Weston State Hospital

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, subsequently the Armand Auclerc Weston State Hospital, was a Kirkbridepsychiatric hospital that operated from 1864 until 1994 by the government of the U.S. state of West Virginia, in the city of Weston. The hospital was bought by Joe Jordan in 2007, and partly opened to tours and other money raising events for its restoration. The hospital's main building is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the United States, and, as Weston Hospital Main Building, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.

History

The hospital was authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in the early 1850s as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Following consultations with Thomas Story Kirkbride, then-superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, a building in the Kirkbride Plan was designed in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles by Richard Snowden Andrews (1830-1903), an architect from Baltimore whose other commissions included the Maryland Governor's residence in Annapolis and the south wing of the U.S. Treasury building in Washington. Construction on the site, along the West Fork River opposite downtown Weston, began in late 1858. Work was initially conducted by prison laborers; a local newspaper in November of that year noted "seven convict negroes" as the first arrivals for work on the project. Skilled stonemasons were later brought in from Germany and Ireland.

Construction was interrupted by the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. Following its secession from the United States, the government of Virginia demanded the return of the hospital's unused construction funds for its defense; before this could occur, the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry seized the money from a local bank, delivering it to Wheeling, where it was put toward the establishment of the Reorganized Government of Virginia, which sided with the northern states during the war. The Reorganized Government appropriated money to resume construction in 1862; following the admission of West Virginia as a U.S. state in 1863, the hospital was renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. The first patients were admitted in October 1864, but construction continued into 1881. The 200-foot (61 m) central clock tower was completed in 1871, and separate rooms for black people were completed in 1873. The hospital was intended to be self-sufficient, and a farm, dairy, waterworks, and cemetery were located on its grounds, which ultimately reached 666 acres (266 ha) in area. A gas well was drilled on the grounds in 1902. Its name was again changed to Weston State Hospital in 1913.

Originally designed to house 250 patients in solitude, the hospital held 717 patients by 1880; 1,661 in 1938; over 1,800 in 1949; and, at its peak, 2,600 in the 1950s in overcrowded conditions. A 1938 report by a survey committee organized by a group of North American medical organizations found that the hospital housed "epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts and non-educable mental defectives" among its population. A series of reports by The Charleston Gazette in 1949 found poor sanitation and insufficient furniture, lighting, and heating in much of the complex, while one wing, which had been rebuilt using Works Progress Administration funds following a 1935 fire started by a patient, was comparatively luxurious.

By the 1980s, the hospital had a reduced population due to changes in the treatment of mental illness. In 1986, then-Governor Arch Moore announced plans to build a new psychiatric facility elsewhere in the state and convert the Weston hospital to a prison. Ultimately the new facility, the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital, was built in Weston and the old Weston State Hospital was simply closed, in May 1994. The building and its grounds have since been mostly vacant, aside from local events such as fairs, church revivals, and tours. In 1999, all four floors of the interior of the building were damaged by several city and county police officers playing paintball, three of whom were dismissed over the incident.

Efforts toward adaptive reuse of the building have included proposals to convert the building into a Civil War Museum and a hotel and golf course complex. A non-profit 501(c)3 organization, the Weston Hospital Revitalization Committee, was formed in 2000 for the purpose of aiding in preservation of the building and finding appropriate tenants. Three small museums devoted to military history, toys, and mental health were opened on the first floor of the building in 2004, but were soon forced to close due to fire code violations.

The hospital was auctioned by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources on August 29, 2007. Joe Jordan, an asbestos demolition contractor from Morgantown, was the high bidder and paid $1.5 million for the 242,000-square-foot (22,500 m2) building. Bidding started at $500,000. Joe Jordan has also begun maintenance projects on the former hospital grounds. In October 2007,a Fall Fest was held at the Weston State Hospital. Guided daytime tours were offered as well as a haunted hospital tour at night, a haunted hayride and a treasure hunt starting on the hospital front porch. Family hayrides, arts and crafts and local music were also offered.

The owners are now offering historic tours and daytime paranormal tours 6-days-a-week, Ghost Tours on Friday nights, and Ghost Hunts (which last all night) on Saturday nights.

Televised paranormal investigations

Being a reportedly haunted location, the asylum was featured on paranormal television programs.

  • In 2008, the ghost-hunting group TAPS was called to the hospital to conduct a paranormal investigation at the request of Joe Jordan due to purported claims of paranormal activity on the grounds. The investigation is featured on Season 4, Episode 9 of the Syfy reality TV series Ghost Hunters.
  • On October 30, 2009, the Travel Channel aired a special seven-hour live broadcast of the reality TV show Ghost Adventures from the asylum. Through a Ghost Adventures section of the Travel Channel website, viewers were able to text message, monitor, and review evidence via webcams for the live special. There was plenty of activity, including pressure, voices, and something showing up on the heat seeking camera. The reception of the "lockdown" was met with critical success; however, viewers criticized guest Robert Bess for throwing an EMF meter out of his hand and claiming it was removed from his hand. In their "Post-Mortem" special, which aired a week later, Zak Bagans and Nick Groff addressed the viewers belief that the incident was not paranormal. Bess responded by claiming that the incident was authentic paranormal activity.