The Hooper and Gage Turrets

Worcester State Hospital ( 2002.FIA.3. 2.5)
The Gage Turret in the late 19th century

In 1886, two uniquely shaped buildings were added to the Worcester State Hospital to house suicidal patients. Like Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon — which was designed as a system of prison surveillance — the round layout was intended to keep patients within the sight of their caretakers at all time. Designed by George D. Rand, the same architect who designed the main Kirkbride complex, the Hooper Turret (for women) and the Gage Turret (for men) were positioned at opposite ends of the hospital’s two wings. As administrators wrote in the annual reports for 1886 and 1887:

“Each building is circular, fifty feet in diameter, two stories high and connected with one of the gables of the present structure by a passage-way with stairs upon one side and bath and clothes rooms on the other. it is intended to use the first floor as a day-room and the second floor as a dormitory. By this arrangement twenty-four persons will be accommodated in each building. By making some changes in the adjoining ward of the present building, a special dining-room is obtained.”

“These wards are of novel design, and we believe them admirably suited to their purpose. The patients occupying them are under the constant and uninterrupted observation of the attendants. The cheerful and beautiful room in each ward in which the day is spent must contribute materially to the welfare of this most unfortunate class of our inmates.”

The interiors of the Turrets were said to be “light, airy, painted in harmonious colors, and as cheerful as the nature of the malady of the persons who occupy them will admit.”

At the time the Hooper and Gage Turrets were built, the trustees of the Worcester State Hospital knew of only “one or two other similar institutions” that had circular wards, including the newly built general hospital at Antwerp, and few seem to have been built since. Notably, one of these rare examples was located in Worcester, less than a mile away from the Worcester State Hospital, along the same street. The circular building was built in 1892 as an addition to the Worcester Memorial Hospital. Like the Hooper and Gage Turrets, this building had two stories, each featuring an open floor plan: the first story serving as a ward for women, and the second story as a ward for children.

As “cheerful” as administrators tried to make the Turrets at the beginning, facility surveys indicate that they — like the rest of the hospital — deteriorated significantly within the first half century of their creation. While each of the Turrets was originally designed to hold a day room (first story) and sleeping room (second story), both stories had been requisitioned for beds by 1935 to meet the demands of the hospital’s growing patient population. Thus, buildings designed to accommodate 24 patients each were made to accommodate 48. Patients were provided with “day space” in a small room built into the narrow hallway connecting each Turret with the rest of the hospital building. The 1935 survey indicates that the overall physical condition of the Turrets was “fair,” while the lavatory and toilet facilities were “poor.” The buildings were not fireproof and the original wooden floors had been replaced with cement. Today the Hooper Turret is one of the few structures of the original 19th-century complex that remains intact. Its survival is a testament to the advocacy of Preservation Worcester and many local citizens during the redevelopment of the site in the 2010s.

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The Hooper Turret, pictured in 2016