Eastern State Hospital, the second oldest continuously operating psychiatric facility in the United States, and the first west of the Allegheny Mountains, is located in Lexington, Kentucky.
It was decided circa 1816 to construct a mental hospital to serve Fayette County, Virginia. 3 Previously, such patients had to be transported to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Main Building for the new Fayette Hospital was dedicated by Henry Clay and other dignitaries on June 30, 1817, but the entire facility was never fully completed or occupied and was forced to close during the economic Panic of 1819. 4
Fayette Hospital was re-established by an act of the Virginia legislature as the Eastern State Lunatic Asylum on December 7, 1822, and on May 1, 1824, it admitted its first patient. 3 4 The first of two new wings were added to the Main Building in 1825 at the cost of $5,735, and the second wing was finished in 1826 at the cost of $4,405. Between 1829-30, two extensions were added onto the previous two wings, followed by a new building in 1832 that was finished at the cost of $5,480. 3 To resolve overcrowding concerns, additional wards were erected in 1836 and 1840, followed by a new two-story structure to the rear of the Main Building in 1844 and a library was in 1845.
In 1850, a fire destroyed the wood-framed horse stables and ice house, which were quickly replaced with fireproof buildings. 3 A new ward, with each floor including a veranda, a bathroom, a dressing room, and two dayrooms, was added in 1851.
Overcrowding conditions forced Eastern State to only admit residents from Kentucky by 1860. 3 The institution began a capital improvement campaign to increase the hospital capacity to 520 patients, which led to the completion of several new buildings in 1868, including new wards for females, a ward for African-Americans, and a new two-level laundry and boiler house. But by 1870, Eastern State was again overcrowded and the superintendent at the time, Dr. John W. Whitney, M.D., refused to admit an additional 150 patients and resigned in protest in 1872.
Eastern State Lunatic Asylum was renamed to Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum in 1876. 4
A new three-story structure was constructed to fill the gap between the male and female wards in 1885, followed up with a new building to house African-Americans in 1889. 3 A new administration building, with sleeping apartments for physicians, was added in 1894, followed by a new residence for the superintendent and family. By the end of the century, Eastern State had the capacity of 861 patients.
The start of the 20th century saw a flurry of new construction projects and upgrades. A bowling alley was built for patient use in 1905, followed by a new laundry in 1906, and a dairy barn and slaughterhouse in 1911. 3 A 36-bed apartment building for nurses opened on April 25, 1928.
Reflecting changes in the treatment of the mentally ill, Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum became Eastern State Hospital on January 2, 1912. 3 4
This did little to stem the overcrowding of the institution, which was 200 over its stated capacity by the mid-1910s. 3 By the 1930s, Eastern State, with a capacity of 920 patients, was overwhelmed with 1,756 patients.
By the mid-1910s, the institution was overcrowded once again, boasting a census of 1,431 patients with a capacity of 1,200. 3 This sharply increased to 1,996 patients in 1945 1 before marginally declining to 1,725 patients by 1957 and a little over 1,000 patients by 1967. 4
By the mid-1940s, new therapies designed to treat mentally unstable patients were put into use, including electro- and Metrozol-shock treatments, and Malarial fever therapy. 3 Insulin therapy began in May 1952, although it declined in use after 1954 when tranquilizing drugs were introduced for use. 4
In 1951, the Wendell Building was added, followed by the renovation of the administrative building employee quarters into offices in 1954. 3 In 1956, Eastern State sold 300 acres of its farmland to International Business Machines (IBM) for a new research park and manufacturing plant, and all farming at the hospital ceased a year later. The Allen Building opened in 1957 with 160 beds for the acutely ill.
Deinstitutionalization, the process of replacing long-term psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services, began in the 1960s. The movement towards deinstitutionalization was born out of a socio-political movement for community-based services and open hospitals and the advent of psychotropic drugs and financial rationales. 10
Eastern State’s resident population was gradually reduced by releasing stabilized patients, shortening inpatient stays, and reducing admission and readmission rates. Programs were implemented to mitigate the reinforcement of dependency, hopelessness, and other maladaptive behaviors.
The hospital’s census decreased to 999 by June 24, 1967, marking the first time since the 1890s that Eastern State had a patient count under 1,000. 1 3 This declined further to 639 patients by 1970 1 3 and just 150 inpatients by 2007. 1 5
In 1984 the city of Lexington discovered the remains of patients buried in unmarked graves while constructing Loudon Avenue through the property, resulting in the re-burial of over 4,000 bodies behind the Hope Center.
In 1993, the non-profit Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board (Bluegrass Regional) became concerned when rumors circulated that Eastern State Hospital was to close its doors to inpatient care. 4 The rapid closure of mental institutions nationwide as part of broad cost-cutting efforts that left few inpatient options remaining. As a result, Bluegrass Regional began discussions with the Commonwealth in taking over the day-to-day operations of Eastern State. In September 1995, Bluegrass Regional took over management of Eastern State under a contract with the Commonwealth, 1 5 initially receiving $31.7 million in state funds annually to operate the facility. 6
Of the more than one-dozen structures that once housed patients, only three remained in use by the 2000s which featured asbestos, lead paint, exposed wiring, and poor fire protection systems. 1
In 2004, Bluegrass Regional approached the state in regards to the construction of a new $130 million psychiatric hospital either between Louisville and Lexington or at the Veterans Administration Hospital on Leestown Road. 5 On June 14, 2005, it was decided to relocate Eastern State Hospital to University of Kentucky-owned Coldstream Research Park on Newtown Pike, which would include space for specialized mental health programs for veterans and those with substance abuse. 6 With a projected cost of $86 million, the state would lease the hospital from the city until the construction bonds were paid off. 1 2 6
Bluegrass Regional and the Commonwealth Cabinet for Health & Family Services signed an agreement on August 21, 2007, giving Bluegrass Regional $1 million and the authority to move ahead with plans for the new mental health care facility. 1 The money would be used towards employing an architect to finalize designs and obtain closer cost estimates on construction.
Under a land swap deal announced on February 28, 2008, Bluegrass Community & Technical College would relocate from its main campus on Cooper Drive and its two satellite campuses on Leestown and Regency roads to the soon-to-be-vacated Eastern State Hospital property. 7 The plan would give the University of Kentucky further room to expand its campus and would allow the community college to be located adjacent to downtown and Transylvania University.
The new $129 million Eastern State Hospital opened at the Coldstream Research Park on September 10, 2013, and has been managed in a partnership with the University of Kentucky’s UK HealthCare through a contract with the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental & Intellectual Disabilities. By December, most of the buildings on the original Eastern State campus were demolished; the administration and laundry structures were the only structures to be spared.
The long-term facility at Eastern State, with just 14 patients, closed in mid-2018. 11 The patients were transferred to either the Western State Nursing Facility or Glasgow State Nursing Facility, saving the state $2 million in operational costs.
- Musgrave, Beth. “A new Eastern State is planned: Legislative OK needed for psychiatric facility.” Herald-Leader (Lexington), 22 Aug. 2007. 20 March 2008.
- Musgrave, Beth. “Research park considered as site for new psychiatric hospital.” Herald-Leader (Lexington), 22 Aug. 2007. 20 March 2008.
- Shoemaker, Shane. “Eastern State Hospital Timeline.”
- Shoemaker, Shane. “History of Eastern State Hospital.”
- Musgrave, Beth. “Bluegrass Regional proposes new $130 million facility.” Herald-Leader (Lexington) 8 July 2007. 20 March 2008.
- Isaacs, Barbara. “Plans for new mental hospital are unveiled.” Herald-Leader (Lexington) 15 June 2005. 20 March 2008.
- Vos, Sarah. “3-way deal proposed.” Herald-Leader (Lexington) 29 Feb. 2008. 20 March 2008.
- Hatton, Mary and Jerry Taylor. “The Eastern State Hospital Project.” 20 March 2008.
- Brammer, Jack and Art Jester. “Eastern State deal surviving talks.” Herald-Leader (Lexington) 30 Mar. 2008.
- The Rockland Campus Plan. New York State Office of Mental Health, 1989.
- Stunson, Mike and Morgan Eads. “14 under long-term care face transfer as Eastern State Hospital ends service.” Herald-Leader [Lexington], 22 May 2018.
33 CommentsAdd Yours →
I am looking for information on Asbury Evans who died there in 1928.
I just purchased 2 wooden plaques of horseshoes that were made by the patients of this hospital I was wondering if anyone knew anything about these
Could someone give me the actual physical address of the original building? I was going through historical architecture in Lexington & came across the old pic. I grew up in Lexington & always had an affinity for all the old homes & buildings. As a child in the late 60’s my mom took me there various times to visit someone. This person was not insane. He was placed there by his wife after she got him addicted to barbituats & etoh. She did this to steal his restaurant & bar from him & run off with my dad. Well, they finally left for Ohio while my mom was in Good Sam for surgery when I was in 2nd grade. So my mom decided to befriend her husband. His name was Sherman, I think Bailey was the last name. Anyway, I enjoyed the visits too. Turns out he was a humorous down to earth fellow once sober & use to play the piano they had a a big room everyone congregated in. Thorazine was the drug of the day & some people would walk around like zombies. And they were still doing lobotomies. It was an experience that gave me an education of varieties of behaviours & txs of others. We usually took a cab, but I do remember walking too & it was a bit of a walk. We lived on E High St at the time. Earlier I think my dad was there for a month for TB, they use to put people in “sanitariums” for contagious type illnesses.
I do architectural portraiture renderings, love doing historical/old architecture & considering doing this one.. As it does have a place in my history.
My grandfather and his brother were in Eastern State hospital in the early 1900s, my grandfather’s name was Will Elam and his brother’s name was Richard Elam, Richard died in Eastern State hospital. Just wondering if I could get an information about them. I also had an aunt that worked as a nurse in Eastern State hospital for many years her name was Ruby Elam.
Are there any patient listings back in the 1820s? I am looking for Peter W. Grayson.
I’m trying to find out information about my grandfather who was a patient at eastern state hospital in 1920 before he died any information would be appreciated. His name was Al Tuttle and he shows up there in 1920 census.
Kentucky Death Records show that Al Tuttle (son of Thomas Tuttle and Annie Hukin) was born December 31, 1883 and died January 28, 1920 at Eastern State Hospital.
My great grandmother was a patient and died there in 1921, so she was there at the same time as your grandfather. Her name was Layne Biggs
Please don’t laugh – but I was watching something on YouTube about insane asylums, which led me to look them up in Lexington. The video I watched they called them “Sanitariums”. Someone mentioned that there’s nothing worse than being in a place where everyone thinks you’re crazy, no matter what you do or say. A long time ago, I used to watch this soap and at one point in the story, a lady was sent to one of these places and she could make no one believe she was sane (even though she was), the mere fact that she was there, they automatically assumed she was crazy…..I can imagine what a horrible ordeal it would be like to be in one of these places, although I’m sure a lot of the staff really want to help them……but I’m sure there are some bad ones mixed in the bunch.
I was a student nurse there in the spring of 1968. I still remember the poor souls who lived there lives there. I loved the old builds which seemed to be filled with spirits of the thousands who had endured so much misery over the years. I can remember the square dances and parties we held for the patients. I recall the electric shock treatments we students had to assist with. I learned a lot about life there. I have been back several times over the years to visit and and it brings back memories. I pray for those pathetic souls who lived such sad lives.
My father was a patient there in 1968 I believe. He was there only because he was an alcoholic. He told me the same story all my life about being tortured with shock treatments. He endured 21 treatments within 7 days. How he ended up living a normal life is beyond me. I was wondering what the doctors name was then. I know the doctor suddenly resigned because of so many complaints. I would love to do look up the history of the doctor. Bless your heart I know you saw hell there
I was a patient here not even a month ago. I’m definitely glad to be out. I felt like i’d never get out. I was in there because of a simple mistake. But, I felt as if I was getting belittled by some staff. Most staff was nice. But, there were some staff that was just RUDE, and nasty. CNAs would make little comments about patients that we smell bad, and mock us for the way we talked. I was very aware of my surroundings so it aggravated me. But, I kept to myself because I wanted to get out asap. My work of advice If you think you need help definitely get it before you end up in a place like this. Nothing worse then being treated like you’re crazy when you’re really not. Worst week of my life.
I worked at the old Eastern State as an RN. The Gregg , Allen, & Wendell buildings. I agree with the MHA above
The staff that I knew were kind & caring people.
I attended a NAMI. Meeting at the new Eastern State last night. What an improvement! So nice!!
Joe, I to would love to take a look around the buildings. I wish to take photos and see what I can find. I am drawn to old buildings with such history as this. Was it simple to get in?
Nothing is left except for the Admin & laundry buildings. Both are undergoing renovation.
My great grandmother was a patient there around 1930. Her name is Irma Gertrude Taylor. Any information or a picture would be greatly appreciated.
I had to take clients to both. One years ago and another resent. I want to say to work in any mental facility takes a lot of heart and each day you leave you appreciate the little things we have. The old facility with strong history reminded us how we use to treat mentally ill. Its no wonder the place felt haunted.
Today when I seen the new facility. It was beautiful, clean, state of the art facility. High security was more than impressive. The comfort I felt to know one of my own relatives was taken there was far beyond words.
The staff was polite as we walked to the one wing named after one of the old buildings.
Then I really had little hope she still would know me or even know she was in this world or not. As the last I seen her she was babbling about john cena among other things.
Yet when I seen her she had a fresh set of clothes and was clean. Very Alert. Yet didn’t recall how she got there after almost a week unaware.
To the fellow above with the son. Sometimes its hard to admit to what is hard to believe. No system is perfect as I have worked in and had to place. There somethings in life we may never understand but rather than venting then why not work with organizations that are trying to continuously improve a system that once was terribly flawed and once inhumane.
I have snuck in to the abandoned buildings several times. They just recently tore down 3 or 4 four of them. Found some pretty weird stuff left behind and had a few strange experiences.
I’ve been to Eastern State twice. The first time was okay. It wasn’t plush, by any means and the food always did suck, but the care was adequate. The second trip was not so good. I was put on the “asylum” floor, the staff with the exception of one nurse, treated me like I was out of my mind, I waited days to see a doctor and then all he did was give me a test to see if I remembered my social security number and who was president. He had told my husband that he could go before a judge and keep me there for 30 days if he wanted to. I thought I was going to have to get a lawyer to get out.
This doctor is no longer there. I would recommend Ridge, even tho they’re not perfect either. They do accept Medicaid, I believe. Crisis Stabilization Unit is located on the Eastern grounds and is an excellent place for short term care. (3 to 7 days). I would recommend anyone go there. After being in various inpatient care places, I would either send my loved ones to Crisis Stab, or Ridge.
It’s also been 4 years since I’ve needed inpatient care, so I’m not up to date.
The new facility is very nice.
Call them & tell them you are afraid you will harm yourself or others. We just had to admit my mother-in-law for the same reasons you are stating. They are trying to get her straightened out on 1 medicine at a time to see what works. Please don’t give up! She doesn’t have insurance either, the state will pay for it.
i am in severe need of mental help. i have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, severe anxiety, ptsd, and possible bipolar disorder.. i had a breakdown in 2010 and have been going to adanta with no success. i don’t know what ot do. i don’t have any insurance or money.
I also was a parient at that place. that was the nastest place i have ever been in. and i have een in a lot of naty places.
I work as an mha now and I worked in the old hospital and i agree with everything that the mha and rn have stated. It is a wonderful new hospital and we truly do help people to recover from mental illness.
i have been a patient at this hospital.n personally think it is a JOKE. I DNT UNDERSTAND HOW SITTING IN A ROOM CAN HELP ANYONE
The hospital will still be for the same clientele as we have always helped (mentally ill). I have worked there as a mental health associate (orderly) for over three years and as someone who deals with these patients 5 days a weeks I can tell you that this new place will help them tremendously. I had my first orientation class there yesterday and it is a phenomenal facility. Much safer and much nicer than the crumbling building we operate out of now. Yes, it is sad to leave the old place, with such a rich back ground and “crazy” history, but our patients need somewhere that they don’t have to worry about the wall falling in on them or the ceiling falling through because of leaks. And to James Coy:
There are TONS of good people who work in the mental health field. I’m sorry your son had a bad experience but, my friend, the evil doesn’t lie within the staff; it is within your son’s mind. We are there to help those who can not (or will not) help themselves. It is a sad reality that we can not fix EVERYONE, but we do try our hardest. So maybe before you start generalizing and calling us “evile” and “devils”, maybe think of how your son treats others. God will judge him and you as well. If you are smart enough to work a computer, you are smart enough to find him somewhere else to go if you weren’t appreciative of the service we provided. Your son had 3 meals a day, a roof over your head, and was cared for by some of the hardest working people on this planet. We get spit on, hit, kicked, shit on, pissed on every single day. And we make less than the people who work as pizza delivery guys… People assault us mentally and physically every day and yet we still show up and still show them compassion. Maybe you should have raised your son not to be like you and he wouldn’t have wound up with us.
My son was just admitted at this hospital. Should I be concerned? Afraid? Please help me, I live 1600 miles away. Thank you, and God bless.
Either this article does not make it clear or I am not understanding something. Is there going to be a hospital for indigent and criminally insane in Lexington that is funded by the state or not? Or is this going to be a "for profit" hospital at Coldstream Station. It is a shame to see Eastern State hospital close it's doors. It has been open since 1824. Lexington and central Kentucky do have a dire need for this service and there are way too many people who are mentally ill and homeless walking the streets of Lexington that there does not seem to be help for.
i really hope they close this evil hospital, at age 17 bluegrass over medicated my son and caused brain damage, he now has OBS , then in sept. of 09 they lied on me to social services and had me removed as guardian. now my son is in jail. maybe for 10 years. i dont know of a more evile place and the people that work there are devils, i really pray for them ever night i feel sorry for them. when judgement comes. God will show them no mercy.
Eastern State Hospital only accepted patients 18 years old or older. I worked there from 1994-2001 and was very proud of the work I did. I was also proud when someone asked me where I worked and I answered “Eastern State Hospital”.
What are the plans for the remaining bldg? I’d love to see it restored and open to the public with the history of the place available. The building near London is beautiful and scarey. It is a historical treasure. Hope they don’t tear it down.
I am searching For my Gt. Gt. Grandfather, whom disappeared after having at least four children. The last child born 1879, then shows his spouse using her maiden name "Shivley" but the children using Stevenson, on my Gt. grandfather's marriage application It states father as James Stevenson, mother Sarah Shivley of Lewis co.,KY. I would appreciate any information you can give me on how long James was a patient at Eastern State Hospital, or where I would be able to obtain any information…Nancy L Craig