Central State Hospital

Central State Hospital, formally referred to as the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane was a psychiatric treatment hospital in Indiana.

While the Indiana legislature had authorized the establishment of a "hospital for the insane" as early as 1827, the doors of the Indiana Hospital for the Insane (later re-named Central State Hospital) did not open until November, 1848. At this time, the hospital (called the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane after 1889 and then called Central State Hospital after 1926) opened with five patients and a single building, and by 1928, physicians cared for nearly 3,000 patients. At that time, the hospital consisted of one brick building situated on a large parcel of land, numbering over 100 acres (0.40 km2), in the outskirts of Indianapolis (on Washington Street, west of downtown).

From 1848-1948, the hospital grew yearly until it encompassed two massive ornate buildings for the male and female patients, a pathological department, a "sick" hospital for the treatment of physical ailments, a farm colony where patients engaged in "occupational therapy", a chapel, an amusement hall complete with an auditorium, billiards, and bowling alleys, a bakery, a fire house, a cannery manned by patients, and idyllic gardens and fountains.

The more ornate of the two massive ornate buildings came to be known as "the Seven Steeples". This building was designed using the Kirkbride plan for mental healthcare facilities.

For a half-century, this complex array of buildings and gardens beckoned to all of the state's mentally ill. By 1905, however, mental health institutions elsewhere in Indiana, built in Evansville, Logansport, Madison, and Richmond relieved an overcrowded Central State Hospital of some of its patient load, leaving it to treat only those from the "central district", an area of 38 counties situated in the middle portion of the state. In 1950 patient population reached 2,500

By the early 1970s, most of the hospital's ostentatious, Victorian-era buildings were declared unsound and razed. The Men's Department Building (a Kirkbride) had been demolished in 1941. In their place, the state constructed brick buildings of a nondescript, institutional genre. These modern buildings and the medical staff therein continued to serve the state's mentally ill, until allegations of patient abuse and funding troubles sparked an effort to forge new alternatives to institutionalization which, in turn, led to the hospital's closure in 1994.

The grounds of Central State Hospital still stand, largely vacant as of 2011. In place of the demolished Women's Ward (Seven Steeples) is a large lawn. There are approximately 10 buildings on the grounds that were associated with the hospital. The Pathology Department building, built in 1895, is well-preserved and houses the Indiana Medical History Museum. The three more modern wards (Evans, Bolton, and Bahr) were built in 1974 when the others were demolished. The oldest building on the property is the old power house, built in 1886. The Administration building, which was built in 1938, is now most commonly associated with the hospital, although it never housed patients. In 2005, the Beckmann Theatre was granted temporary occupancy of the 1895 Laundry Building where it staged its production of "Asylum". More recently, the building has been storing cars.

Fortunately, the Indiana State Archives, the Indiana State Library, and the Indiana History of Medicine Museum (housed in one of the hospital's remaining nineteenth-century edifices), are preserving the history of an institution that served, albeit not always well, the mentally ill of Indiana for 146 years.

In March 2003, the city purchased the property from the state for $400,000. The land that was acquired consists of 160 acres (0.65 km2) located on the city’s westside at the 2800-3300 blocks of West Washington Street.

From WTHR 12/6/06- "Indianapolis - The city approved the sale Wednesday of the old Central State Hospital site to a developer. Eyewitness News partners at the Indianapolis Star report High Mark Development is buying the 160 acres (0.65 km2) for just over $2 million. The hospital for the mentally ill closed in 1994. The future of the site will include apartments, shops and green space."

From IBJ 12.07.06- City gives OK to $2.1 million sale of Central State site "Indianapolis' metropolitan development commission on Wednesday approved the sale of the 160-acre (0.65 km2) former Westside home of Central State Hospital. The buyer, a private joint venture called High Mark Development, will start negotiating with the city to find new uses for the site, which held a hospital for the mentally ill for nearly 150 years.''

From IBJ 05.01.07- City selling more Central State land "A development team that bought 115 acres (0.47 km2) at the former site of Central State Hospital may soon buy another 33 acres (130,000 m2) from the city, at a cost of $223,500. Sound cheap? Mike Higbee, president of Development Concepts Inc. and one of the buyers, said the price reflects a need to clear the land and address environmental issues before development.''

From IBJ 08.13.07- Plans for Central State's rebirth taking shape "Touring the expansive grounds of the former Central State Hospital west of downtown is like taking a trip back in time-evident by the crumbling buildings that are as dated as the site's original Hospital for the Insane name. But a redevelopment in the final stages of city approval could breathe new life into a 150-acre (0.61 km2) parcel surrounded by blighted neighborhoods to the east and north and Hispanic storefronts to the south along West Washington Street.'' For full articles see the IBJ Newsbank Archives

The site is also the subject of the 2006 film "Central State: Asylum for the Insane" a documentary, produced and directed by independent filmmaker Dan T. Hall of Vizmo Films. The institution and mental health history of the hospital is now under study by Indiana author, Nicole Kobrowski for a book to be released in Fall 2012.

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