The story of a forgotten America.

A Day at Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

One of the Mountain State’s best-kept secrets, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a former mental hospital turned tourist attraction in Weston, West Virginia.

The Virginia General Assembly authorized the construction of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in 1858. It was determined to construct a central facility for those suffering from mental disorders that would meet the standards established by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride of Philadelphia in his 1854 publication on the subject of the treatment of such individuals.

The building was designed in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews. Construction began in late 1858 and was finished in 1880 after a significant delay because of the American Civil War. At 1,295-feet in length, it was the most massive structure built from hand-cut stone in the United States and second-largest in the world after the Kremlin.

A report by the Charleston Gazette in 1949 found that patients at then-named Weston State Hospital suffered from poor sanitation, lighting, and heat. It ultimately led to significant structural changes for the original medical building, resulting in the addition of reinforced pre-cast concrete slab flooring, new carpeting, and upgraded furnishings. However, it did little to resolve gross overcrowding, despite the erection of several other buildings over the decades.

Ultimately, the passage of the Mental Retardation Facilities & Community Mental Health Construction Act in 1962 led to the development of community mental health centers that could provide inpatient and outpatient care, emergency treatment, consultation, and education. The goal was to reduce institutional censuses by 50% within twenty years. Eventually, Weston State Hospital was replaced by the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Jane Lew in 1994.

With thanks to Senator Robert C. Byrd, Governor Cecil B. Underwood, and the state legislature, state funding was set aside, and federal grants were secured, to perform maintenance and rehabilitation work on the shuttered sanatorium. The state eventually auctioned Weston State Hospital to the highest bidder, and Joe Jordan, an asbestos demolition contractor from Morgantown, paid $1.5 million for the facility to preserve and restore it.

One of the first acts was to rename the building to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. In October, a Fall Fest was held on the grounds of Trans-Allegheny, which included guided historical and paranormal tours. As of 2019, the hospital-turned-attraction offers a variety of tours and experiences, including heritage, paranormal, and photography events, ghost hunts, and the annual Asylum Ball.

For more history and photos of this historic sanatorium, visit the completely refreshed Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum article.

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