Although I’m a lifelong resident of Connecticut, I’d never heard of Seaside Sanitarium until October, 2020, when my husband and I took an open air boat ride out of New
London. In keeping with the pandemic, Seaside Shadows, a ghost tour company based in Mystic, offered a “Historic Epidemics” tour along the mouth of the Thames River and nearby shoreline. Back in the 1970’s, we had visited Harkness Memorial State Park, a verdant and scenic estate overlooking Long Island sound. At the time, we had no clue about the existence of a sprawling waterfront estate right down the road from Harkness. After our curiosity about it was stimulated on last year’s boat tour, the site went onto the top of our places to visit. Yesterday, a beautiful, mild spring afternoon when we’d had it with being stuck at home, presented the perfect opportunity to investigate the grounds of the eerie, gothic pile we’d glimpsed from afar on the water.
The Seaside Sanitarium was built by the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission Clinic. Designed by architect Cass Gilbert, it opened in 1934 as the only medical facility in America incorporating a heliotropic approach (lots of sunshine and fresh air) to treating children with tuberculosis. It functioned as a TB hospital until 1958, after effective drugs therapies had rendered sanitariums unnecessary. For the next three years, it was used as a geriatric center, then became The Seaside Center for the Mentally Retarded. It closed in 1996 and has been vacant ever since.
Though an attempt to find other uses for this truly magnificent property, no viable solutions were found, and in 2014, it became Seaside State Park. Since then, the state has been working on a plan to save the buildings, which are deteriorating, and establish a resort and conference center, but as of July 2019, no progress has been made. For now, the 36 oceanfront acres are open to the public, but the buildings are boarded up, with the main hospital surrounded by a chain link fence. It’s a picturesque place to wander around, albeit a bit eerie, and you can even pick up a few tiny shells on the sandy little beach. Should you decide to visit, there is a small parking lot just before the driveway, which is off limits to vehicles. There is no admission fee.