Elgin State Hospital

The Elgin Mental Health Center (formerly Elgin State Hospital) is a mental health facility operated by the State of Illinois in Elgin, Illinois. Although during its history, its mission has changed, at times it treated mental illness, tuberculosis, and provided federally-funded care for veterans. The hospital's site, which included a patient-staffed farm reached a maximum of 1,139 acres (4.61 km2) after World War II.


Illinois' first mental hospital opened in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1851, but the need for two more hospitals serving Northern and Southern Illinois became apparent. The legislature authorized the two new hospitals on April 16, 1869, and set up a committee to select a site for the Northern Illinois hospital. To gain this important source of future employment, the City of Elgin sold more than $40,000 worth of bonds to purchase 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land south of the city limits and also promised to provide free freight to the site for building materials. After the site was selected, a Board of Trustees, primarily consisting of prominent Elgin residents, was appointed to construct and run the new hospital. The Trustees followed the recommendations of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII), in terms of the amount of land required and also by adopting the Kirkbride Plan for the Central Building. Colonel S.V. Shipman, who had designed the main building of the Mendota, Wisconsin state hospital, was selected as the architect of the Elgin building. The front expanse of the Center Building was 1,086 feet (331 m) and was designed to be narrow in order to offer natural light and ventilation. The building was used until it was demolished in 1993.

The hospital received its first patient on April 3, 1872. It was originally called the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane, and its first superintendent was Edwin Arius Kilbourne.

The hospital received its first criminal patient who was "not guilty by reason of insanity" in 1873. and this "forensic" population grew until the legislature established a separate state hospital for the forensic population in Chester, Illinois in 1889.

The hospital outgrew the Central Building and the Annex building was opened in 1891, just south of the Center Building with 300 additional beds. Identical buildings were also built at Jacksonville and Anna. The Annex was closed in 1971 and razed in 1972.

Prior to 1894, many physically ill patients were denied admission to the state hospitals as being too infirm to benefit from care and were kept in local almshouses. However, changes in Illinois laws required that they be treated by the state hospitals. As a result, in 1894, Wing Hall opened as a detached infirmary building, bringing the total hospital capacity to 1,107 beds. In 1910, a 110 bed infirmary for female patients opened in an addition to the north end of the Center Building called "D-North" bringing the bed capacity to 1,210. These buildings were replaced in 1921 with the construction of a new general hospital located between the Central Building and the Annex. In 1967, this hospital was replaced by a new Medical and Surgical Building. The new circular building was designed by Bertrand Goldberg, who also designed Marina City in Chicago.

The hospital attracted staff by offering subsidized housing on its grounds. Both the Central Building and the Annex included staff apartments. Later a separate Nurses' Home, Staff House, Ricketts & Carriel Hall offered staff apartments. There were also at least seven single family houses. Cooking and laundry facilities were provided to employees, but many ate in central staff dining rooms located in the Center Building and the Staff House. Senior staff had their own dining room on the second floor of the Center Building. The cost of housing, food and laundry was deducted from employee paychecks. In 1965, the hospital began to phase out staff housing, with the last residents departing in 1969.

The name Elgin State Hospital was adopted on January 1, 1910, shortly after the administration of all state charitable institutions came under the new Board of Administration, which replaced the previous Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities and the local board of trustees. In 1917, the Department of Public Welfare assumed responsibility for Elgin State Hospital and retained control until the creation of the Department of Mental Health in 1961 (L. 1961, p. 2666).

Following World War I, the federal veteran's bureau contracted with the State of Illinois to erect new buildings on the grounds of the state hospitals to care for veterans. Elgin received the first such building, named Wilson Cottage, which was opened in 1921. The veteran's program was a "hospital within a hospital" with separate federal funding. Elgin State continued to maintain over 400 beds for ex-serivemen through the 1930s.

In 1929, the Illinois State Psychopathic Institute relocated to the grounds of Elgin State, which included schools for nursing, hydrotherapy and occupational therapy. The institute also conducted clinical trials for new drugs. Although the Institute moved to the Medical campus of the University of Illinois in 1935, its laboratory remained at Elgin State. Further innovations at Elgin came from the pastoral training of its chaplain Anton Boisen.

From its founding through the 1960s, the hospital maintained a farm to supply a portion of its food needs. For example, a October 1, 1880 inventory reported 285 hogs, 40 cattle and 26 horses. The original farm was located to the west of the Center Building and Annex. In the 1880s, a slaughter house was built along the Fox River to provide meat for the hospital. In 1929, the state purchased the 143-acre (0.58 km2) farm adjacent to the southwest corner of its grounds, which brought its land area to 817 acres (3.31 km2) with another 190 acres (0.77 km2) under lease. A farm colony was built adjacent to McLean Blvd on the west end of the grounds with three wards, a central kitchen, a power plant, a large dairy barn and a water tower. During the 1930s and 1940s the farm not only grew crops such as corn, but also raised 100 to 150 dairy cattle, 500 to 1,500 hogs, and 5,000 chicken at any time. The farm colony housed able-bodied male patients. The farm colony contributed approximately one third of the total cost of food used at the hospital, which fed both patients and staff. After World War II, the hospital reached its maximum size of 1,139 acres (4.61 km2), but later shrunk as portion of the grounds were assigned to the State Highway Department and the Elgin Community College campus.

In 1975, the hospital changed its name to the Elgin Mental Health Center.

In 1983, the Governor decided that state hospital operations would be consolidated, and closed the hospitals in Manteno and Galesburg with certain patients being transferred to Elgin. In 1987, Illinois and the United States Justice Department entered into a consent decree committing to greater resources at Elgin and improved patient care.


The hospital is primarily used to care for "forensic patients" who have been found "not guilty by reason of insanity," and those persons found "unfit to stand trial," but who are required by Illinois law to remained confined in a mental hospital for a period of time. (Convicted criminals who are mentally ill are confined at the Chester Mental Health Center.) The hospital also provides mental health inpatient treatment for adults from a specific geographic catchment area and works closely with the community mental health agencies and community hospital psychiatric units in its region.

As of the end of fiscal year 2008, Elgin had 759.5 employees and an appropriation of $66,251,900. As of 2002, Elgin had 582 beds, 40 physicians, 163 registered nurses, and 67 medical social workers.

All of the buildings on the northern half of the grounds, except for the Administration Building which was built in 1967, were removed and only asphalt roads, without curbs or sidewalks remain.

Notable patients
  • David Hyrum Smith - son of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. Was confined for 27 years.