The turbulent history of UMass Lowell’s forgotten campus

West Campus was formally the Graduate School of Education for UMass Lowell. (Courtesy of Aaron Robinson/Connector)

Aaron Robinson
Connector Editor

UMass Lowell has been around since 1894, which means it’s had a lot of time to accumulate peculiar stories and happenings. Everyone knows about North, South and East Campus, but what about West Campus? And why doesn’t anyone talk about it?

UMass Lowell’s infamous West Campus, located at 278 Princeton Boulevard in Chelmsford, was originally a truancy school which housed juvenile boys from 1898 until 1973 until it was shut down after an investigation into the treatment of the juveniles was conducted. After the closure of the school, Wang Laboratories acquired the property with the intention of establishing it as its main headquarters, although the plan never came to fruition for unknown reasons.

In 1984, Wang sold the property to UMass Lowell for a total of one dollar after not finding any use for the buildings in ten years.

A year later in 1985, the college moved into three of the five buildings (Upham Hall, Read Hall, and Gould Hall) to house the Graduate School of Education. Up until this point, the GSE was located in the basement of Dugan Hall on South Campus.

The two buildings that were not in use by the college were Richardson Hall, which had been in a fire a few years earlier, and Bigelow Hall, which was in use by the Robert F. Kennedy school that housed juvenile girls. The cause of the fire remains unclear, although there were rumors that it was either arson from a relative of one of the allegedly mistreated juvenile boys, or a fire set by the ghosts of the juvenile children themselves.

In the early 2000’s, UMass Lowell Chancellor Bob Hogan deemed the buildings unsuitable to house the GSE department or host classes. Not wanting to put in the money to make the repairs to meet inspections, Hogan moved the GSE department back to South Campus in 2003 on the fifth floor of O’Leary Library, although this was only supposed to be a temporary stay.

In 2013, Read Hall caught on fire and as a result, the building was demolished. In response to the fire, Massachusetts Senator Michael Barrett drafted a bond, which became a bill in 2014, to fund the demolition of the rest of the campus, but the buildings have remained untouched to this day.

After the fire in 2013, speculation among students ran wild. Many theorized that the fire was the juvenile boys ghosts again, trying to burn down the campus one building at a time. Since the fire in 2013, UMass Lowell has added a “No Trespassing” sign to the outside of the entrance to the campus and refuses to talk about it, which has led to many break-ins to the campus. Since the move of the GSE from West to South was so sudden, many of the classrooms remained untouched, and a majority of the rooms that were not used by UMass Lowell are filled with children’s toys and games, which means the rooms used for teaching during the truancy school days were also left untouched.

The Campus itself is remarkable. The long driveway past the chained off “No Trespassing” sign stretches around most of the campus, and the tall trees around the campus provide a good amount of shade. The grass has been unkempt, growing to knee length and many weeds protrude from the ground. Tons of bushes of thorns are also scattered around the campus intermittently, some so thick that nobody can see where they end, or where they go to. Many students who have entered the campus say they thought they saw eyes stare at them through the bushes, and some have even heard growls and snarls.

West Campus is a bit of a maze. The layout between the buildings is quite cyclical, but buildings themselves were cornered into this circular landscape by the trees that encompass them.

The buildings are in total shambles. Broken glass is scattered across the staircases to enter the buildings, and there are boarded up windows with slits just big enough for eyes to look out, but not in. On top of each building are security cameras that were put up there by Wang Laboratories, and there is much debate on if the cameras even work.

Renee Mallet, author of “Haunted Colleges and the Universities of Massachusetts” believes that the stories she has heard from UMass Lowell’s West Campus are by far the most horrifying in New England.

“People told stories about getting lost inside, and not being able to find their way out,” Mallet said. “They had feelings of being followed, and electronic devices suddenly didn’t work.”

Richardson Hall is most associated with the creepiness. The building that caught fire in the 1980’s houses most of the unique stories that come from those who break into the building.

Michael Everett, a Chelmsford resident who has lived on Princeton Boulevard for over 50 years, said that he’s seen many enter the campus only to sprint out screaming a little while later.

“One of the best ones was this group of high schoolers that banged on my door a couple years ago,” Everett said. “One of them said he felt a hand on his shoulder, like a kid’s hand. The second one said he got lost in a room because the door disappeared on him and he heard a little boy giggling. The last one didn’t talk at all. White as a ghost! Maybe he saw one. Or a few.”

Others who explored the campus have said they couldn’t even go inside because of the things they heard and saw outside of Richardson Hall.

“There’s this huge plank, maybe about five feet high,” said Brittany, a UMass Lowell alumna. “Since all of the entrances are boarded up and blocked off with police tape, we thought it was a dead end, there was no way in. But you can move the plank.”

The plank, spray painted with the words “Hear No Evil,” is placed against the building in a seemingly inauspicious way. However, if the plank is moved, an entrance about one foot wide and one foot tall is revealed, with the words “Do Not Enter” spray painted on the brick in small font above it. The only way in is to crawl through.

Once in, many intruders are greeted with stuffed animals strewn across the floors, ripped up bible passages and test papers, and more graffiti. Phrases like “I Don’t Belong Here,” “Be Happy, Be Dead Like Us!” and “Wanna Play Hide N Seek? We’ll Find You!” are written on the walls, on chalkboards, and carved into the desks.

Cell service goes down the further you travel. Some doors are locked, and some doors aren’t. The doors that are locked allegedly reverberate more loudly than the other ones, and some have said they’ve heard the lighting of matches and the temperature rising. Sofas and pieces from sinks are placed on the floors of stairs.

“I swear I heard a little boy yell my name in one of those classrooms,” Brittany said. “And as soon as I felt something on my shoulder, I bolted out of there. There is absolutely no way I would ever go back to that place. It’s terrifying.”

 

Disclaimer: Please do not trespass onto this private property without proper permission from the owner. Trespassing is illegal.

 

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