Sanctuary Woods – Wauwatosa, Wisconsin - Atlas Obscura

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Sanctuary Woods

The preserved remains of the former Milwaukee County Hospital for the Insane are hidden in the wooded grounds of County Park. 


Hidden in plain sight among the Wisconsin Medical College campus are the decaying remains of the original Milwaukee County Hospital for the Insane. Among the remaining structures are sidewalks, curbs, and roads leading to crumbling pavilions, scenic overlooks, and disused facilities for those formerly interned.

In the 1940s and 50s, the peak of institutionalization, Milwaukee County housed around 6,000 people with mental illness in several locations, including this hospital that was originally built in the late 19th century.

The hospital featured a number of landscape elements designed to help patients relax and recuperate. By traveling just off of the trails, visitors are able to see the “Men’s Pavilion,” decaying tennis court, stone staircases, railroad tracks, patient cemetery, and a filled-in pond that patients could swim in. Some of these features were built by the patients themselves as a therapeutic activity.

The last remaining structure was torn down in the early 1990s. Today the grounds are largely unlabeled except for a few signs reminding visitors to pick up dog poop, but local group Tosa History created a companion interactive map to use while visiting the conservancy site.

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Bring bear spray just in case, as coyotes have been spotted in the area.

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