One reason I enjoy visiting old and abandoned places, is the beauty that still remains. Many times, a lot of these old buildings display a sense a craftsmanship that is no longer seen in buildings – intricate and handmade steel work, wood, and marble are all common.
One place I’ve been eyeing for quite some time houses one of the most amazing staircases I’ve seen, and a pretty iconic image from the east coast. Recently, I was able to pay a visit to this place, and see the famous staircase for myself.
A little history on the hospital
The asylum’s construction began in 1828, after the 1828 presidential election sparked a national trend towards humanitarian causes along with location. The campus included more than 20 buildings, spread out over 5 acres. It was renamed to its current namesake in 1894.
In the early years, the facility acted as a resort-style asylum. It featured terraced gardens where patients could plant flowers and take walks, roof walks to provide mountain views, and many architectural details to create an atmosphere that would aid in the healing process. However, years later, this utopian model of care had vanished. This place, along with most asylums in the US, were becoming more of a warehouse for the outcasts of society. More extreme methods of treatment were taking place onsite, which involved techniques such as “ankle and wrist restraints, physical coercion, and straitjackets”, seclusion, and eventually electroshock therapy , prefrontal lobotomies, seizure induction, and sterilization.
In 1905, a noted eugenicist became director, a position he held unti 1943. His views strongly embraced the eugenics movement, and many patients were involuntary sterilized in an attempt to improve the genetic quality of the human population. Aiding him was the passage of the Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924 in Virginia, which allowed for patients to be forcibly sterilized at this hospital/asylum until the law was repealed in the 1970s.
After World War II, electroconvulsive therapy and then psychotropic drugs were employed here. As the patient population climbed steadily, a second site opened in the late 1940’s, and eventually reached a peak residency of more than 3,000 patients at the two sites combined.
When a new campus was constructed in the 1960s and the number of patients began to decline quickly, this campus began to slowly empty. By the 1970s, it was completely emptied, and it was then converted into a correctional center as many of the old psychiatric hospitals in the country were re-purposed in the same fashion due to the similar needs of security and administration that these campuses provided. The prison closed in the early 2000’s, and the property has sat vacant since then.
Here are a few photos from the main administrative building. I’ll add more later when I pay another visit to the other buildings.