From Our Collections - The Fairfield Hills Hospital Archive

In December, 2012, the Society purchased an archive relating to Fairfield State Hospital, what we know as Fairfield Hills. We felt, and still do, that this is a most important collection, which will prove indispensable to any future history of the hospital. We offer here a description of the contents, giving some idea of the scope of the papers.

The collection was the property of Dr Roy Lathen (sometimes given as Leighton) Leak. Leak was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1875, moving to Watertown, NY, with his family when he was 14. He trained as a medical doctor, and practiced surgery in upstate New York for some years before becoming interested in the relatively new field of psychiatry. After giving up his surgical practice to concentrate on psychiatry he began working with the New York state mental health establishment. Eventually, he became Superintendent of the Connecticut State Mental Hospital in Middletown. When talk first arose about building a second hospital in Newtown, he was a natural choice to head the planning, and from at least 1929 he was actively involved in all facets of the planning and building of what would become known as Fairfield Hills Hospital, even while maintaining his position at Middletown. He retired from Middletown in 1944, but for the first two years of Fairfield Hills being in operation he also served as superintendent here in Newtown. In the latter stages of planning the hospital he asked the state to withhold his salary as consultant, as he felt that things were far enough along to obviate his active involvement and he did not want to draw a second stipend from the state in addition to his salary at Middletown. Dr Leak was widely known and respected in the medical community as a progressive leader in the mental health field, and he served as President of the Connecticut Medical Society in 1943. Leak died in 1967 and was widely eulogized in the medical press. He always maintained a fond connection to Fairfield Hills, and some of the material in the collection may have been given to him as mementos on return visits to the hospital.

The collection can be broken down into several parts. The most prominent of these are two photograph albums. The earliest of the albums is obviously a presentation piece, the cover being gilt-stamped Proposed State Hospital / Walter P. Crabtree, Architect / R. L. Leak, M.D. Consultant; copies may well have been given to the architect and perhaps state officials as well. Leak has inscribed his name inside the album, and makes the notation, "These photographs were made from the original drawings which were later modified especially as to plot plan." Further into the album he comments, "4/30/31 These plans for legislative purposes are changed somewhat due to changes in location [and] improvements. 1st appropriation - 750,000 - 1929 2nd appropriation 2,500,000 - 1931." The album proper begins with a folding hand drawn "Plot plan as modified / Buildings in color already erected / 1"; this is mounted over a presumably later 8 x 10 aerial photograph of the campus. This page is followed by 32 mounted photos of the architectural plans and renderings of the proposed buildings. There are several photos loosely inserted. Two photos, one dated 1933, are clipped to a luncheon menu; seven photos are clipped together, one being labeled "First pictures of the work at Fairfield State hospital." Seven loose photos pertaining to a dispute between the contractor and the architect regarding the acceptability of the first floor of the Reception building, refered to as Hospital No. 2. reside in a envelope loosely inserted in the album. These photos seem to point out a potential problem at the meeting point of various upright supports and beams. The photos are by Baisley, and are dated in the photo, March 10, 1932. The photos are accompanied by a four page "Report of Arbitration" pertaining to the dispute.

A second photo album shows the hospital in operation. This also may have been presented to Dr Leak, though the date of such an event is not clear. The only return visit to the hospital that we have record of occurred quite late in Leak's life, possibly in February, 1966. A loosely inserted clipping from the Newtown Bee of November 4, 1966, is headed, ""Dr. Leak Pays Visit to Fairfield Hills." The short article described the visit as "recent." A loosely inserted photo of five supervisors and an employee is dated in pen on the back, "circa 1942." The five supervisors are identified, the employee is guessed at. The group photo was given to Leak by Ernest Fenn, Supervisor of Plant and Maintenance, and inscribed on the back, "Presented to a fine hospital planner and manager by a long time admirer." Fenn is described in the Bee clipping as being the only supervisor who had been with the hospital continuously from the beginning. The six men are standing in front of a potato dehydrator, newly installed at the hospital as part of the war effort.

The album itself is composed of 28, 8 x 10; 12, 3 x 5; and 6, 1 ½ x 3 photos; there is a final 8 x 10 showing a baseball or softball game in progress, presumably a staff game. These photos are accompanied by a typed table of contents with numbers matching those added to the photos. Several of these are outside shots showing the buildings. Newtown-Shelton-Woodbury Halls, Greenwich-Dining Halls, and Dining Hall are duplicated, with a winter view dated December, 1945 and a summer view, undated but evidently later if we may judge by the perhaps slightly more mature plantings and the more developed signage on buildings and roads.

In addition to the exterior building views, several of the photos picture interior scenes, views which are quite rare. These include the dining area, staff recreation hall, occupational therapy/craft room, a patient's bedroom, the dental office, and two images of patients undergoing electro- and hydro-therapy.

Of the photos in this second album, none of the smaller images are signed. Of the larger photos, twelve are signed by Corbit Studios; eight of these are dated December 7, 1945, in the plate, and two are dated December 12, 1945; two have trimmed or masked margins partially eliminating the date. None of the summer views are dated; one does show an automobile, and several interior shots show nurses in uniform, and it is possible a date for these might be established. An 8 x 10 staff photo labeled "hospital group 1934" is inserted loosely, as are a pair of 3 x 5 images clipped to an 8 x 10, the group labeled "Testing wells." Dr Leak had left the hospital in 1935, and it is unclear how this album came into his possession. He does seem to have maintained an interest in the hospital, and it is possible that the album was presented to him following his retirement from the Middletown hospital, or on some other meaningful occasion; it seems likely that had it been in memory of his 1966 visit a more recent collection of photos would have been used, but with the added supervisor's photo from Fenn it is possible that the album was resurrected from some file and used for that occasion.

There are a number of loose papers in the collection, both personal and professional. There are twenty-one small photos of patients, which seem to have been intended to illustrate the physical expressions and appearance of persons suffering from various forms of neurosis/psychosis: depression, excitement, and the like; it is possible these were intended as teaching tools. Some of these are mounted to the backs of unused forms from the Connecticut mental health system, and must date from Leak's tenure in the state. Two additional photos show autopsied stomachs of syphilitic patients; one of these is dated 1905, when Leak was still practicing in New York. There are two printed booklets, one on a psychiatric subject, the other the First Report of the Trustees of Fairfield State Hospital, 1933. Among other things, this latter gives a list of the items imbedded in the cornerstone. The door plate from the Superintendent's Office is also present. There are approximately thirty-nine pages of typescript, manuscript and printed material relating to Leak's career, some of them in duplicate. Most of these appear to have been done following his death, as tributes and contributions to eulogies, some from his daughters; included is the issue of the Connecticut Medical Society bulletin with a two-page eulogy.

Included among the more strictly personal items are approximately 50 driver's licenses, membership cards - Leak was an active mason - and similar pieces. Present is a framed double photographic portrait of Roy and Bertha Leak dated 1898, probably soon after their wedding. Perhaps most important of the personal items is a disbound scrapbook tracing Dr Leak's life, with the earliest entries pertaining to his activities at Watertown High School and extending into the 1940s. There are approximately 41 leaves present, with many added loose items.

The photos, especially the interiors, are of great importance in picturing the early hospital, and in some cases may be the only images known from the period. However, from a textual viewpoint, the major piece of the collection is a post-binder containing approximately 42 documents in 55 pages. This comprises a letter file kept by Leak, and documents his activities in connection with Fairfield Hills from 1929 through 1937. The letters include those received by Leak, and copies of letters sent by him. Correspondents include various state officials concerned with the planning and building of the hospital, those serving on the Board of Trustees, the architect, and others. There are veiled but dark hints of internal politics that may have contributed to or even caused Leak's departure from Fairfield Hills. Leak is said to have been quite torn when making a decision whether to stay at Fairfield Hills or to return to the Middletown facility, and whatever the personality or other conflicts hinted at were, they may well have proven the final impetus to resuming his full time duties in Middletown. Other letters deal with the contractor's dispute mentioned earlier, and many other aspects of the early days of the hospital. In the back, Leak has provided charts analyzing acreage requirements and other aspects of existing hospitals which he used in the planning phases of Fairfield Hills. The letters are seemingly randomly arranged; certainly they are not grouped chronologically, by subject, or by correspondent. The letters and charts have all been photocopied in order to maintain Dr Leak's original order for the originals and still rearrange the copies into some more meaningful order.

We believe that no accurate or complete history of Fairfield Hills, and perhaps even the state's approach to mental health in general, can be written without the use of the papers and photographs which form this collection. To promote any such use of the materials this description is made available online, so that any search for such keywords as Fairfield Hills or Connecticut mental health will bring the collection to the fore.

- John Renjilian