Growing Up at NJNPI
In previous blogs in this series, we explored the founding of the New Jersey State Village for Epileptics and what it was like growing up at the original facility. In this blog, we share the thoughts of four people who lived at the facility between 1953 and 1983 when it was known as NJ Neuropsychiatric Institute.
Thanks to Jim Beachell, sisters Jane (Jabay) May and Peggy (Jabay) Beach, and Lois (Neuberger) Walton for sharing their memories of growing up at NJNPI.
I grew up on the grounds of NJNPI, and my life there was a fun time. I had free rein on the campus grounds. Most weeks you would find me trying to do what kids do–have fun every day and slide out of doing your homework.
You might find me down at the farm petting the cows by the dairy, over in the piggery looking at the newborn piglets, or maybe down at the chickens talking to Mr. Matthews, Bill Matthews’ father. We built forts in the hay barn with drop shoots and tunnels. The patrolmen of the grounds would get a call about us in the barn, and they would come to chase us out if they could find us. Many days I would go down and watch them slaughter the pigs or cows. Some of the dairy herd had to be slaughtered because they ate something, and they were going to die from the blockage in their stomachs. The farm had orchards providing apples, pears, and peaches. There were also fields of strawberries, and I usually came home with red hands, giving away where I had been.
I might be fishing, which I did as much as I could. Sylvan Lake, found on the grounds, had a wonderful dam. It was destroyed when Somerset County purchased the property in recent years. The lake was a recreational heaven for me. In front of that dam, I caught some of the nicest largemouth bass in the area. Here, I learned to play hockey, and Richard Martin showed me what a slap shot was when he put the puck on the side of my nose. When the ice was on the lake, the kids would all come to skate. We tried to get to the lake after school every day when the ice was declared safe. If we could get out after suppertime, we played hockey under the one light that was provided to keep an eye on us.
If we found an alligator snapping turtle frozen in the ice, we would all get around, sit down and chop it out with the heels of our shoes. We usually released them, but there were times when we gave them away to Mr. Wisner. He worked on the grounds as a driver and drove our school bus.
We had our own school bus provided by the state as the carrier to and from Princeton. This was also a service for employees so they could catch the bus to Trenton or New Brunswick or the train to New York or Philadelphia. The NJNPI bus service was there to provide transport to and from the campus. Many families from the cities would come to visit their relatives who lived on the grounds. There were a variety of names for our bus when I was in high school, because it was orange. It was also shorter than the other buses, so it stood out like a sore thumb. There was no way to hide when you got off what they called “the nut house bus.”
NJNPI was self–sufficient. They had to provide for the patients year-round, providing clean water to drink and heat to keep patients warm. There was a power house which we would visit, and we could watch the train bring in the coal and later oil for the furnaces. There was a water tower there for storage and water pressure. The lake provided w