We came to shoot the Old Bryce Insane Hospital.
To kick off 2019 Jay Farrell and ForgottenTennessee’s Jerry Winnett decided to take a trip down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to photograph the Old Bryce Insane Hospital. An infamously haunted, and abandoned site. After many false leads we found ourselves in Northport, Alabama, traveling down the driveway to the Old Bryce Insane Hospital. The driveway was narrow, overgrown, and in a horrid state of disrepair. Halfway down the road we noticed we were not alone. A large SUV was approaching us and we wondered outloud if we were busted? Was this trip to end just as we’d found our destination? No. The 4X4 that appproached us was driven by two guys who were just out enjoying some off-roading.
Finally we hit the end of the drive and climbed out of our car where we found ourselves in a circular driveway. A battered matress and trash littered the entrance. Jay and I did a quick equipment check of our cameras then took a second to stare up at the structure we’d spent hours driving to explore. In the background we could hear the rumble of more off-road vehicles.
“We should have brought flashlights”.
Was my first thought to myself upon entering the building. The lobby was dark but we could see walls that had been tagged with grafiti while others were demolished. Decrotive red tile covered the floors along with cans, bottles and bricks. Slowly walking over the piles of ruble we made our way to the center of the loby where we took a second to look around. On the far right and left of the main building were wings for patients, in the middle another wing stretched off. Since the middle wing was slightly better lit than the other wings we went with it to explore first.
As we made our way down the center wing we peeked inside the open cells.
The Old Bryce Insane Hospital had been empty since 1977 and looking at the several inches of dirt on the floor I believed it. Little if any glass remained in the windows of the wing we found ourselves in. Water dripped constantly down upon our heads as we moved towards a back wall. It was here we found a stairwell who’s outer wall had been torn open. The stairwell looked like skeletal remains peeking out from a rotted body. With more than a little trepidition Jay and I decided to chance going up the stairwell to continue our exploration. Now, personally I’ve seen some sketchy looking stairwells. This stairwell however, were downright scary . Shattered bricks, tree limbs, tiles, and garbage made the going slow to say the least. The only thing making me happy was the fact that the old building was solidly made of reinforced concrete and steel. With a few more stairs put behind us we had made it to the second floor.
Throughout our exploration of the old asylum we could feel an oppresiveness pressing down upon us. On each floor we discovered bathrooms/showers and there were a lot of them. At least 4 per wing and in one we found a bathtub. This tub was a singularity, all the rest were gone. One thing we noticed that running down the center of some of the wings were wooden tracks. I’d love to know what their purpose was. Did these tracks come with the building? Were they added for deconstruction? It’d be great to learn their function.
We were wanting to go to the third floor but the interior stairwells were looking even worse than the first set we had climbed , so we went up the exterior stairs instead. Now, I’m not afraid of heights, but the view down through the stair’s grating made my mouth go dry and my toes cringe. Sure, the stairs felt pretty sturdy but so did a floor I once went through. But this is what Jay and I had signed up for.
Yes, that is a tree growing through the stair’s grating.
Luckily the third floor door was open but instead of entering it we decided to check out the fourth floor. At the top of the stairs stood a rusty door that looked as if it had suffered from a bomb blast. Twisted out of shape it allowed us room to enter but here we balked. The previous floors had been uneven and a little questionable but the fourth looked much worse. Hell, there were saplings and bushes growing on the floor’s surface. There was no telling if there were weak spots that might collpase beneath us.
Jay and I went back down to the third for a bit of exploration then we would check out the outer wings of the hospital.
We took the exterior stairs to the first floor and then entered through a window. On the way down we had considered exploring the basement by going through one of it’s window but nixed the idea since we hadn’t brought any means of lighting our way beyond our phones. On the first floor we did find a staircase leading into that basement but it was in even worse shape than the others we’d seen.
Having explored the main building Jay and I followed a path to the out buildings. Behind the Old Bryce stood three buildings, the First was made of brick it’s doors stood wide open. Inside was a larg airy room containing a few pieces of furniture. An old wheel chair leaned upon it’s side and an easy chair and the remains of some other pieces sat here and there as well as a few matresses.
The first thing we noticed about the second building was an iron smoke stack that had collapsed upon it caving in the roof. Inside stood something I’ve always wanted to photograph, giant furnaces. Two massive twelve foot furnaces dominated the interior. The two of us wandered the building and discovered it was every bit as dark and creepy as the main building itself. Here and there I could see where doors had been nailed shut from the inside, Why? On the back of the brick and iron furnaces were small tunnels that may have been for loading in coal or for digging out ashes. In another room were two equally giant boilers, and leaning over it all was the top of the iron smoke stack that had destroyed the tin roof.
In the back of the main building we discovered a way into the basement, however there was one problem. The basement was flooded. How deep was the water? It didn’t matter. We weren’t going swimming today.
We did find a small cottage that Jay shot, while on another road we found the S.D. Allen Intermediate Care Facility. However, I’ll have to write a separate blog about what we found there.
Over the next few days Jay and I looked further into the history of the site we’d shot and eventually discovered quite a bit. For starters the Old Bryce Insane Hospital we’d shot wasn’t the Old Bryce Insane Hospital. It was in fact the The Jemison Center, the Alabama State Farm Colony for Negroes. While it was 88 years newer than the original Bryce people had begun calling it the Old Bryce Hospital. The actual Old Bryce was in the downtown area of Tuscaloosa, AL.
The Jemison Center had been built upon the remains of a Southern Plantation manor house that had been purchased by the state of Alabama as well as the 4,000 acres surrounding it. Now this was fitting and cruel. Why? Because 1939 was a sad time for America. We were in the grips of the Great Depression, Jim Crow and Segregation were the law of the land. While the Jemison Center was a satellite made to ease the population demands put upon the Bryce Insane Hospital it had another purpose Its able bodied inmates were made to labor in the fields of the old plantation for free.
Slavery had found a new home and it went on from 1939 until 1977. In my opinion the oppressive creepiness that pemiated the Jemison was now explained.
While the continued existance of slavery was depressing to learn, it is nonetheless History. Exploration of places like the Jemison Center lead to questions. If you go deep enough you learn things you did not know before. You’re richer for it, and this is one of the reasons Jay and I do this.
Sources: Tom Kirsch & Opacity.us
If you enjoyed reading this and looking at the photos, you might be interested in buying a copy of my book Forgotten Tennessee. Its available in most bookstores, Walmart, Target, Costco, anywhere that sells books. You may also order it by following this link https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Tennessee-Backroads-Roadside-Surprises/dp/1634991524/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Forgotten+Tennessee+the+book&qid=1578419500&sr=8-1