Athens Lunatic Asylum

Athens Lunatic Asylum
Athens State Hospital
Location: Athens, Ohio
Built: 1868
Architect: Levi T. Scofield
Architectural style: Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals, Late Victorian
Governing body: Ohio University
NRHP Reference#: 80002936[1]
Added to NRHP: March 11, 1980
Photo of the ballroom before a fire broke out and it was divided into two floors to help ease space restrictions.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum was a mental hospital operated 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 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". According to [2] The Guide of Repository Holdings, the term “The Ridges” was derived from a naming contest in 1984 to re-describe the area and it’s purpose.



It began operation on January 9, 1874. Within two years of its opening, the hospital was renamed 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 facility also included divisions such as the Dairy Barn, Beacon School, Athens Receiving Hospital, Center Hospital and the Tubercular Ward (Cottage “B”).

The land where the hospital was built belonged to Arthur Coates and Eliakim H. Moore farms. The area originally was only made up of 141 acres and over the years, quickly grew to 1,000 plus acres of land. The idea to build an asylum came up shortly after the Civil War.

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 earlier years. The architect for the original building was Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland. Construction of the facility began on November 5, 1868 and the hospital opened on January 9, 1874. Based on the Kirkbride plan, the main building was to include an administration building and two wings that included three sections. The males were housed in the left wards and females in the right. They each had their own specific dining halls. There was room to house 572 patients in the main building. Almost double of what Kirkbride had recommended. The building itself was 853 feet long and 60 feet in width. Also built onto the main building in the back were a laundry room and a boiler house. Seven cottages were constructed to house even more patients. They could hold less capacity than the wards, but they grouped patients in dormitory like styles. By the 1950’s the hospital sat on well over 1,000 acres, was using 78 buildings and was treating 1,800 patients.

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 called, 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. [3] The Athens State Hospital records, show total square footage of the facility was recorded at 660,888 sq. ft circa 1960.

For many years, the hospital was Athens, Ohio's largest employer. A large percentage of the work it took to maintain the facility, was carried out by the patients. Doctors and physicians believed this was not only therapeutic for patients, but it was also free to the hospital itself. By the ends of the 50’s however, the treatments that had been used for years, altered to drugs and made it difficult for patients to execute their jobs. The 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 Ohio University archives collection contains records unfolding information regarding employees’ background training. Some were fully trained and some, not trained at all. Some lived on the grounds and some did not. The most shocking information within the employee records are the evidence and documentation of hydrotherapy, electroshock, lobotomy, and psychotropic drugs. All which have been discredited today as extremely inhumane ways of treating a patient. 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.

Overall, common ailments faced today such as epilepsy, menopause, alcohol addiction and tuberculosis were cause for enrollment in the hospital.

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.

Most buildings have been renovated and turned into classrooms and office buildings. The administration building is now the home of The Kennedy Art Museum, showcasing paintings and artwork of all different types of artists.

The largest most well known cottage that has not been renovated is the old tubercular ward or “cottage b”. It sits sheltered on a hill far away from much of the other buildings. Annual Reports of 1909 show records of the first year the cottage was used. It housed patients specifically suffering from tuberculosis. It was isolated because the illness was highly contagious. The most notable appearance aspect about he TB Ward is the large screened in porch that stretches across the front of the building. It was designed to be fire proof, so construction to renovate this building has fallen to a stop. It’s walls are lined with asbestos, which also make it a huge health hazard. Ironically enough, asbestos was not known to be harmful and cause cancer of the lung, so patients were being exposed to chemicals that made their breathing even more difficult.

Cottage “M” sits on the main circle and has also not been renovated. The reason it hasn’t received the treatment is because it is also lined with asbestos. The building used to be used as male and female living quarters and was built in 1907.

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 [1] 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.

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ McCabe, Doug (1993). Athens Lunatic Asylum aka "The Ridges": A Guide to Repository Holdings. Alden Library - Ohio University - Athens, OH: Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections. 
  3. ^ . Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections - Alden Library - Ohio University - Athens, OH: Division of Hygiene and Division of Hygiene and Mental Health. n.d.. 
  • Annual Report of the Trustees of Athens Lunatic Asylum to the Governor of the State of Ohio for the Year Ending Nov. 15, 1872. Columbus: Nevins & Myers, State Printers. 1873.
  • Annual Report of the Athens Hospital for the Insane to the Governor of the State of Ohio for the Year 1876. Columbus: Nevins & Myers, State Printers. 1877.
  • Beatty, Elizabeth & Stone, Marjorie. Getting to Know Athens County. Athens, Ohio: The Stone House. 1984.
  • Cordingley, Gary. Stories of Medicine in Athens County, Ohio. Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc. 2006. ISBN 9780615218670
  • El-Hai, Jack. The Lobotomist: a maverick medical genius and his tragic quest to rid the world of mental illness. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. 2005. ISBN 978-0471232926
  • Tomes, Nancy. The Art of Asylum-Keeping: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the origins of American psychiatry. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1994 paperback reprint of 1984 hardcover. ISBN 978-0812215397
  • Valenstein, Eliot. Great and Desperate Cures: the rise and decline of psychosurgery and other radical treatments for mental illness. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1986. ISBN 978-0465027118
  • Ziff, Katherine. Asylum and Community: connections between the Athens Lunatic Asylum and the village of Athens, 1867-1893. Ph.D. thesis. Ohio University. Athens, Ohio. 2004.

External links

Coordinates: 39°19′N 82°6′W / 39.317°N 82.1°W / 39.317; -82.1

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