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Memories remain of abandoned state hospital that spawned eerie stories

Posted at 7:25 PM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 00:25:08-04

On this Halloween, Denver7 wanted to explore the history of a place that became the subject of eerie tales and ghost stories for many native Coloradans.

The former Ridge Home state hospital stood in Arvada at Kipling and I-70. For decades it served people with severe mental and physical disabilities. But it was also plagued with allegations of abuse against those who lived there.

The home shut down and the abandoned buildings attracted attention for years from kids and teenagers and others lured by ghostly tales.

“We used to drive up to Ridge home … and then just run around and scare each other,” researcher Morgan Breitenstein said. “It was abandoned, spooky. It was always really dark. There was no electricity.”

“A lot of people claim they saw ghosts. I’m not a believer in those types of stories, but a lot of my friends claimed they’d see something or hear sounds,” Breitenstein said.

In fact, Denver7 creative services producer Travis Lupher chose the building as a backdrop for a spooky student film he shot years ago, and he still has the tape!

Behind the eerie pictures and ghostly tales, there are the real memories of the people who lived and worked at Ridge.

“When we were kids, it was fun and spooky and a good place to run around in. Now that I’m older and have done research. I have more heart for the kids and of possible problems they had there, the mistreatment,” Breitenstein said.

Reports of abuse plagued hospital

When the hospital opened in the early 1900s, it was called the “State Home and Training Center for Mental Defectives at Ridge.”

At that time, it was common for people with severe disabilities to be sent away and institutionalized.

In 1937 a story in the Rocky Mountain News painted a rosy picture:

Bill Russell’s sister lived at Ridge for decades and he credits the staff there for keeping her alive far longer than any doctor expected.

“My mom used to say, she couldn’t do the job they were doing at Ridge and my mom was a doctor,” Russell said.

Starting in the 1950s, a new narrative began to plague Ridge: one of an underfunded, overcrowded facility where abuse reports were common.

“They were so mistreated. It just wasn’t right,” said Rhonda Sherill, who said she worked at Ridge in the 1980s. “Some of them would be put in what they call time out, which was basically a cage they would put him in until they weren’t combative.”

Russell says he does not believe his sister experienced any mistreatment.

“Nothing like that ever happened. My parents would have yanked her out of there as fast as possible if they would have suspected that,” he said.

But headlines screamed about the “cages,” including a story about a child who was confined to a caged cell for nine months with only a mattress and a bucket. Another story told of children being packed in wet sheets and ice for misbehaving.

State changes course

Eventually the state changed course in its treatment of people with disabilities. Large institutions like Ridge are mostly shut down in favor of smaller group homes in neighborhoods.

“When someone is now admitted to the regional center system, it’s with the understanding and idea that they will get what they need through our system and return back to their community of origin,” said Georgia Edson, director of Colorado Regional Centers.

Ridge stood abandoned for years but today it is mostly demolished – only a few buildings are still standing.

In its place, developers built apartments and put up retail stores.

“It looks totally different now,” Breitenstein said as she surveyed the Target that stands where the spooky old hospital once stood.