Clara Martin Center History


Clara Martin came to Orange County with her husband Brewster in 1953. Both of their families had lived in Vermont for several generations, setting the stage for Brewster, a physician, and Clara as his assistant, to open a medical practice and a small nursing home for local residents. Helping many of the patients in the nursing home, Clara recognized a growing concern for those she saw challenged by mental illness. At that time, these were often the people who were sent to the state hospital, living there for years. Clara’s observations were of people who had a life spirit that progressively diminished over time. Dr. Martin became reluctant to sign someone into the state hospital knowing the impact on his or her life could be significant for a long time to come. This often resulted in the patient’s deterioration and eventual involuntary commitment to the state facility. Local services to see a mental health specialist had a waiting list of up to six months.  Commitment to the state institution was often against the will of the person afflicted. Clara was deeply affected by one particular local resident’s loss of good nature after her stay at the hospital. The Martins took her out of the state hospital to reside in their nursing home. Clara began a grassroots effort in the county, with the help of some local clergy, and took their concern to the state legislature in order to bring services to local citizens. The initial services were offered out of the Chelsea Health Center where Dr. Martin practiced. The purpose of the initiative was to respond to those in the community who suffered from mental illness and were in need of care. Orange County Mental Health was born in 1966. Now, forty years later, the organization has grown from a one-person operation with an annual budget of $2,000 to a fully-operational, community-based system serving adults, children and families in need of mental health and substance abuse care, with an annual operating budget of $6 million. Clara passed away in 1990 and Brewster took a seat on the board of directors to carry on her efforts. Now named Clara Martin Center, the organization continues to grow in size, locations, and service types under his leadership and Clara Martin’s original intent of promoting wellness for all.