As Anne Arundel County begins looking at ways to repurpose the former Crownsville Hospital Center site, former employees and community members stressed the importance of listening to Black voices during the decision-making process.

The Crownsville Advisory Commission on Thursday held a second workshop to update residents on the master plan process and gather feedback from the public.

The psychiatric hospital, which opened in 1911 as the Maryland Hospital for the Negro Insane, was desegregated in 1963 and closed in 2004. Patients experienced neglect, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food and frequent occurrences of violence, according to “Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum,” a book by NBC News correspondent Antonia Hylton that came out earlier this year.

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The Crownsville Hospital Center was a psychiatric hospital located in Crownsville, Maryland. It was in operation from 1911 until 2004. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

County Executive Steuart Pittman in 2021 convinced the state to turn over the 544-acre site to the county to be used as a park and nonprofit center.

The site now houses groups such as the Anne Arundel County Food Bank; Gaudenzia, a substance use and co-occurring disorders treatment program; and Hope House, a nonprofit dual diagnosis treatment center.

But any redevelopment is complicated by what one county leader said in 2005 was the poor structural condition of many buildings, as well as the high cost of cleaning up an asbestos-lined steam tunnel under the property.

During Thursday’s meeting, residents asked that the campus serve as a hub for community-led organizations, provide space for Black- and Latino-owned businesses, and preserve and respect the hospital’s troubled history.

Janice Hayes-Williams, an Annapolis historian, has spent some two decades identifying patients of Crownsville who were buried at the cemetery in graves marked only by numbers.

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Photo of Crownsville State Hospital, from Jan 15, 1932, with patients, nurses and the doctor. (HANDOUT)

Steven Waddy, first vice president of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the NAACP, said that the Crownsville site should be treated with the sacred respect it deserves.

Stephanie Franklin, policy chair of the Maryland chapter of the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) Advocacy Foundation, said Crownsville is a story unique to American descendants of slavery. Franklin said the county and state need to anchor any plans in a reparative justice framework that centers the voices and recommendations of those impacted.

“What I’ve heard in previous public hearings are the blaring voices of those who were not impacted by the callous injustice, mainly the voices of environmental, animal and bicycle advocates,” Franklin said.

Candace Grant of ADOS said America has a long history of covering up the most heinous atrocities with empty symbolism.

“Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park will never be considered a healing place for anyone until there’s an honest attempt to atone for what the government allowed to happen there,” Grant said.

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Chris Trumbauer, senior policy advisor to Pittman and chair of the Crownsville Committee, said repurposing the hospital center site is a big deal and officials want to get it right.

“We’re taking our time. We’re doing a lot of stakeholder engagement research because what we do here is hopefully going to last generations,” Trumbauer said.

Pittman acknowledged the significance of not just addressing the historical aspects of Crownsville, but also correcting its history.

“That is part of the magic of the whole thing, is that people in this county, they understand what went on there, and that’s what we have to heal from, what’s going on there,” Pittman said in a recent interview. Previously, he said, “Both the racism and the way the mental health is being treated, but also in the way America has handled mental health for everybody.”

Plaque in remembrance of the 1,722 institutionalized patients buried at the former Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Insane. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

During the first half of the meeting, an overview of the planning process was given. Consultants on the project include Design Collective, Carmichael Associates, RK&K and EHT Traceries.

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Cecily Bedwell of Design Collective said the first phase involved collecting and analyzing data to learn and understand the history, with a deep dive into the story of the hospital center and an effort to gain understanding of present conditions.

“We’re really sort of between phase one and phase two technically now, because we’re wrapping up the input from the early analysis, but we haven’t started to quite move further into the vision yet,” Bedwell said.

The Crownsville Hospital Center was a psychiatric hospital located in Crownsville. It was in operation from 1911 until 2004. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Bedwell said the plumbing on the site isn’t in good shape and there’s a lot of it. It needs to be replaced to serve current and new tenants. Only one of two water towers is in use because one was previously decommissioned.

The committee is focusing on a number of areas, including developing a master plan, supporting existing tenants, addressing security, artifact collection and recording, a patient cemetery memorial, and and a trail connection to Bacon Ridge Nature Area, according to a website for the project. Subcommittees are also focused on cultural history, health and wellness, infrastructure, and recreation and parks.

After completing this phase and receiving final recommendations from the subcommittees, the committee will generate options and a timeline. There will be more meetings to gather input on those options, Bedwell said.

Another public workshop is scheduled for mid-June. In early September, a draft of the master plan report will be presented at an open house event.