unmarked graveyard behind the former Brown County Mental Health Center
- February 2, 2010
Officials believe there may be an unmarked graveyard behind the former
Brown County Mental Health Center
By Patti Zarling
Green Bay Press Gazette
Buried near the pockets of trees along the gentle slope behind the
former Brown County Mental Health Center likely are the remains of
residents who died decades ago.
The deceased, lying in unmarked graves, probably were patients at the
old Brown County Insane Asylum, built in the 1880s and eventually
replaced by the mental health center. Or they were among the county's
poorest of the poor, who lived out their final days in the nearby Brown
County poor farm, maybe working at the apple orchard and farm to provide
food for the asylum residents.
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin researched the area about two
decades ago, when work was done on Wisconsin 54/57, according to county
officials. At the time, the goal was to make sure no graves were located
in the right-of-way.
The study concluded people were buried in the acreage behind the former
mental health center, 2900 St. Anthony Drive, on Green Bay's far
The new Brown County Community Treatment Center opened last year, and
the old mental health center is empty. County officials hope to find a
developer willing to renovate the old place or perhaps to tear it down
and build new.
But before that happens, they want to identify the old cemetery and add
markers to honor those buried there.
"The real goal is to show our respects and to honor the deceased,"
county Planning Director Chuck Lamine said. "Maybe we'd create some kind
of a park area."
The county is in the early stages of gathering information.
Local historian Mary Jane Herber said the location makes sense for an
Another old cemetery, or "potters field," sits near the new treatment
center, sandwiched between Curry Lane and Wisconsin 54/57. Records show
296 people were buried there between 1926 and 1973.
Most of those buried at that site likely came from the Brown County
Hospital, the mental health center or the poor farm.
But because the poor farm was built around 1858, with the county asylum
going up around 1881, the county needed a place to bury the dead before
the potters field cemetery was opened.
"Obviously there was a cemetery before that," Herber said.
Those buried in the cemetery behind the mental health center likely were
patients of the then asylum or residents of the poor farm, she said.
Officials should be able to locate the graves behind the mental health
center, she said. Because graves built decades ago settle, indentations
form in the ground, Herber said.
But identifying the buried would be a challenge. Records about patients
were sealed for privacy reasons, she said.
The boundaries of the site behind the mental health center were
determined through on-site interviews with two center employees,
according to a Historical Society letter dated May 17, 1991.
One employee, a farm worker for the center since 1958, said he had
experienced the farm tractor sinking into depressions at an old manure
pile. At the time, the depressions were recognized as individual graves
and were backfilled, according to the Historical Society letter. He was
able to identify the area of the old manure pile.
He and a former county management services director also said they
remembered a conversation with a former patient who "had been involved
with the preparation of the rough wood boxes and the interments,"
according to the letter from the Highway Archaeological Program of the
State Historical Society. The patient had described the old cemetery as
located on the hillside near the old manure pile.
According to the letter, a housekeeper for the mental health center also
said she had heard bones were discovered when a path was built across
the hillside in the late 1980s. She said a backhoe uncovered "several
large fragments of bone," which at the time were assumed to be from
animals raised on the county farm.
A subsurface investigation in the area unearthed several bone and wood
fragments. Probes were placed at one-foot intervals and were used to
detect hollow spaces, which often indicate the actual coffin enclosure,
the letter said.
Both Herber and county officials want the area to be preserved.
"Respect of the deceased is always important," Herber said. "If we don't
respect the dead, who will respect us --- whether it's 50 years from now
or 500 years?"
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]