Kirkbride Buildings Blog

May 19th, 2008

Cherokee State Hospital

I’ve added a page for Cherokee State Hospital. The photos date from the same trip in 2004 when I visited Clarinda and Independence. Like the other two Kirkbrides, the building at Cherokee is in great shape and the grounds are well kept, giving a good sense of what Kirkbride hospitals must have looked like back in the early days. Cherokee was a little different though in that much more of the Kirkbride is still fully used, not to mention the fact that one wing is now occupied by a prison. A tall fence topped with razor wire surrounds the prison wing, and really detracts from the building’s otherwise pleasant appearance.

Cherokee was built in the late 1890s and didn’t open till 1902. It does have a more modern, less quaint feel too. I suppose the fact that a metal roof was put on a few years ago contributes to that, but I think even if the roof were still slate and you could somehow remove all the other updates large and small, you’d still have something more modern than say the Kirkbrides in Taunton, Weston, or even Danvers.

Just like Clarinda and Independence, my wife and I saw the interior of Cherokee with an employee guide. But whereas the tours at the other buildings were very casual affairs conducive to a little poking around, this one was pretty much a no-nonsense, high speed dash through a few key areas and then “Have a nice day!” There was a big conference going on at the hospital, and the person showing us around was obviously in a rush. This was definitely the shortest visit of the trip.

Consequently, I’m lacking in good interior photos for Cherokee. What’s there is pretty meager, but at least it’s something. (There are a few Kirkbrides I only have exteriors of, and even one I only have interiors of oddly enough). To make up for that I’m posting a few historical photographs of the inside here. These were taken from a pamphlet entitled “Cherokee Mental health – 100 Years of Serving Iowans” which was put together by the CMHI Centennial Committee in 2001.

A room in the superintendent’s quarters.
The original amusement hall which was damaged by fire early in the building’s history.
The amusement hall after renovation, during a Halloween celebration.

The hallway of a ward.

And another ward hallway.

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  1. WSH May 19, 2008, 9:23 am

    Those interior photos look a lot like the old post cards I have of the Clarinda interior.

  2. M-Explorer May 19, 2008, 9:31 am

    Nice shots and I am glad to see they are still using the Kirk. It’s amazing you were able to get tours of these places!

  3. Ethan May 19, 2008, 11:11 am

    @WSH: one of the architects who designed Clarinda also designed Cherokee. I’m sure there are plenty of similarities.

    @M-Explorer: Thanks. I owe a lot to my wife for setting up the Iowa tours. The Iowa hospitals were very friendly and open to showing people around, although I’m sure they prefer groups from schools rather than individuals. Hopefully they’ll continue to be friendly to “tourists” like us though.

  4. Jennifer September 17, 2008, 11:25 pm

    Wow, You must have visited Cherokee around the same time I did.

    I was there on August 30, 2004, and have posted about that visit and what I learned about Cherokee from the infamous centennial book:

    I was a patient there from February 19 -April 16, 1969, so my trip was an attempt to expunge some old demons.

    I am in the process of posting some excerpts from my unpublished memoir. I’ll soon be posting some of my actual hospital experiences and descriptions of some fellow patients (with changed names, of course).

    When you were there, did you happen to notice if the hospital still had those cigarette lighters (with heating coils) attached to the walls? We weren’t allowed personal lighters or matches–I think they were afraid we’d burn the building down.

    During my 2004 visit, they wouldn’t let me past the sundial–maybe afraid I’d want to stay (ha, ha).

    Your pics are fantastic, by the way, and you too enjoyed a lovely, blue-sky day.

    Mine pics are a bit more modest.

    Anyway, thanks for your site.


  5. Ethan September 18, 2008, 6:40 pm

    Jennifer, thanks. I was there July of 2004. So yeah, our visits were close together.

    I’ll check out your blog post and pictures. I’ll also keep an eye out for your future stories. Thanks in advance for sharing them.

    I didn’t get to see any of the wards when I was there, so I don’t know if those wall lighters still exist. If they still let people smoke inside, they probably do though.

  6. Jack October 25, 2008, 1:20 am

    I lived on the hospital grounds from about the age of 6 months. My parents were employeed at the hospital. I started working on the wards at age 16. I know the hospital buildings and grounds inside-out. The last time I visited was in 2001 and at that time many of the buildings had been torn down and the Kirk building south wing was not a prison. The south wing was originally the female wards and the north wing the male wards. At my age I doubt that I will every be back but the hospital was my life for so many years and holds many memories that are mostly good.

  7. Kathy Thornes April 18, 2009, 12:23 pm

    I’d like a phone number where I can reach a resident who I know is staying there; please email me with a phone number… her birthday is coming up next week. Thank you….

  8. anita livesay May 17, 2009, 1:49 am

    I am doing a family genealogy research for a friend of mine and his grandfather was a patient at cherokee for over 29 years and believed to have been buried in the cemetery there. Any chance you would know any of the patients buried there? Thanks

  9. Diana Scott August 6, 2012, 1:59 am

    I’m searching for a death record for,
    Walter F. Scott. Walter is my husband’s
    He was on the 1940 census as being an Inmate there.
    Thank You,
    Diana Scott

  10. Janice Basant March 2, 2013, 6:14 pm

    My great grandmother, Rhena Maranell
    was admitted to Ward M of the hospital
    April 12, 1920 and died June 8, 1920
    “Post Operative Shock” Is there any way I can get medical records? I’d like to know which patients were on Ward M and what operation was performed.

    Thanks, Jan

  11. Marilyn September 30, 2013, 2:30 pm

    Thanks for the fine photos, the blog too helps “flesh out” a g-g-grandparent, about whom I knew “died in Cherokee, IA in 1903. Dr. Daniel Backer was said to be the first patient, having been “judged insane and sent to the hospital at Cherokee”

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