Athens Lunatic Asylum: Wikis


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Athens State Hospital
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. Historic District
Main entrance to the old hospital, now Lin Hall of Ohio University, which houses the Kennedy Museum of American Art.
Location: Athens, Ohio
Built/Founded: 1868
Architect: Levi T. Scofield
Architectural style(s): Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals, Late Victorian
Governing body: Ohio University
Added to NRHP: March 11, 1980
NRHP Reference#: 80002936


Photo of the ballroom before a fire broke out and it was divided into two floors to help ease space restrictions.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum was a mental hospital operational in Athens, Ohio from 1874 until 1993. During its operation, the hospital provided services to a variety of patients including Civil War veterans, children, and violent criminals suffering from various mental disabilities. It is best known as a site of hundreds of the infamous lobotomy procedure, as well as various paranormal urban legends.

After the hospital's original structure closed, Ohio University acquired the property and renamed the complex and its surrounding grounds "The Ridges". Today most of the buildings have been restored and are in use by the university, and the grounds surrounding them have been used as a nature preserve.



It began operation in 1874. Within two years of its opening, the hospital was renamed as the Athens Hospital for the Insane. Later the hospital would be called the Athens Asylum for the Insane, the Athens State Hospital, the Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, the Athens Mental Health and Developmental Center, and then (again) the Athens Mental Health Center.

The original hospital was in operation from 1874 to 1993. Although not a self-sustaining facility, for many years the hospital had livestock, farm fields and gardens, an orchard, greenhouses, a dairy, a physical plant to generate steam heat, and even a carriage shop in the early years. The architect for the original building was Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland. Construction of the facility began in 1868 and the hospital opened on January 9, 1874.

The designs of the buildings and grounds were influenced by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a 19th century physician who authored an influential treatise on hospital design, On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane. Kirkbride buildings are most recognizably characterized by their "bat wing" floor plan and often lavish Victorian-era architecture.

The hospital grounds were designed by Herman Haerlin of Cincinnati, a student of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect of Central Park in New York. Some of Haerlin's other landscape designs are seen in Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery and the Oval on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus.

Haerlin also based his designs on Kirkbride's plans that stated extensive grounds with parks, lakes, and farmland were beneficial to the success of an asylum.

For many years, the hospital was Athens, Ohio's largest employer. The state hospital was eventually decommissioned and, in a land swap between the Department of Mental Health and Ohio University, the hospital's property was deeded to Ohio University. Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare, Athens Campus (as Southeast Psychiatric Hospital was renamed), still serves as a psychiatric hospital in Athens. With the original Athens Lunatic Asylum situated on a hill south of the Hocking River and the newer hospital on the north bank of the river, the two facilities are still within sight of each other.

The history of the hospital documents some of the now-discredited theories of the causes of mental illness, as well as the practice of harmful treatments, such as lobotomy. The leading cause of insanity among the male patients was masturbation, according to the annual report of 1876. The second-most common cause of insanity, as recorded in the first annual report, was intemperance and dissipation. In the hospital's first three years of operation, eighty-one men and one woman were diagnosed as having their insanity caused by masturbation. Fifty-six men and one woman were diagnosed as having their insanity caused by intemperance and dissipation during this same period of time.

For the female patients hospitalized during these first three years of the asylum's operation, the three leading causes of insanity are recorded as "puerperal condition" (51 women), "change of life" (32 women), and "menstrual derangements" (29 women).

Epilepsy was also considered a major cause of insanity and reason for admission to the hospital in the early years. The first annual report lists thirty-one men and nineteen women as having their insanity caused by epilepsy. General "ill health" accounted for the admission of thirty-nine men and forty-four women in the first three years of the hospital's operation.

The hospital closed in 1993. However, the institution of the state hospital continued to function in Athens, with patients and staff relocating to a newly constructed facility which, at the time of the transition in 1993, was called the Southeast Psychiatric Hospital. The psychiatric hospital in Athens is now named Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare.

Modern history and present day

By the early 1990s, many of the original buildings had fallen into disrepair and were no longer used by the hospital. The site of the old hospital is now owned by Ohio University and is the developed portion of a much larger parcel of land called The Ridges, which today hosts a nature preserve, the Kennedy Museum of Art, the School of Art graduate studios, a biotechnology research center, Ohio University Recycling, and an auditorium, among other university endeavors.

The presence of a stable funding authority, Ohio University, has ensured restoration of much of the original grounds, as envisioned by Haerlin and others. The nature preserve provides a habitat for bobcats, deer, fox, hawks, wild turkeys and an abundance of other wildlife.

The Dairy Barn Southeastern Ohio Cultural Arts Center, a nonprofit arts organization, is located in the old hospital's remodeled dairy barn; it is privately owned and operated. The Dairy Barn Arts Center[1] operates a year-round calendar of exhibitions, and classes and workshops for all ages.

Members of the Athens, Ohio chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, have worked to restore the three graveyards located on the grounds of The Ridges. Several organizations and individuals have restored a pond on The Ridges and made nature walks on the grounds. The preserve is the site of numerous experiments by the university's natural sciences department, as well as a popular destination for nature walkers and running trails. The grounds also include a putt-putt golf course, baseball diamond, and low and high challenge courses. School organizations provide tours of the facility around halloween time each year. The preserve is also regularly used by the school's Army ROTC battalion.

Interesting notes

  • During the 1950s, Walter Jackson Freeman, M.D., Ph.D., "The Father of the Transorbital Lobotomy," performed over 200 lobotomies on patients. Although now discredited as a treatment for mental illness, the surgery on the brain was an accepted medical procedure at the time.
  • Multiple personality and convicted rapist Billy Milligan (made famous in Daniel Keyes' book, "The Minds of Billy Milligan") was a patient at the hospital in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The stain left by the decaying body of a 54-year-old female patient has fueled speculation by those who believe in haunted places. She was found dead in an unused ward early in 1979, after she'd been missing for six weeks.
  • Interior images of The Ridges served as the visual setting for "How To Make Your Movie: An Interactive Film School", an interactive CD-ROM produced by Athens, OH-based multimedia company Electronic Vision in conjunction with film director Rajko Grlić and the OU Film School. [2]
  • The Ridges was shown on Fox Family Channel's television show "Scariest Places On Earth".
  • The British Society for Psychical Research named Athens, OH the 13th most-haunted place on earth.
  • The Ohio Exploration Society conducted a paranormal investigation at The Ridges, featured in the book "Ghosthunters: On the Trail of Mediums, Dowsers, Spirit Seekers, and Other Investigators of America's Paranormal World" by John B. Kachuba.

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.  
  • Annual Report of the Trustees of Athens Lunatic Asylum to the Governor of the State of Ohio for the Year Ending Nov. 15, 1872. Columbus: Nevins & Myers, State Printers. 1873.
  • Annual Report of the Athens Hospital for the Insane to the Governor of the State of Ohio for the Year 1876. Columbus: Nevins & Myers, State Printers. 1877.
  • Beatty, Elizabeth & Stone, Marjorie. Getting to Know Athens County. Athens, Ohio: The Stone House. 1984.
  • Cordingley, Gary. Stories of Medicine in Athens County, Ohio. Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc. 2006. ISBN 9780615218670
  • El-Hai, Jack. The Lobotomist: a maverick medical genius and his tragic quest to rid the world of mental illness. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. 2005. ISBN 978-0471232926
  • Tomes, Nancy. The Art of Asylum-Keeping: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the origins of American psychiatry. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1994 paperback reprint of 1984 hardcover. ISBN 978-0812215397
  • Valenstein, Eliot. Great and Desperate Cures: the rise and decline of psychosurgery and other radical treatments for mental illness. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1986. ISBN 978-0465027118
  • Ziff, Katherine. Asylum and Community: connections between the Athens Lunatic Asylum and the village of Athens, 1867-1893. Ph.D. thesis. Ohio University. Athens, Ohio. 2004.

External links

Coordinates: 39°19′N 82°6′W / 39.317°N 82.1°W / 39.317; -82.1



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