Hike #45: Northern State Ghost Town

Hike #45: Northern State Ghost Town
November 8, 2015
Mileage: ~5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: Negligible

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According to trip reports, quite a few people have done this hike recently. I love any kind of architectural ruins, so it seemed like the perfect place to go for a short hike.

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The Northern State Mental Hospital outside Sedro-Woolley was open from 1912 to 1976, and the landscape was designed by the Olmstead Brothers. According to the trail description: “The hospital site included patient and staff housing, a water reservoir, sewage system, lumber mill, quarry, steam plant, greenhouse, canning facilities, gymnasium, library, laundry, dining room, bakery, dairy, and 700-acre farm for growing vegetables and raising livestock. A cemetery was also included in the site plan.”

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The buildings that housed patients have all been torn down, and many of the original buildings are being repurposed, which leaves just the dairy barns, cannery, and a few other miscellaneous buildings to explore along the trails. I’m glad of this; it meant that taking photographs didn’t feel too intrusive, although still a little bit sad.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the abandoned structures were still mildly eerie, though I think for a different reason than expected. It could be connected to the context, but also that the use of the land as a public recreation area means there are plenty of people traipsing through on a regular basis, including numbers who have left their crumpled cans, broken bottles, and other bits of modern garbage behind. I think it was this kind of neglect and disregard, coupled with the decay of the buildings themselves, made it somewhat unsettling.

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Despite this we really quite enjoyed exploring the buildings and wandering the park. Seeing the growth of plants over and into buildings is always astounding to me – without upkeep we’d all gradually disappear under creeping blackberry bushes and clinging lichen and moss. 
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Beyond and between the buildings were wide, open trails, particularly enjoyable on the sunny but slightly blustery morning we were there. DSC_0040

One thought on “Hike #45: Northern State Ghost Town

  1. This is really interesting. I think I’m always moved by abandoned buildings. Part of it is that sense of what they used to be and the people who are gone, but also what you said, about how quickly nature reclaims our abandoned spaces. We disappear so easily. Depending on my mood, it can be both unsettling and comforting.
    g.

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