Blechertown State School was established in 1922 after a long line of large 19th-century institutions had already been built in Massachusetts. It closed in 1992 after a systemwide evaluation of facilities and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After Fernald and Wrentham, Belchertown State School became the third school in the Commonwealth for "the feeble-minded". It was closely modeled on Wrentham and meant to continue the nationally renowned treatment at Fernald. It became the only school for developmentally disabled children in Western Massachusetts. Chapter 127 of the Acts of 1915 authorized construction of a 'new school for the feeble-minded in the western part of the state' with an appropriation of $50,000 to purchase 700 acres of land. Development of the land was not undertaken until 1918, during which Wrentham State School acted as a parent institution to Belchertown in much the same way that Fernald had given rise to Wrentham in 1906-08.
Chapter 410 of the Acts of 1922 officially established the Belchertown State School, and formal opening ceremonies were held on November 15, 1922. Sixty-five boys were transfered from Fernald that day, 128 more came from Fernald and Wrentham on November 24.

Nursery 2 Nursery 1 Administration, 1926/67 Hospital Front Street School & Gym, 1928, 1932 Vocational Activity Center (Boys' Industrial Workshops), 1932 Ballfield Merry-Go-Round Building Storehouse, 1932 Cafeteria Cannery Lumber Storage Power House, 1922 Garage Home L Ward K, 1921 Dormitory D Dormitory C Dormitory B Ward A, 1920 Laundry Dormitory M Dormitory F Dormitory G Superintendent's House & Garage, 1924, 1930 Fairchild Cottage & Garages, 1890's, 1920's Employees' Cottages Employees' Cottages Employees' Cottages Employees' Cottage Office Building (Girls' Industrial Workshops), 1939

The 846-acre campus is located in a rural area, 1/3 mile south of the town center, on Route 202 at its intersection with Rt. 21. The campus has magnificent northward views of the Holyoke Range. Similar to the Wrentham State School, Belchertown was built on a dispersed cottage plan. Five farms were purchased for the school: Jepson, Stacy, Howard, Michel, and Wilt. One year after its opening in 1922, the total capacity at Belchertown State School was listed at 710, while its total population was at 428. In 1924, the number rose to 672, then to 729 in 1925, and 743 in 1926. A Kindergarten, gymnastic classes, and six grades of grammar school were begun in 1925, and a music teacher was hired a year later.

By the middle of the 20th century, conditions at Belchertown State School deteriorated. During a system-wide Governor & Council Report in 1945, urgent recommendations were made to build new buildings to relieve overcrowding and fire hazards. In 1970 the Springfield Union News published a series of articles exposing sub-human living conditions at the school. The superintendent resigned and was replaced by three successors in the next two years. The "Belchertown State School Friends Association" was founded in January of 1972, followed by the appointment of Dr. William Jones, long-time superintendentof BSS, and, finally, the famous consent decree.

An extensive collection of documents (1972-1990) about the association exists at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst: the bulk of the collection includes copies of records of court appearances, briefs, the consent decree and related materials, as well as reports and correspondence relating to Mass. vs. Russell W. Daniels, Ricci vs. Greenblatt (now Ricci vs. Okin), and other cases. Also clippings and photocopied newspaper articles; speeches; newsletters; draft of agreement; and scrapbooks. The collection documents the efforts of the Association and Benjamin Ricci, President of the Association, 1970-1977, Chairman of the Board, 1977-, to improve the lot of retarded citizens of Massachusetts, initially those living at Belchertown State School." (Permission to examine this material may be granted to researchers upon completion of an application form and agreement to abide by certain rules; W.E.B. Du Bois Library) Additionally, a must-visit for anyone interested in this history is the Samuel Gridley Howe Library in Waltham, MA.

Legislative Timeline

1964: Concern over lack of space for placement of mentally retarded in the four state schools; Act relative to the appointment of an Assistant Commissioner of Special Education and an Asst. Comm. of Mental Retardation; listing of legislation passed; Capital Outlay Program of Gov. Peabody; 1964 legislation related to mental retardation; march on State House in support of implementation of Special Commission report; action on MR bills; Act establishing a council on mental retardation

1965: U.S. Immigration Bill with Fogarty amendment; House Bill #3480 creating Advisory Council for Planning, Construction, Operation or Utilization of Facilities for the Mentally Retarded; U.S. MR legislation; items to encourage Special Class Legislation after age of 16

1966: Act Providing for Establishment of Community Clinical Nursery Schools for Retarded Children of Preschool Age; S. 2836 (U.S.) --amending PL 89-105 & PL 88-164 to provide for staffing of mental retardation facilities (Javitts Bill); MARCís positions on House 1326 (establishing vocational training center at Cushing Hospital) & House 2535 on paying for transportation, etc.; U.S. legislation on mentally retarded dependents of uniformed service personnel

1968: Chapter 735. Establishment of Comprehensive Program of MH & MR services -- statement from MARC President Edward OíKeefe; Chapter 562. Appointment of mentally retarded persons to civil service positions; U.S. proposed mental retardation programs for FY 1969

1970: Mental Health Reform Act (House Bill 5966, formerly H. 5021 & H. 5644); 1970 Summary of MARCís Legislative Program

1971: Legislative Alert on National Health Insurance -- Statement of the Honorable Michael J. Harrington before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee; U.S. Foster Grandparent Program; Annual report of MARC Governmental Affairs Committee; delay of implementation of the Mental Health - Mental Retardation Reform Act (G.L. 888)

1972: House 3366, House 5513. Appointment, powers and duties of guardians and conservators; Legislative Scoreboard for 1972 (MARC) and MARCís Legal and Political Action Progress Report; Senator Jacob Javitts and Bill of Rights for the Retarded; 1972 MARC Legislative Program; S. 836 - Sheltered employment

1973: FY 1973-1974 Budget; House Bill 7456. Teacherís aides and Civil Service; House Ways and Means Committee and money for state school positions; Supplemental Security Income Amendments of 1972; Testimony on H.R. 11143 on The Committee for Purchase of Products and Services of the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped (NARC); Act to require annual instruction for all school age children 1974: House 6019. Act prohibiting experimentation on human fetuses; MARC Legislation Update; Legislative Must for Retardation in FY 75 budget -- Federal money through Title XIX; Proposed Legislative Package -- includes legislation to establish Dept. of Mental Retardation; Analysis and Working Paper on SSI -- study on effectiveness; Surplus Property Bills; registration needed for legislative agents or lobbyists; regulations for licensure or approval of group care facilities, Office for Children; Priority pieces of legislation; Chapter 766 bills; Comments on proposed Title XX Services Plan; Title XIX; job freeze; Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

1975: H6749. Assistant Commissioners of Department of Mental Health off of civil service status; Legislative package of MARC; FY 76 appropriation for Wrentham

1978: FY 80 Budget for Mental Retardation -- testimony; HUD regulations pertaining to Section 504; zoning amendments

1979: List of state legislators; testimony by Gertrude Pulsifer concerning ISP regulations and related matters

1980: ARC 1980 Legislative Goals; Proposition 2 1/2; FY 1981 Budget; Senate 1910 -- Constitutional Amendment to Prohibit Discrimination Against Handicapped People; Trust legislation, H. 6014; Legislative Priorities, 1980; Senate 629: Restraint of Mentally Ill Patients; Special Commission to Study the Operations of the Department of Mental Health; ARCís Government Report; charges for care

1981: Massachusetts State Legislators, 1981; Chapter 766

1984: Rogers v. Commissioner of Dept. of Mental Health re antipsychotic drugs

1985: Massachusetts State Legislators, 1985; Authority of Certain Guardians or Relatives of Retarded Persons (H 6557)

1986: Legislative Program; Separate Department Bill H. 6439; State House Watch; MARC Legislative Priorities; Parents Network opposition to Chafee Bill on Family and Community Living as well as to ARC

1987: MARC Governmental Affairs Program 1987; regulations re aversive techniques; Disabled Persons Access Act; Staffing in community programs -- testimony, newspaper clippings

1988: Testimony on the Medicaid Home and Community Services Act -- Chafee Bill; Proposed Disability Legislation for 1988

1990s: Employee Furlough Program, MARC bills, Government Affairs Program, 766, ARC Facts on ADA, Act to Protect Disabled Persons; Governorís Commission on Facility Consolidation and Closure of State Institutions; Weld-Cellucci Emergency Plan for Fiscal Recovery


Belchertown State School - Court Cases and Orders

Feb. 1972: ROBERT SIMPSON RICCI, BY HIS FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND, BENJAMIN RICCI ET AL. v. MILTON GREENBLATT ET AL. Class action brought on behalf of all the residents of Belchertown State School for injunctive and declaratory relief.

Nov. 1973: ROBERT SIMPSON RICCI ET AL., V. MILTON GREENBLATT ET AL. 72-469-T Defendants agree to request of the Legislature funds to renovate and improve the facility and to add positions.

Dec. 1979: AFFIDAVIT OF WILLIAM E. JONES. 72-469-T. Superintendent of Belchertown answers to positions moved from Belchertown State School to alternative service locations.

Sept. 1984: RICCI, ET. AL., v. JAMES J. CALLAHAN, ET AL. 72-469-T. Defendantís Motion to Extend the Construction Completion Date for a Project at Belchertown State School.

(Source: Samuel Gridley Howe Library, Waltham, MA)

Since the school closed, a master plan for the property has been developed for a "mixed-use community that incorporates a variety of economic development opportunities around a core gardening theme. Proposed uses on the property include a senior continuing care retirement community, a business park, light industrial space, an Attraction Garden, a Courthouse, possibly the Post Office and various spin-off and related commercial and retail opportunities." Information about the redevelopment of the property can be found here.


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