Forest Haven

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Forest Haven
Opened 1925
Closed 1991 (as a mental health facility)
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Laurel, MD
Alternate Names
  • District Training School for the Mentally Retarded
  • District of Columbia Children's Center
  • Oak Hill Youth Center


Congress built the brick campus in 1925 as a place to exile people classified as "idiots" from the nation's capital and hide them in a rural area, records show. The District of Columbia was feeling political pressure from the then-wealthy Logan Circle neighborhood to close the nearby Washington Home For Colored Idiots.

Some of those who built Forest Haven as a replacement for the Washington Home may have had good intentions. Residents lived in tree-shaded dorms with bucolic names such as Elm or Poplar Cottage. Counselors taught residents to tend crops, milk cows and work in the laundry room. There were baseball fields, a pool and gymnasium. But as the years went on and the district suffered from financial crises, all recreation and education stopped.

The residents' bodies and bank accounts were abused. A district court in September 1981 convicted a Forest Haven worker of stealing $40,000 from residents' savings accounts. Staff members locked dozens of residents, naked except for adult-sized diapers, in rooms stripped of furniture other than wooden benches, according to the 1976 lawsuit. Some residents were tied to beds and chairs, and some choked to death on food the staff fed to them while they were restrained. A doctor serving the institution was ruled to be "professionally incompetent" by the Maryland Commission on Medical Discipline in 1988. [1]


When the residents died, the staff dumped them into unmarked graves in a field near the administration building. Nothing told passers-by that there were bodies beneath the grass from the first burial in 1928 until 1982, when families raised a single gray monument as a memorial to the 389 dead.