The haunted history of Dillard Complex

Three miles away from campus, the remnants of Dillard Complex lay empty, absent of new residents and in need of a landscaping job. What once resided within those walls? Most know the complex as home to Hughes Hall and Munford Hall, William & Mary dorms which housed students from 1965 to 2006. In the past, however, their halls were filled with the nurses and doctors of Eastern State Hospital, the first public mental hospital in the country.

In the 1960s, William & Mary was short on housing and was looking for new space. The sturdy foundations of Eastern State Hospital lay unused, a prime spot for expanding student housing. These dorms, slightly removed from campus, became a tight-knit community according to Jess Raymond. As the area director of the Dillard Complex until 2006 she was the last resident of the dorm and had the job of shutting its doors for the last time.

"The building was constructed somewhere around 1955 for Eastern State," Raymond said. "They never housed patients, but housed nurses and orderlies. In the 1960s, those buildings weren’t being used to their full potential, so W&M started leasing from Eastern State before buying them in the 1980s."

While the dorms may have been isolated from main campus, they fostered a secluded but loving community.

"There was a very strong, committed, population living in, and loving, those dorms," Raymond said. "Some people loved the distance and others loved the beautiful building and being among the greenery and lots of trees."

While the dorms were well-loved, the former hospital housing came with its fair share of spookiness, including a mysterious presence in the infamous room 119.

"While nobody who lived in room 119 ever complained or wanted to move out because they were fearful, many students said they heard knocking or tapping in the room,” Raymond said. “We brought exterminators in there and they never found anything. Weird things would randomly occur, like cabinets opening by themselves. I don’t want to say its haunted, but there was definitely something there.”

While the source of the noises was never found, Raymond said that evidence of that presence persisted even after residents were long gone.

“Interestingly, after the buildings closed, they were used for a short time by emergency personnel, state police and firemen for emergency training,” Raymond said. “I was there once escorting the groups while they were training cadaver dogs. They would bring cadaver parts and hide them around the building. One dog kept going to room 119, but they hadn’t hidden any cadaver pieces in there! The crazy part was the handler said that this dog was particularly versed and well trained and found all the other pieces but kept going back to room 119.”

Despite the evidence of a potential haunting, the significance of the dorm goes beyond just the potential ghosts, but rather to the building’s namesake.

“The Dillard Complex was named very carefully,” Raymond said. “The original name was the James Blair Terrace, but it was renamed the Dillard Complex for James Hardy Dillard, rector from 1917 until 1940. He had a legacy in the South as an advocate for education in the African-American community.”

Raymond said she will treasure all the memories she made there, haunted spirits and all.

“I was literally the last person to live there. I closed the doors and put the chains on the doors as I left, the last actual resident of the Dillard Complex. I’ll always treasure the time that I worked and lived there.”