jones Hall by the security checkpoint. (courtesy Mike Perry)
    • Lewald Hall: (18,000 sq. feet, map) A 3-story, 55-room staff dormitory built in 1950. Named for Dr. James Lewald, the 2nd superintendent of the District Training School from 1934 until his death in 1949.

      Lewald Hall, Forest Haven
      Lewald Hall, circa 2006 (courtesy Mike Perry)

    • Ray Huff Building: (10,000 sq. feet, map) Two story apartment building for staff, built between 1946 and 1950. (Do you know who Ray Huff is? Let us know! photos below circa 2006 courtesy Mike Perry)
    • Various staff residences: (map) Various structures built for the higher-ranking staff members. All were built between the late 1950’s and 1961. Each home was between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet and has 2-3 bedrooms, a fireplace, and basement.  (photos below courtesy Mike Perry)
    • Water Tower: 50,000 gallon steel tank built in 1927, one of two built at Forest Haven. The other tower was located behind Oak and Maple cottages but was demolished in the early 1960’s to make way for Morss Cottage. Photo on left below shows Maple Cottage with the old tower visible in the background (courtesy Mike Perry).


* Facility Map compiled from data sourced via news articles along with visitor feedback and other witness accounts. If you have an addition, correction, or update – please let us know! Thank you! *


Look up Forest Haven on the map: Google and Bing



  1. Wow – I used to drive past there for years and never knew it was back there in the woods – I just thought the woods were part of the NSA campus further on Fort Meade rd. Gives me a bad feeling in my gut that all that horror was going on while I would drive by thinking I was half way home and enjoying my evening. It was hidden well, I can’t even remember reading about the legal problems and eventual shutdown.

  2. I hope you don’t mind if I reblog this…It’s so well thought out. Of course, I’ll give you twitter shout outs and what not. It explains why the psychiatric industry is the most dangerous of them all.

  3. Reblogged this on unusuallyquiet and commented:
    Please read Sometimes Interesting blog (reblogged here) about one abandoned mental facility to see the horror that some of these places are. Also, visit and comment the original page.

  4. Thank you for this. Different kind of “interesting” this time. The link for Fredrick Brandenburg leads to a Post article that is a sad kind of amazing, as well.

  5. How appalling we as a society allowed this to continue for as long as it did — much too much a recent past history — and a reminder why it’s so important to make sure that someone speaks responsibly on behalf of those who otherwise may have no political voice.

  6. Wow! Once again an interesting and exceptionally well researched post. Keep up the good work!

  7. Very interesting article. Not too far from Forest Haven (30 miles?) was Crownsville Hospital Center. It was the commissioned in 1910 as a Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland. I’ve heard many stories about it. I wish someone would write such a concise article about Crownsville.

    • Thanks Liz, I was not familiar with Crownsville. I’d say that looks like a good candidate for a post. I’ll see if I can find a photographer who’d like to team up for a feature. Thanks!

      • Did you ever find someone? Also – I googled the name Dr. Yin Chuan Hung and there is still a person by that name that practices in Maryland. I wonder if that is a popular name??

        • 41 years of experience in family practice and geriatric… it looks like it may be him. There are no pictures anywhere of this one, afaik. Continuing search.

          • He’s possibly currently practicing medicine, donated $1000 to John Kerry/Democrat Party, and is in Bethesda. I have not tried calling or visiting, but he got his degree in 1970, which would fit with the timeline.

            6770 Surreywood Lane
            Bethesda, MD 20817
            Phone: (301) 469-5452

      • Great post – very informative. Did you ever end up going to Crownsville Hospital? I’ve been there about two years ago – I have a bunch of pictures from that visit if you’d be interested in seeing but I would love to go again if you are still looking for a photographer! I’ve also recently been to Forest Haven and plan to go back soon – so much I still haven’t seen/explored. It’s a fascinatingly eerie place. I’m also heading to Pennhurst (in PA) for a photography workshop in November – are you familiar with the story behind Pennhurst? Might make another great post for you! πŸ™‚

        • Hi Carly, Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately I have not yet had a chance to check out Crownsville (still). I’m still up for doing a story on the place, I just need to team up with a photographer. Are you interested?

          I wasn’t familiar with Pennhurst either, but I’ll check it out. Thanks for the tip! (Also, please do share the link to your photos after. Maybe that’s another post too!) πŸ˜‰

          • Yes, I’m definitely interested in going back to Crownsville! I’ll be sure to send you my photos after the Pennhurst workshop. πŸ™‚

          • Also sorry if my latest comment posted at the end of this and not in our mini thread/conversation. The website is acting up for me today while trying to post a comment.

  8. Awesome article/photos. I’m thinking about making a trip down there sometime over the summer. Any tips/suggestions on the best way to get in? I’ve read that there is security but can be easily accessed through the woods.

    • Steve, I have to rely on the input of others but I’ve read what you are inferring. The woods to the South reportedly connects to a parking lot on the other side. Please be careful and never explore alone!

  9. This is the saddest page on SI. Thank you all for the hard work that goes into these articles.

    Such well researched and written articles makes me imagine the utter hopelessness and neglect of those poor patients.

      • I agree with Alan that this post is sad. It’s also very scary to me. To think these things were happening every day in a prosperous, first world country and so recently. Imagine being a visitor to another country, not speaking the language and being in an accident. You could end up in a place like this with no on in the US every knowing what became of you.

  10. Thanks for another interesting post! I appreciate the work that are put in to these articles. The many details make them extra interesting…

  11. I just visited Forest Haven the other day with a friend, but knew very little about it. I simply pieced together what I could from what I found around the area – thanks for this concise writeup! We only made it through maybe a third of the complex but will be returning soon to tackle more.

    Some info for your map – Building 7 is indeed a laundry facility, and it also contained what appeared to be large looms (perhaps silk-screening machines, since I know there is silk-screening equipment on campus but I don’t know what those look like).

    I did not catch the name of the unlabeled building between numbers 3 and 9, but did explore it pretty extensively; it was recently-used compared to the rest of the facility, and appeared to have been a children’s ward of some sort (cartoons on the walls, a Sega Genesis controller and game box, a barber shop with a rules sheet clearly written for a young audience) before being one of the main buildings used by RAP, as indicated by the numerous RAP records in the building. I will try to find its name on our next visit to the campus.

    It was surprisingly easy to locate and we did not see security or squatters, though we didn’t make it over to the southeast corner of the facility where squatters are said to reside. I will comment with a link to my picture album once I get them off my phone!

  12. I have been here 4 times. My brother is a film maker. On one of our trips he filmed a bunch of footage and put together an awesome 3 minute video. The title hints to its location but he does not disclose where it is. Obviously you will know. It is not a typical youtube video. It is much more like a professional film. Hope you like it.

    • Hey Mike. I just heard about this place. I would really like to go. Do you have to sneak there, or are you allowed to go there. Please contact me for more information. Thank you.

      • I went here in July 2015.u r not allowed there we had to sneak. I only made it to the curly building. Once inside I had a bad feeling. I have gone into a lot of abandoned places.I have never felt like this before after being in there about 15 min I left . There is security everywhere now.if caught up will go to jail.b carefulike and have fun. Definitely go during the day at night u will never find ur way .when coming through the woods and u see the building if u go to the left detention center on left all the way to the right is job core .u have armed security on both sides.

  13. Also, to the poster above (Steve) asking about how to get in. It is best to go during the day, during the week. Security is increased on the weekend. Also, I always park in the parking lot next to the Storage Facility off the main road and walk along the fence line of the storage place. Cross your next main road into an open grassy area. You will see a path leading into the woods next an abandoned brick home (just a shell really) This path will bring you out on the backside of the Curley building. Just be safe, don’t go alone and always checks the roads as you go from building to building for patrols. I have seen one in 4 visits. A white truck. They did not see us.

    • Could you specify which storage facility and what are the main road names? I would really like to visit but I haven’t a clue where in Laurel it is

      • Hi Tiffany. Just scroll down a few responses and click on my imgr link. There is a map with the cross streets labeled.

    • I am seeing this post from over a year ago…. have you been recently? I would like to go soon but I am not sure if the security is still low key, if where to park is the same, etc…

      • Hi, Becks! I recently went around March. There was only one security truck that we saw, but there were also another group of noisy people there as well. You just have to check the roads before you cross. If you do happen to run into security, I’m sure all the will do is politely ask you to leave. Good luck exploring!!

        • I forgot to mention that we parked across the street from some restaurant (I can’t remember the name). Behind the restaurant there is the mini storage where we followed the fenceline to the trail. The road you have the cross to the trail is still used quite often (not sure to where it goes), so you have to stay low if cars come past.

  14. Wait a sec–I was recently out there and saw the shell of the brick building–there was a baby carriage next to it…..maybe I took a wrong turn b/c all I saw was woods,vines,thorns.
    I walked to the right looking for more buildings…should I have taken a left?
    Also, does anyone know, based on the excellent map,where is the abandoned brick shell?
    Thank you for your help!

  15. Wow, Wow… WOW! SI- Although all of your posts are informative and well written- I would have to say- this has to be one of the best. Very well written, educational with the added imagery and videos make this a perfect post. (Insert standing ovation here). We have come a long way in such a short time. Stories that resembled those of Mattie Hoge and Virginia Gunnoe, I’m sure, were many. The treatment (or the alck thereof) with “what to do with unwanted humans” sparks anger and sadness. I am glad to see this placed closed, but it hurts that the facility remained open for all those years after treatment became public knowledge.
    I could only imagine the feeling one would get from seeing this facility with your own eyes. Thank you for telling this story!

    • Thanks so much for your comment Cynthia. I’m glad you noticed the extra “oomph” in this one, I did put far more time into it than any single post before it. Thank you for noticing, and I agree with your sentiments on the issue. πŸ™‚

  16. For anyone who went, on which days and times did you go? How long did you stay? Some people say security is tight and others say it is lax, which is it?

    • I actually went around midnight, in the middle of winter. This was back in 2012. Was definitely an interesting adventure but was very eerie… We crossed through the forest behind the Curly building. There are some power lines you can follow all the way down. I saw no night security, but did see lights on in what I think is building 14, the children’s center. On the east side of the campus there is an active area with many lights that I think is a government training facility. I remember reading something about it.

  17. My sister and I went exploring here yesterday! I have to say I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area. Its probably one of the coolest places I’ve explored, and I can’t wait to go back.

  18. My mom used to work at the Children’s Center (as they called it then) back in the mid 60s till early 70s. I can still see the look on her face every night when she returned home from this place. So depressing. I never went there so these pictures are enlightening, but very, very sad for me.

    • Wow…that must have been very difficult for your mom. Did she ever tell you any stories?

  19. Really, relly interesting and sad, well worth the effort put into this mega article. An absolutely excellent piece of work. Only now did I manage to finish reading it. The sad thing is that just because the facility was closed does not offer any guarantee that the homes to which patients were transferred have better conditions.

    It’s hard not to be impressed by such horrors, but when you’re living in a country like mine where indifference and such treatements regarding patients are the rule, not the exception, it’s hardly shocking…

    • Andrei! How are you my friend? Good to hear from you again, thanks for stopping by and reading the article. I agree, the situation still leaves a lot of questions. The fact both of our countries struggle with the problem just goes to show how difficult it is to deal with properly. I hope you are well! πŸ™‚

    • The homes that my individuals reside in by far is highly secured… These individuals cannot even sneeze abnormally without a report. I can’t speak for other companies, but we have to write daily reports about hourly activities.

      Also, house managers are consistently at the homes in rotation and makes certain that they are being treated well.

      I love my individuals, they are highly functional, independent, and full of life.

      • This is good to hear Kenya. I’m sure sometimes those requirements feel onerous, but I bet they’re the product of the stuff written about above. Decades of substandard care (although to be fair usually the product of low budgets) have at least led to some improvements in care today. Sounds like the homes you speak of have their stuff together. Glad to hear! Thanks for the comment. πŸ™‚

  20. I work with about 6 Evans cases, I knew the history of this place but never got deep into it. When I first started, my individuals were very timid, you could tell they had been through something.

    This is really sad and I will continue to defend them as hard as I’ve been doing. To make them smile daily warms my heart.


    • Click on my imgr link in my previous comment. You can identify the cross streets. They are marked.

      • Ok Thank You! I want to visit very soon but I still have so many questions. What are the buildings to the right of the curley building? Also what are the buildings behind #5 (Original Ward) and next to 6 (Power Plant) I know they are not part of Forest Haven but I am curious as to what they are… Also, are all the buildings abandoned? I thought I heard something about some being in use still? By the reads of the previous posts, it seems that security is not much of an issue to have to watch out for?

        • The ones to the right of Curley are some sort of retirement community I believe. The road is blocked from Forest Haven to the community. I have never paid those building much mind. You can barley see them when you are actually walking on the grounds.

          The buildings next to 5-6 are the Oak Hill Youth Detention Facility. It isn’t part of the Forest Haven compound, but it is literally right next door. I have heard that if some of the employees see people walking around, they will contact security.

          If you are going to enter buildings 5 or 6 I would advise to do so with great stealth.

          The roads inside Forest Haven are patrolled by security sporadically. I never walk around in the open for any longer than I have to. Just to get to the next building really. The only exception to this would be the area between 5, 11, 3 and 8. That area is pretty concealed from any patrols.

          Just use common sense, don’t break things, steal stuff, keep your voice down. If you do that you will be able to hear a vehicle approaching long before they get to you. If you hear one, just run inside the nearest building. From everything I have heard, security will not follow you into a building.

  21. Look at how we treat the most defenseless amongst us. We are NOT the creature that Darwin said we are. How could something so cold, greedy, selfish, and uncaring be on the top rung of the evolutionary ladder?

  22. I worked there from late 1970 to mid 1970 as a clerk typist in Dogwood Cottage. The stench upstairs gagged me, I only went up there a few times. The whole CHildren’s Center as it was known, was infested with GIANT COCKROACHES. I couldn’t sit with my legs under my desk. I don’t know how I stood it. I was fresh out of HS and not allowed at the men’s cottage because they ran around naked.

  23. Right before I left was when The Curley bldg. was built, it was so new and beautiful after being in the horrible cottages. It was named after the Director of Nurses Helen Curley. I only worked there a short period, then got married and moved out of state. I remember the nurses aides who worked at the facility were always calling in sick and the other ones worked overtime, seemed like a conspiracy so they would all get overtime eventually. I seriously doubt if they cared about the residents. I went to the Nursery bldg. often after work to play with the kids & babies, they woul glom onto me because I think they never got any attention. I also volunteered at the Juvenile facility to help the boys with reading, but was asked not to come back because I was a young girl and there were only boys there. Oh well, I tried to help, and I was very good at helping them with their reading.

    • Thanks for sharing your stories about Forest Haven, Stella. It’s a shame they couldn’t use your help at the Juvenile facility but kudos to you for taking the time to help them! πŸ™‚

  24. Hi Stella, Since you mentioned you worked there, do you have any contact information for anyone “in charge” out there? I am a local funeral director who has had a family inquire about the “cemetery” on the grounds. They won’t even let me in to see it, and I’m trying to get through some red tape. Thanks.

  25. Will be making a trip with a small group tonight!! Just finished exploring Roosewood Center πŸ™‚ and highly recommended it to all that’s interested!!! Henryton was another GREAT ONE but its all leveled now, I was lucky enough to go and capture over 400 photos about 4 years ago while it was still mostly all there.Have plenty of photos if anyone’s interested in them!

  26. Hey guys. I’m looking for someone who knows a lot about the history of this building and why it closed to interview and feature in a broadcast journalism piece. The piece will be put into a show that will air at the University of Maryland, and it’s going to get a lot of views. If you’re interested, please email me at

    Also, if the author of this fantastic post would contact me via email, that would be great.

  27. What a great article. I honestly never new this place existed. I have lived in Laurel for 10 years now but never really heard anything about it. I recall a few instances of people talking about abandoned asylums throughout MD, but I thought there were several. Thanks to the guy that posted the map, I used to frequent that watering hole there years ago, but now I see where to go. Maybe one day I’ll get up the nerve and force someone to go with me. Terrible what that place was and how poorly people where treated, but an excellent article that brings to light what would otherwise go forgotten.

  28. I just stumbled on your article. Thank you for sharing your knowledge & info. These stories are extremely sad but not isolated events. Luckily almost all of these institutions are closed. I actually worked at an old asylum & I have no horror stories to tell; the residents I worked with were well cared for. Some of us did care. Emily from WI.

    • Thanks for sharing Emily, you are correct and I did not intend to paint a picture that everyone in your industry served in that manner. In my opinion those that actually do care are real-life heroes. Unfortunately they often fail to get the accolades they deserve. Thanks for being one of the good guys. πŸ™‚

  29. Thank you for memorializing – remembering – these people who were not just marginalized but thrown away – And for naming as many as you could. I work in Laurel, and had never heard of this place until my son & his friends checked it out. For whatever reason, it feels better that they are acknowledged now, even if only in their death.

    • Thank you Amy. I agree… I’m happy they could at least be memorialized, however small my contribution may be.

  30. One of the most well written urbex articles I’ve ever read, look forward to reading more, let me know if you are ever looking for contributors.


    • Wow, I’m honored to hear that. Thank you very much for the kind words! πŸ™‚

      We are always looking for contributors. Get in touch, I’d love to hear what you’re thinking: sometimes.interesting (at)

  31. My dad sent me a link to this article today. I wasn’t going to open it, but I did and I couldn’t stop reading. Your words are powerful and your pictures are chilling. As I read the story, images ran through my mind and the “characters” came to life. I felt my teeth clench and then my heart ache for each one. One day I’ll venture over there with my camera.

    • Thanks for the comment Kim, I appreciate the feedback on the article. Be sure to thank your Dad for me. πŸ™‚
      I’m glad the former residents features resonated with readers, I thought it would be appropriate to humanize the story if I was going to spend the time researching the buildings. Cheers!

  32. Will be visiting there tomorrow. Will most likely be uploading a video on YouTube of collective footage when done. Wish us luck!!

  33. The number 15 building seems to be one of the cottages or wards. looking at whats in there and how it seems like it was set up. i was in there this past week and was determined to check it out. all of the doors are locked but we climbed in through a pre broken window.

  34. Words cannot express my dismay at the way the residents of this facility were treated. Thank you for highlighting their plight. I can only hope we have learned something from this and other examples like it.

    • Great to see you around these parts, CBC, and thanks for taking the time to read this particular story. Cheers!

  35. I went here today, hitting up buildings 1, 3, 14, 4, and 5. I totally missed the Curley building as my path out of the woods lead me straight to building 1.
    There were no squatters, no security, although I did see a white truck turn down a road and head towards a local business. There were helicopters overhead, but I doubt they were looking for trespassers.
    What is described in those buildings is spot on. I found some old medical records, tests, and text books, which I thought was cool.
    I parked about .5 miles down the road, at a sports bar, and hiked until I saw the powerlines/fence area by the storage center/moose lodge. It was about a half mile to 3/4 walk, through mostly clear woods, although I did have to make my way through some tall vines and such.
    I hope to have pictures posted soon. Keep in mind that I used my iPhone 6, and not a professional camera, so the shots might not be as good as others before.

    • Hello! Have you been recently? I am looking to visit in the fall to take some pictures, but I’m not sure if there is an easy way to get in… If you could contact me at, I have a lot of questions to ask! Thanks.

  36. Does this complex have any type of tunnel system for easier transport between buildings? I didnt see it asked, or in the write up. Great page by the way!

  37. Hello, just wanted to know if this hospital had an undergound tunnel network, or any tunnels at all. This makes getting between buildings easier. Great site by the way. Thanks for any help!

    • nwitt – If there are any tunnels I did not come across them in my research. Thanks.

  38. Is this building open to public to take picture like this? I remember going to a similar one like Glenn dale hospital but it say No Trespassing

    • Mo – the buildings are not open to the public. Visitors are trespassing at their own risk.

  39. Guys please please please be careful and come prepared. It’s very Forrest and hard to get out of. Mark your path. I mean it. My fiancΓ© and I went, found the brick shell and wanted to go to the further building but it was just more Forrest. We ended up turning around and getting lost for 2 hours where I ended up sprain ing my ankle and tearing up my legs with thorns from the brambles. Both of us fell into tears when we found our way out. I’m not egaggerating either when I say we were LOST FOR TWO HOURS. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BE CAREFUL AND COME PREPARED. We had knives, a iPhone (that barely got any service) and flashlights and we could not find our way out. It’s terrifying and creepy and cool but it’s very dangerous to find your way out of. Please. Again. Be careful.

  40. Just visited Forest Haven this past weekend with some friends. We checked out buildings 1, 2, some of 5, 10, and 12.

    We drove up on Old Portland Rd and took a right on River Rd, but about 60 yards down River Rd, there was a cop car with it’s lights on, keeping visitors from entering. So we had to find a new way in. The best place to park is at The Bank Shot Bar & Grill, right on Laurel Fort Meade Rd. Park your car and walk west on Laurel Fort Meade Rd and onto Old Portland Rd. Once you’re on Old Portland, enter the woods before you reach River Road and walk to the asylum through the woods.

    It’s relatively easy to navigate through the woods, as long as you have your Google Maps application up on your smart phone (so make sure your phones are charged!). Once you make it closer to the asylum, you start seeing trash that was left behind from previous visitors, so you know you’re on the right path. If you take this way, you will most likely enter the campus from the back of building #2 (Curley building).

    The campus and buildings have a very eerie and spooky feeling to them. This was not a good place when it was open, and you get that feeling while walking through the hallways and rooms.

    We were very attentive and aware of our surroundings, and no patrols came to make their rounds in the 2ish hours that we were there.

    Very informative post. The map was on point and helped us navigate the campus and know which buildings we were exploring, along with some history of them. I definitely plan to go back and explore more of the buildings.

  41. Great post, very interesting! I am considering on visiting this place in the fall with a group, but I have tons of questions. Is it still easily accessible? If someone who has been there recently or knows a lot about this place, can you contact me at Thanks!

  42. Nelson,
    I am an Urbex photographer, and I am thinking of coming here in the fall with a group. I have tons of questions to ask you about going! If you could email me at, that would be great! Thanks.

  43. Thanks for the feedback Nelson. Can you believe I’ve never been? This was put together reading first-hand accounts and news stories. Thank you for helping with the accuracy by providing feedback! Cheers. πŸ™‚

  44. My brother and i just came back from visiting this place. It was hard finding the road and where to park, so we knew we were close by and went to a local bar in Laurel, MD, the bartender and locals gave us the scoop. How to avoid security (24 hour patrols there, you gotta park at a bar and walk along the road, theres construction there but they dont seem to car, do not walk the whole rd, ask a local for the path through the woods cuz theres a security booth and they wont let you in, alsoa local told me that her tires were slashed back when you could drive up there). We decided to go at day because at night youd needa flashlight and youll probably get caught. We ended up comin out the woods onto a dirt road nowhere near the security, and saw the building with eyeball spraypainted on it first. This is the strange part, i took two photos of that building but it was so bright i could barely make the photos out n we were so excited we kept exploring. Later after we got inside, we took a break on the second building we explored untop the roof and i saw the first two photos. That first photo, is all black and white (all the leaves and grass ) but the building is an odd teal color and the sky is a pink red color. The second photo i had taken ofthe same shot is totally normal, i thought well maybe i had my phones camera set on some sorta infared setting or something, but not on do i not have that option on my phone, if that were the case, all the other photos should have had the same effect. I did not edit anything, id liketo believe in ghost but im pretty skeptical, i wasnt trying to ghost hunt goin in there. I plan on turning the photo in to some sort of paranormal investigator to see if it could be a camera malfunction, if they cant explain it, i know without a doubt that i didnt edit it, and ill know that place could be haunted. Anyways, the third building we visited, we were only in for a minute and heard footsteps above is, so not wanting to get arrested or jumped by squatters, we ran out back to the pathway. If youre in the area and not afraid to get arrested, i highly suggest this place, just bring plenty of water, a camera, flashlight, and pepper spray just in case. Be careful on the roof too, it felt like it would collapse but you can get a great view of everything.

  45. It is very sad to read here of, I hope, the temporary neglect of what I remember as beautiful, happy and productive The District Training School. I spent time there, as a child, when my grandfather, Dr. Kenneth B. Jones, was the “superintendent of DTS, before its name was changed to Forest Haven. Back in the 1950’s, after WWII, America had the political will to fund humane “schools’ for “those children who were considered to be un-educatible in the public school system and who were orphans, when place were not longer called “orphanages.” We are advised, from ancient times, that “the poor will always be with us,” the poor of spirit, the poor of abilities and the lost and troubled ones, “those kids who do not fit in or aveh loving caring families.”

    I recall the DTSchool as being managed as a rural farm-like village setting, since my grandfather, Dr. Jones, was a pioneering psychiatrist, from a farmng community on the Eastern Shore, from Church Creek in Dorchester County. He, with a supportive and caring staff, with sufficient funding to do their jobs, ran the DTSchool as a “caring place, in a pastoral peaceful setting for vocational training for “those kids” able to move forward, out side the hustle and bustle of hectic DC. Troubled kids, who were “uneducatible” in the public schools, could be safe and be trained in a safe setting, where they learned to do chores, vocational skills and gain independent life skills, as they were able to do so. In the 1950’s the setting was well managed and funded sufficiently. The “residents raised most of their food in gardens, milked cows, collected eggs, created crafts, made many of their own clothes and played games in “school yards.”

    I remember clearly, making clabbered milk, being told to hang it to drain in the basement of the Superintendent’s House, by my grandmother, Margaret Nicholson Jones. When drained, our family had fresh cottage cheese. My sister and I used to run in and out of the weeping mulberry branches, eating as many mulberries as we were told to pick and bring inside for lunch,

    Unfortunately, the well-document and photographed report, by an unknown writer(S) on Interesting Places, is of the more recent and less well-funded years, when under-funding meant under-staffing and inadequate maintenance, evident in all the pictures included in the article. It is sad to me to read and see the sad condition of Forest Haven, surrounded by Government facilit4ies today.

    More of my perspective and history: My mother, Marguerite Jones Hastings, was a pioneering master social worker with “the mentally disabled” later to be called the intellectually challenged, at Rosewood State Training School, in Owings Mills Maryland. When she started working with “those kids” when they were called “imbeciles, idiots and morons” with corresponding IQ measures as testing became available. She worked hard to get their “labels” changed to “profoundly retarded,” for example, those kids who could never stand, lived on matressess and had to be spoon fed. ‘THOSE KIDS’ WERE HYDRO-CEPHALICS WHO COULD NEVER RAISE THEIR BIG, HEAVY, WATER FILLED HEADS. Brain shunts, draining excessive neuro-system fluids have not yet been invented for “those bed kids.” Hydro-cephalic babies, theya re still with us, but can now have these neuro-fluids be drained by shunt tubes into the carotid arteries. Now, at birth, “those kids with water on the brain” are identified often at birth, and the question of having a head the weight of the entire body no longer exists.

    Others of “those kids” had seizures and. eventually, the medicine, dilanton and minimal brain surgery on infants, became helpful in restoring some semblance of normalcy to their young lives. nationally known Dr. Ben Carson became a multi-millionaire Johns Hopkins pioneering neuro-surgeon, working on such children with minimal brain damage, (MBD), from various neurological birth defects.

    Moving up the scale, some of “those kids” were educable, trainable and even rehabilitatible, with an IQ around 100, when major behavioral management problems were resolved. “Those kids” could sometimes go to regular schools, when Public Law 94-142 was passed, to mainstream special needs kids into public schools. If “those kids” were not orphaned or abandoned children, who needed to stay at a supportive facility, maybe by 1994 they could go to a group homes, as such caring homes opened closer to their neighborhoods and families.

    Time flows and sucessive stages of human history can be observed, as this beautiful location and well-built buildings now sit in disarray. The Reagan Administration seriously cut all human services funding, across the country, turning all “troubled folks” out of training schools and state hospitals, in the name of “government cost efficiency.” Hence the former vision of a caring, pastoral village, such as those well managed in Europe, for the poor who will always be with us. may seemed impossible to restore. Yet, I hope that vision never entire;y fades, and various training programs can be developed on the grounds of the former district training school, then called Forest Haven, where many caring staff members spent endless hours helping “those kids” survive and even thrive, when their families and community schools could NOT handle and manage their troubled young lives.

    The odd funding arrangements between the Federal Government and the District of Columbia, where the government is the main employer, has always been problematical, for schools, police, fire departments, and especially that training school for troubled, orphaned, and abandoned kids,” later called Forest Haven. The Reagan Administration promoted “trickle down economics” to get the American voters to support “corporate development and business” to raise everyone’s boats, and cut taxes. However, that was REALLY “trickle-up” economics to the 1%, wasn’t it. Historical and socio-political tides of policy ebb and flow.

    May the American voters again have the political well to sufficiently funds training schools to help the troubled, orphans, and abandoned children to be vocationally trained in safe and pastoral school settings. These kids seem better suited to a simpler life, not complicated by technology and complexity. May “those kids” be trained and prepared for better lives as productive citizens, as they are able to be, in our complex society. Then we all will be able to sleep better at night knowing that they are caring society even for “those kids” less fortunate among us.

    • Thank you for the well thought out and informative comment, quatrunebrainmap. I wish I had more references from the better years. Unfortunately I’m limited to what I can find in books, newspapers, and magazines, and in this case that included much of the later years of abuse and cutbacks.

      What seems to happen with so many of these places is they start out well and with a solid plan, but eventually funding deficiencies result in a deteriorating level of care. Which then brings in shortcuts, cut corners, and abuse stories. It’s terribly unfortunate. Budget-balancing and proper allocation are things we can’t seem to figure out. Although in fairness, the winds of social change have progressed in the time since. Now if we can get the funding together…

      • i don’t understand, I thought I read that the hospital receives $100,000 per patient per year… most people don’t make that in a year working while paying bills, what did this money go towards if they weren’t getting proper treatment, clothing, beds, etc…are medications and medical treatments seriously this high?? especially from that era when cost of living was so low…im curious about abandoned buildings and places which led me to this site, which was well written by the way…

    • This is certainly the comments of a privileged individual who never lived the experiences of the people who were here. We already know of people who were NOT well cared for, even in the beginning, as show by the stories on this page where people who were evaluated were not even evaluated properly and were just dumped at this facility.

      Perhaps you’ll consider reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which seems to highlight your type of experience. I highly doubt you were privy to the actions being carried out in the laboratories and medical surgeries.

  46. Hey, don’t try to go here. It’s recently been turned into a juvenile prison facility. You will end up getting escorted off the property for trespassing. Happened to my friends and I a couple weeks ago when we tried to go.

  47. Im planning on going here with some friends tomorrow, but we do not know where to park. Ive heard theres a lodge, but that they might tow you. Where have you guys parked?

  48. Just went there yesterday for thanksgiving! Truly an amazing place! Ill have videos and pictures up soon! Upon driving up there, where was a guard I think. They had cones set up so you couldn’t drive until he moved them but he did let me in. There is a facility there so I guess just say you are visiting someone in There. I did see a white truck but after we finished exploring for about 2 hours and that wasn’t enough time as the sun had already set. It was a black lady and she just asked us if we were leaving the property and i said yes. She did escort me all the way to the main road though which was weird.

  49. Considering going in the very near future if anyone would be willing to give me some information that would be great

  50. I don’t know if someone will see this comment, but would I get get caught if I follow Center Ave and actually park at the asylum?

  51. I finally went a few weeks ago, it was beautiful! I parked at the parking lot across from the diner. I was thinking about going again on Wednesday…but then I heard about a fire? How bad would security be now?

  52. I Was just here, Saturday night, this place is Iconic, I have Video on Youtube of it and Glenn Dale, we explored these places at night, extra spooky. we will be going back to Forest Haven soon, we didn’t get to check out all the buildings as it was just a free exploration, didn’t research much before going, but thank you guys for the read, great to know what I explored and what I have left to explore. youtube: Gregory Scott. questions or suggestions: Twitter: @_DcmbrsVeryOwn_

  53. There’s something so exciting, yet unsettling about visiting a place such as this. Forest Haven is full of history, most commonly known for the unfortunate later years of its operation. This is also a fantastic spot to visit for urbexers, both local and from far away. This place is huge, meaning, many explorers visit the asylum grounds more than once, myself included. This is a fantastic resource to learn about much of Forest Haven’s history.

    It’s unfortunate to hear about the vision that people involved in constructing the grounds had for this place and learning that this vision went down the drain over the years. I spent some time exploring Forest Haven in 2013 and 2014. There are several blogs that exist from other explorer’s who talk about their trips there and how they got into the asylum. I used all of those resources in order to plan my first trip there and thanks to those blogs, it was successful and very easy to get there. (someone in the above comments said they got lost in the woods, not sure how that happened, but planning things out helps).

    If you haven’t explored a place like this or any other abandoned location, please be careful. Don’t ever go alone or at night time. Always be aware of your surroundings, YES squatters and other people you don’t want to come face to face with frequent places like this. Also, exploring Forest Haven is trespassing, this is government property. Be prepared for any consequences. Lastly, these buildings are in bad shape, they have ceilings and floors that have deteriorated from rain, snow, etc. Many areas are full of debris, rodent droppings and asbestos. Just be careful and pay attention.

    The Curley building was the first building I ever saw and the first that I explored. The hallways are decorated with Peanuts characters (which I love, yet they give off a creepy vibe in there). Some rooms have friendly decal stickers of flowers and smiley faces. On my very first trip, I walked into a larger room within the Curley building and found what looked like a dead dog (It was some sort of dead animal with skin and bones intact). It scared me a bit, because I saw photos of the exact animal on the internet from previous explorers, but our visits were YEARS apart. The animal has been removed since then, not sure who or what took it away. In the Curley building you will also find giant metal cribs, old toys and small rooms with dentist chairs.

    #8 is directly behind the Curley building. I did not run into squatters, but I also haven’t been there very recently. I’d be careful going in there. I cannot remember whether it was in this building or in the Curley building, but there was a large hand painted mural of a circus scene. Circuses and clowns really creep me out, so that was fun. I feel like a circus scene is one of the worst things to put in a place like this (maybe it’s just me). I get the interior of this building mixed up with the Curley building, but one had a large room with tables and a small kitchen next to it, where you can find old Christmas decor.

    To the right of the admin. building on the map are two buildings marked as 3 and a single building to the left of the admin. building also marked 3. I’d advise you to avoid the two buildings on the right, most of its interior contents are in piles outside. I don’t think this is structurally safe and I couldn’t imagine how I would even make my way in there. I can’t really say for the one on the left because I never found an easy way in there, so I avoided it all together.

    #1, the admin. building is massive and it looks like it would be the most exciting building on the grounds. It contains examination rooms with dentist chairs and one has an intact xray machine (It’s still mounted to the ceiling). Someone I was with pressed a button on one of the walls in a room in this building and the light on the button lit up green! I’m not sure if some electricity still runs to the grounds because of the nearby juvenile center or what, but we never expected it to actually work. You can find xrays strewn about the xray examination room. In the sub-basement there is a small morgue. Other than that, most of this building contains what used to be offices.

    Camelia cottage is somewhat similar to the other wards/cottages. They had very creepy basements, I spotted either mouse or rat droppings and it was everywhere. One of these buildings had a crawl space of sorts full of dirt and random objects left behind. The way the dirt was formed was unsettling. It totally looked like dead bodies were buried or something (I’m sure they weren’t, but it was definitely sketch). In one of these buildings I found a stand up xray machine which are no longer made because of the radiation they give off. Here, you can also find tons of old plastic furniture from the 60’s/70’s.

    Spruce Cottage looks a lot different inside because of its post-asylum uses. The razor wire fence wraps around the building, but you can still access the main entrance to the building. In here, I found a calendar as late as 2006, unopened medical syringes and a metal detector like you would find in an airport.

    Unknown (#15) had a small area outside of it that looked like what used to be a small garden. Inside, there were lots of tubs in the bathrooms and certain characteristics that reminded me of the other cottages.

    The vibrant colored stained glass in the chapel is beautiful and in great condition. This building had an awful smell inside, so we didn’t spend much time in there. There is a small back room with an old piano and we found a couple information pamphlets on various health issues.

    In the white trailer behind the Curley building, we found some military documents and I’m not sure why they were there, it was really strange.

    Power Plant (#6) has some really neat old school technology, but there’s also a crazy amount of asbestos and is very close to where you could potentially get caught trespassing.

    I never made my way into the laundry building, #14 or into the detention center. It’s easy to forget about the detention center because it’s hard to see it since it’s secluded (especially in the summer). Full stealth mode must take place if you want to explore #’s 6, 7, and 13. 14 was used more recently and I had no idea if it was still being used at the time or not, so I didn’t get to explore there.

    If you take the path in the woods, that’s your best bet and it’s super easy to follow. I have never seen security there, but I always avoid the front entrance. Cool place to see, if you want to go there, go now, many similar types of facilities in the PA, MD area have been demolished recently, you never know if this one will be next.

    • Hey Rebecca I am planing to Go towards the end of February. I’ve been there 2 times and still haven’t seen everything. Email me! Chanthy86@gmail and we can work out the details

  54. I am an experimental photographer from Pennsylvania with an extreme interest in abandoned places, so I had been aware of Forest Haven from various blogs and such for a while. I always wanted to go, and this weekend my hockey team happened to be travelling to Laurel. The asylum being 15 minutes from the hotel, I had to make the visit. There were 4 women in the crew and another also into urbex photography. The Moose Lodge is under surveillance and very adamant about towing your car. We were gonna stop in for a beer but its members only. The path to the woods is right behind the Moose so Im sure they posted signs strictly because of visitors. So we parked down the road at the Bank Shot, a huge sports bar. Apparently its a happening place, as the lot was packed, so you can park there unnoticed. Be careful crossing the highway. In hindsight it would have been easier to walk down the road to the Moose and enter the woods there, but we entered the woods across from the bar to avoid being seen. You have to be careful because one road leads to a job corp facility and there a signs posted that cars will be subject to a security check. Theres another road behind the Moose that is regularly patrolled and leads to another security booth and roadblock. I think they are mainly there to patrol the juvenile detention center near the complex around the corner, but they denied us access to the asylum cemetery thats further up the road. Our trek through the woods was unfortunately longer than our visit. We finally made it to the rear of the Curley building. The whole complex is very eerily quiet and almost surreal with all the overgrown weeds and state of ruin. I was eager to go inside and as I approached a door we heard a thud that startled us. Two of the girls in our group were not comfortable going inside, so we headed towards the administration building instead. I was really looking forward to going inside and checking out all the old exam rooms, medical equipment and morgue. But once again we heard a thud as I approached the door followed by a bottle being launched out the window and shattering from the second floor. Squatters were clearly watching us and let us know on 2 occasions that we weren’t welcome. At this point 2 others were completely uncomfortable being there and wanted to leave, and we were all wary about entering any more of the buildings. We checked out the chapel real quick before leaving. We could see in the windows that there weren’t any squatters there. I had seen photos of the interior before and it looked pretty intact, but sadly its been heavily vandalized since. All the glass windows have been shattered and there’s graffiti everywhere. We left via the designated path through the woods which was littered with dust masks and garbage. We passed a group of teens heading to the complex and warned them of the squatters. It only took about 5 minutes to get to the road. But on the road, a car stopped and the driver gave us a nasty look. We saw the badge and realized it was security and kept moving. Be careful for cars crossing the road leaving the woods, and please be careful of angry squatters!!! I was disappointed we did not get to see half of what I wanted to see, and got mostly hasty exterior shots.I would have also liked to see the detention center #12. I wish we had some men on our crew. Id like to try and go back again soon now that I know the way in, but next time bring some men along.

  55. Are you guys still planning on going (Rebecca/Chanthy) or did that already happen? I’m planning on going sometime this month with a friend or two. I’ve been there a few times before though.

  56. I never got to Pennhurst yet (I had to postpone the workshop) – but I will probably go soon since they offer a workshop at that location every couple of months, it seems. However, I do have some photos of Crownsville if you’d like to see those (they’re back from 2012 and more amateurish as I wasn’t serious about photography yet and was just getting interested in the urbex/photography scene) but they do exist if you’d like to check them out – I can send you some via e-mail if you’d like or you can view the album on FB. Shoot me an e-mail if you are still interested in teaming up to plan a visit there – I’d love to go a second time! (e-mail:

  57. Hey there, thanks for writing about this place. I’m curious where you got the comments from Camp Good Counsel. Would you mind commenting on who quoted for this article? I remember counselors would visit this facility as well as Great Oaks in Silver Spring before both were shuttered.

    • Joe: Sorry, the link to the Camp Good Counsel source was the same color as the text. I’ve fixed it so it’s more visible, my apologies. Feel free to click it now to read the entire article I found on DCist with that information. Thanks for reading!

    • Little known fact, The Admin building used to only be two stories. The third story wasn’t added until later.

        • There’s still one in the Curley building? I followed your map when I was there (starting in the room with the adult crib and “lost souls” and could not find the piano or roller skates. I just assumed people had demolished them. Then again, I’m a pretty terrible map reader.

          • The last time I was there, 3 weeks ago, the piano was still there. It’s in the second day room on the west side of the building. I suppose it could’ve been moved since then, but I doubt it. It’s been there for many years.

    • Mike Perry,
      I would love to see more of the vintage pics. It sounds like you have a lot of knowledge about Forest Haven. I am an Air Force photojournalist that is currently taking a multi-media class, and would love to get some audio quotes from you. The more I am learning about the place, it just keeps getting more interesting. Please email me at if you are able to assist in any way. Thank you.

  58. I visited Forest Haven yesterday (Wednesday 30 March 2016) around 3 PM. It was about an 11 mile bike ride from my house. The path through the woods to enter Forest Haven is off Old Portland Road, which is off 198. There is construction going on here, and the entrance to the path is actually right next to the worker’s parking lot. There are no trespassing signs, but the construction workers didn’t pay any attention to me.

    Soon after you enter the woods there is an abandoned brick building, but all that is remaining is the walls. This one seems to have been abandoned before the rest, and I haven’t seen it marked on any of the maps. The entire path through the woods takes only a few minutes and is easy to follow. You’ll see the Administration building in the distance as you come closer. The path ends right behind the Curley building. Walk a little bit left and you’ll see the Administration building. This is the one I went in. There’s not much left in the rooms on the 3 floors, although I didn’t check the basement.

    One thing I’ll note is that while I was in here I saw no one, but out of the blue I heard a four note chime, like from a clock or doorbell or even a toy piano. It was really creepy since I’m almost sure no one was in there with me.

    After I left the Administration building, I turned the corner while looking at a map and saw a security car a ways in front of me. I jumped back, hoping she hadn’t seen me, but she had. She drove up, and I wasn’t in the mood for running, even though I’m 99% sure she wouldn’t have followed me in the building. She told me “You can’t be here, this is government property”, and she let me leave through the woods like I came, although she followed me as I walked to the path.

    From what other people have said, I didn’t expect any guards on a weekday afternoon. Maybe they’ve stepped up security. At any rate, I you go you need to keep quiet and stay off the roads.
    The only people I saw were a group that was coming as I was leaving. I also heard someone smashing glass while I was in the admin. building. I imagine most people go on the weekends.

    If anyone is interested, I could maybe arrange to go again with one or more of you. I’m a 17 y/o photographer/explorer, and I don’t really have anyone I know who is willing to explore with me. It’s safer in a group, in the case of an accident (and honestly some of these buildings look like they’re on the verge of collapse so there’s always a risk). I only got to go in one building so I’ll definitely be going back soon.

    Here’s a picture I took while I was there, I may upload more later:

    • The brick shell of a building you passed in the woods is the former Forest Haven Superintendent’s home.


    • Text me 610-836-1108 me and a friend are going next month and wouldn’t mind having an extra person and a photographer

  59. Currently the buildings are guarded by a guard at the front gate and a guard who drives around in a white truck 24 hours everyday. The building is also surrounded by military buildings even the guards dont know what’s going on back there as literal swat teams and generals in the army go there. We were lucky enough to meet the laid back guard at the enterance who actually drove us around the buildings, told us where kids get caught and what lines NOT to pass otherwise if you go too far near military buildings you will get shot and you will get strip searched and questioned.(two people were shot like 2 years ago trying to run through the military gate in the back) Some serious stuff is going on back there. we adventured, found patient files and when we went to head back because our phones died (we weren’t prepared and those were our lights) we met a group of guys who were also adventuring around forest haven and gave us a headlamp! We hungout with them until we all grouped together to leave. As we left we met a group of girls coming in and showed them what way to go. We came into the area weird but the guard showed us the proper way to get into the area and I’m planning to go back and take more pictures! ? proper path is between the U haul and the moose bar, up the hill, across the street and into the woods! Night time is the best time to come there (says the guard).

    • Ok so where did he say not to go? Any specific buildings? I’d rather not get shot tbh. What day/time did you go?

  60. Great article. Just went on Friday the 13th. I would go at night if you don’t want to get caught. Park across the road a little ways down at a pub. Take the woods until you get to building #1. Really cool place. Make sure you bring a painters mask or something.

  61. Mike– can you tell me by any chance where the playground is? The one with the pony ride and the tangled frog? And also where the typewriter on the desk is? I’m planning to go and want this to be my last photography trip there. Thanks!

  62. Hello all! Is anyone planning a trip here any time soon? (Including those who haven’t gone yet) This would be my first time exploring an “abandoned” property (I usually do ghost towns) and I’d love to get group together. Please respond to this and I will get e-mail notifications! Thanks ^_^

    • I have wanted to visit Forest Haven for about two years now, never got around to it. I would be interested in joining a group to go

      • I’m in Elkridge, MD; about 16 minutes from this location. I’m available any time on Sunday & Monday. If traveling with a small group, I’d prefer to go during the day time (safety/squatter concerns). However, if we have a larger group (5 or more), nighttime is fine with me (and probably better). If at night, I’m available any day of the week!

  63. I was able to visit two buildings here today. Got good photos. No security in sight. Sad place overrun by vandals and graffiti. Worth the 2 plus hour drive to see it in person.

  64. I’ve been twice just to explore/for photography reasons – no security either time – but I still have yet to explore more of the buildings! Has anyone ever found the bus yet – if so, where is it located? Apparently there’s an abandoned bus on site as well. πŸ™‚

  65. I’m planning to go in a group of 4 later today, but I would like to know if there’s some basic guidelines regarding where to park the car and which entrance should we enter in?

    • Park at the Bank Shot bar. Walk down the street to the storage facility and moose lodge. Walk up the path between those two buildings, then you’ll get to Old Portland Road. Careful cause the security drive up and down this road. Cross over and enter the woods by the construction area. Go past the remnants of a brick house and continue down path. You’ll see discarded masks and trash as you approach the facility.

  66. Just went this morning with 3 others not a soul insight except for on the way out a construction worker stopped to place cones, we hid and it wasn’t a big deal. We only were able to find 2 buildings though (my group was afraid of getting caught)

  67. How come no pictures or trip reports excerpts from Hemlock Cottage (building 19)?

    I’ve been to FH back in 2010 with a group of 5. Only got to go through the Curly building then got caught on the road facing the main admin building, because a not-so-smart member of our group decided to light a cigarette on that main dirt road. Same deal with the guy in a white pickup truck, however he made us all delete our pictures (jerk) and asked for our IDs (which some of us intentionally left behind) and jotted down names/addresses. We were warned not to come back again because we were on “file”. Surprisingly, he gave us a ride back to our cars in his pickup truck afterwards. Needless to say, I still want to go back but I mainly want to explore building 19. Unless the mold and asbestos is too out of control…

    P.S. 25th year closing anniversary today: October 14th, 1991: Forest Haven officially closes

  68. Really fantastic & thorough article. I live in Athens, Ohio, home to the Athens Lunatic Asylum (1874-1993), where my grandmother was a nurse. The most memorable story she ever told me was of a patient asking her to cut his nails short so he could scratch people with them (It sounded creepier when I first heard it as a little kid)…
    The university has bought the property and rehabbed much of it, but I’ve been able to do some very satisfying exploring there over the years. I noticed someone asked about tunnels between the buildings-The Ridges (as the Athens Asylum is now known) has these. Talk about creepy. The first time I ever went the property was still abandoned and unguarded, but alas I was fifteen and didn’t have a camera with me. I’ve searched high and low for a way into the courtyard I saw them in, but the whole place is pretty well locked down or boarded up now.
    Heading to DC for a long weekend next Thursday, and with the help of all the detailed info here will be excitedly and cautiously exploring Forest Haven.

  69. Going to this place with my production crew this weekend – it’s best go in small groups & during the day (lesser chance of getting caught) I’ve been told by other explorers that have been multiple times to the site.

  70. This place was a children’s center before it was given to the DC government in the 70’s. Once they had it, it went to trash. Black management turned it into little Africa. There went the neighborhood. NSA is in the backyard so nothing will be built there. Too close to big secrets. The cops in MD are dangerous gestapo. Don’t get caught there. And being anywhere near NSA will get you trouble you don’t want. If you survive the Anne Arundel County cops target practice, and they decide to hand you off to the feds at NSA, your life will become terrible. Don’t go there. I lived in Laurel for 50 years. I know what it is. I don’t live there anymore. Hell, I don’t even live in MD anymore. Cops there are too dangerous. If you don’t believe me, go find out for yourself. You’ll wish you’d listened to me.

  71. I’m an urban explorer from New Mexico, currently in DC for the week and want to check this place out. I don’t want to do it alone unless I have to. If anyone is interested hit me up at

  72. Made a trip about a month ago to scope out the place, drove up Old Portland Rd and got followed out by a white patrol truck. Planning on going back next week with my dad and some friends now that its warmer and we can hike through the woods. Pretty wicked place from what ive seen and heard. Would really like to go to the Administration building and the church/chapel! Cant wait to get up close and personal with this place! Safe travels! πŸ™‚

  73. Never wrote back about this place after I went — The place is awesome, LOTS of stuff left behind, lots of documents to read (bring gloves & respirator), DO NOT take the normal route to get in (behind the storage place), I’ve heard there’s surveillance on that path. Pull up Google Maps, look at where the road is & draw a path to hike thru the woods to get there. Much safer, stay off main roads there, patrol cars travel along that road. Don’t go too far, there’s an active juvenile dentition center on the premises. Check out the video I shot:

  74. Has anyone gone recently. I’m intrigued by the history and have always wanted to go exploring here. I just want to make sure people have been able to go recently without any problems.

    • I went Aug. 27, still good to go! Just be aware that a van does patrol every now and then on the main roads of the facility. Don’t stroll along in the open!

  75. Hello! I have visited Forest Haven at least 4 times, my most recent trip being Aug. 27, 2017. I have explored the Curley building and Administration building pretty thoroughly, as exploring them both tends to wear us out enough and we head back. They are also the safer buildings to explore as they are furthest away from the active complex (which I believe is a juvenile detention facility). We first parked on the side of Old Portland Road behind the Extra Space Storage. I think most people park there to explore and the guards of the active complex know this, but we were not towed. This time when we tried to park there, someone heading to the active complex stopped and warned us not to park there. Someone said there is surveillance there but there is not. There is a somewhat active construction site just beside it though so workers might see you enter the woods. A better place to park (if you prefer to be safer but don’t mind a longer walk) is at the Bank Shot Bar and Grill. Walk down the highway and bit and cross into the woods, then start walking towards Forest Haven between the highway and the Woodland Job Corps Center. It’s pretty much a straight shot but use GPS if you’re uncertain!
    The first building you should come upon is the Curley building. It’s 1 floor and has some cool stuff in it.
    Behind this building to the left is the Administration building, it is 4 floors. One large hallway down each floor with rooms off the sides. And yes, it does have a small morgue (a few body racks) on the lowest floor. Not much left here but still some cool stuff to see.
    On the most recent trip, we heard the infamous white van pass by. It came from the road behind the Admin building towards the Curley building, then took a right turn down a long and somewhat well-kept road. It did not go down near the Curley building and we were fine hiding from it behind the brush in front of the Admin building. I don’t know what it’s route is beyond where we saw it, but it seems to do a loop. So just be aware of that, be listening and stay off the main roads if you can. They don’t come into the building or go off the loop without reason to.
    You will likely see other explorers there, especially on weekends. Make sure they know you’re there so you don’t startle them! And remember, take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. This is a historical place that has already been destroyed enough as it is. Bring a mask, water, and watch your step. Be safe!
    If you have any questions, feel free to email me at or leave a reply here! I’ve only explored these two buildings but I’m happy to answer what I can. Cheers!

  76. Just a tip from someone who frequents this place almost every weekend, theres one cop in particular who will wait at the storage place or car lot to stop you from entering lately. He won’t cause harm just you won’t be able to go to forest haven that night if he stops you.

    • You go often? Let’s plan a trip! I haven’t been since April! (My comment is above with link to the video.)

  77. Just got back with a ton of footage my paranormal group and i got. We got a TON of EVPs. We plan to make another trip!

  78. Thank you for the memories. My grandmother was a cook at this facility for many years and it was such a wonderful time to go and visit. I had been looking for pictures of the building that she lived in and where we played, to show my children. It has been heartbreaking to see and read about what went on at this center. My grandmother has passed away and I asked my mother if she knew that it was an asylum. She did not know that’s what it was. Every weekend we looked forward to going to the DC Children’s Center which is what we knew it as. In the late 60’s as a 8 or 9 year old, I knew this to be a place for the mentally retarded but they acted like everyone else that we knew. Granted our time was spent playing out of the Ray Huff Building, the Gym or at Cafeteria (Food Services) and never saw any of what was described. Since I have been researching this facility I often wonder if my grandmother knew what went on in the other buildings. It is devastating to know these people were treated this way.

  79. I am trying to find a picture of the commemorative stone erected in the cemetery. Does anyone have a picture or pictures of the names from the marker?

  80. The names of the individuals buried there are on the monument. They are listed in a published book called “Grave Matters: Cemetery Inscriptions, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Vol. 1” published in 2019. Available from major booksellers.

  81. the gravel lot on the side of the road where people leave their cars is no longer there due to construction along the side of the road. At night, this isn’t an issue since it is dark and one can just park at the old lounge next to the storage facility. Also security has tightened up in recent months. My friends and I were caught by security, a sneaky wise guy hiding behind one of the buildings in his little police car. Once we exited one building, he came out of the shadows to confront us. They just escorted us out.

  82. Anyone been there lately? I’m looking for a map. One was linked above, but the link is dead. Thank you so much.

  83. I’m doing this backwards, commenting before I read your article, but I’m backtracking now to read it. I just wanted to say that it was the saddest place I have ever visited. The cribs, dental records, the odd things I found and the things left behind were heartbreaking.

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