A Day at Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, located in Weston, West Virginia, stands as a testament to a complex history, transitioning from a mental health institution to a prominent tourist destination.

Originally authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in 1858, this facility was envisioned as a central treatment center for mental illness, aligning with the principles outlined by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride in his 1854 treatise. Designed by Richard Snowden Andrews in a blend of Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival architectural styles, its construction commenced in 1858 but faced delays due to the Civil War, concluding in 1880. Upon completion, its 1,295-foot length made it the largest hand-cut stone structure in the U.S. and the second-largest globally, following the Kremlin.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Despite its architectural grandeur, the facility, then known as Weston State Hospital, was plagued by issues of poor sanitation, inadequate lighting and heating, as documented in a 1949 Charleston Gazette report. Efforts to improve conditions through structural updates were overshadowed by persistent overcrowding, a problem that additional buildings could not mitigate.

The shift towards deinstitutionalization, propelled by the 1962 Mental Retardation Facilities & Community Mental Health Construction Act, aimed to halve institutional populations within two decades, favoring community-based mental health services. This transition culminated in the hospital’s closure in 1994, when it was replaced by the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Jane Lew.

Subsequent efforts to preserve the historic site received support from notable figures such as Senator Robert C. Byrd and Governor Cecil B. Underwood, alongside state and federal funding for maintenance and rehabilitation. Sold at auction to Joe Jordan in Morgantown for $1.5 million, the site underwent significant restoration, including a rebranding to its current name.

Today, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum offers a diverse array of tours and events, from historical and paranormal explorations to photography workshops, ghost hunts, and the annual Asylum Ball, celebrating its rich and multifaceted legacy.

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