Athens Lunatic Asylum

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 supposed paranormal sightings. After the hospital's original structure closed, the state of Ohio acquired the property and renamed the complex and its surrounding grounds " The Ridges".

History
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. 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 and thus abandoned. The site of the original main building is now owned by Ohio University and is the one developed portion of a much larger parcel of land called The Ridges. 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 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 operates a calendar for sculpting and exhibits. 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. 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. The George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs is also located at The Ridges, in a set of three separate buildings across the area.
 

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