Kirkbride Buildings Blog

March 24th, 2008

Independence State Hospital

Independence State HospitalI’ve added an Independence State Hospital page where you can see my photos of the Kirkbride and learn a little about its history. The photos are from a visit to Iowa I took back in 2004. As I mentioned in the Clarinda post, the quality of the pictures leaves something to be desired. I think these are even a full step down from the Clarinda photos. (The ones from Cherokee are even worse. I don’t even want to post those, but I probably will just to be as complete as possible. Watch for them in the future…)

Independence is a nice looking Kirkbride. It’s facade isn’t as dramatic as some, but it’s still a pretty impressive sight, set back from the main road, sitting at the end of a long stretch of open lawn. Its relative simplicity in design would probably have pleased Dr. Kirkbride.

It was a rainy day when I was there which kind of put a damper on things. It was a very pleasant visit in spite of the clouds and rain though. Independence is still a functioning mental health facility, but like most state pysch centers these days, it’s nowhere near as crowded as it used to be.

One thing I’ve heard about Independence which I haven’t been able to verify is that the main building started life as a mansion which was converted into a Kirkbride building. I have a hard time believing that’s true since Kirkbrides were almost exclusively purpose built from the foundation up. I don’t know of any that were adapted from existing buildings. If that’s true about Independence, it would be an interesting little side note. I still need to find some verifying documents though.

Another interesting fact is the Kirkbride was designed by architect Steven Vaughn Shipman. Shipman apparently designed at least five Kirkbride buildings. The five I know about were in Anna, Illinois; Elgin, Illinois; Independence, Iowa; Mendota, Wisconsin; and Oshkosh, Wisonsin. That’s pretty prolific. Unfortunately, I believe that Independence is the only one that survives.

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  1. Kerby March 24, 2008, 4:57 pm

    Woo Hoo!! I was very excited to see you posted these pics… I think the pictures look GREAT – Perhpas I’m not as knowledgable about quality photography as some, but I see NOTHING wrong with these pics at all… I’m curious about that Mansion thing… I hope to visit there someday soon – another Kirkbride not far from my home. Thanks for posting your pics!!

  2. Ethan March 24, 2008, 5:43 pm

    Thanks. The quality of online pictures of these places has really evolved over the last few years. There are a lot more asylum photographers out there now, and some are pretty talented. People like me have had time to learn some things too. So when I post older photos I always feel self-conscious about that. I could do a better job these days.

    That said, the photos aren’t what the site is all about anyway. So it doesn’t really matter. It’s just my ego talking.

    If/when you visit Independence, see if you can find anything out about that mansion story. Let us know if you do.

  3. John March 25, 2008, 1:30 am

    I also agree with Kirby. These pictures are nice.

  4. Mike Cook March 25, 2008, 6:42 pm

    Great Job, the pictures are great! I work for MHI and I am also on the Buchanan County Historical Society, there is no truth to the mansion story. This has been looked into many times. This building was built by the State of Iowa for a mental hospital. There were no other buildings on the property before this building was built. This was the first building built on the grounds all the other buildings came after. The building was named the Renyolds building (although it is usually called the main building), after many other buildings were built on the grounds. There is the Whitte building, Grove Hall, and Stewart hall to name a few.

  5. Ethan March 26, 2008, 12:38 am

    Thanks, guys.

    Mike, thanks too for confirming that the mansion story is bogus. It didn’t seem right to me, so I’m glad to hear it’s not true.

  6. Kerby March 26, 2008, 8:30 pm

    Mike, do they give tours of the Independence Kirkbride and grounds? Do you give tours? I’d love to have a tour guide who is knowledgable about the history of the place when I go visit… sounds like you know your stuff.

  7. Mike March 27, 2008, 1:03 pm

    Hey Kerby, no problem getting a tour. Keep in mind though because of confidentiality patient areas are off limits, but there are a lot of cool areas you can see. Just call the main MHI phone number or let me know I can set it up for you. There are several other places I think you would enjoy seeing in Independence when you get ready to come up this way let me know.

  8. Jim Fortner November 21, 2008, 10:24 pm

    I would like to see the tunnels back when they was used and would like some history on the way things was run back in the day.
    Thank You

  9. jo anonymous December 6, 2008, 3:09 am

    There are a good many things, now denied, about MHI that I learned from the ‘old timers’
    when I started working there long ago. There were many buildings, now gone, with extensive tunnel networks, now mostly collapsed. Rewritten history, artifacts stolen…spruced up ‘the museum ward’…nice paint, not the peeling stuff w/collapsing plaster ceilings I recall. There was plenty good that occurred there, and plenty to be shameful of…and I’m not speaking of patient behavior. I could write a book. I wish you had been able to see some of the architecture before it was ruined. The arching ceilings are masked by drop ceilings. I remember there used to be an annual open house and nursing staff would have to strip and wax those massive hallways (note the shine).
    And then there were the paranormal experiences. At any rate, nice photos! Brings back some memories and I’m happy there is some kind of record of the architecture.

  10. Cristy March 13, 2009, 5:32 pm

    My dad was sent here about 22 years ago. He remembers how everything looked so grand and clean when my Gram dropped him off. The beautiful red carpet on the stairway… then you get taken upstairs and it’s cold, paint peeling, you can hear the pipes clanging all night. He said he and a friend used to sneak down to the tunnels which still housed some old “equipment”. He asked a nurse once what the tunnels were for and she told him they were so nurses could go from building to building easier. He also told me that he believes there are graves back behind the buildings, you know bodies that were never claimed by family… or the family was never told… Anyway he said there used to pictures in the museum of the patients held in the tunnels. Patients with iron clasps around their necks, connected to the tunnel walls, they would have to urinate in the corners. Interesting info. if nothing else.

  11. Lee February 22, 2010, 6:59 pm

    I have an uncle, Frank W. Morrison,who was sent to the Home for Aged in Independence, Buchanan, Iowa around 1900. He died in 1921. Does anyone know if there are records to prove this?Was this also a home for the destitute?

  12. Paul July 21, 2010, 6:19 pm

    We were just in Independence Iowa and drove by the State Hospital. It looks similar in design as the the old State Hospital in Traverse City Michigan, was this the same architect?

  13. Tami July 22, 2010, 11:55 pm

    I also had a great grandmother who would have lived there probably in the 1930’s that I’d like to find out information about. If Lee found out anything about whether or not old records still exist, let me know. I live in another state and would love to visit there some day to see if records do exist or if there is some sort of patient museum. I’m sure living conditions back then were less than ideal, but little was known about most mental disorders. I’d like to just find out more family history.

  14. timmy August 13, 2010, 3:15 am

    I was a patient there in 1982-83 and had the privledge of being in those tunnels. We walked from building to building in the winter time to stay warm and out of the elements. Food service carts also used the tunnels for delivering food from building to building. When entering the tunnels one had to flip on a switch which alerted drivers of food service carts so noone would get run over. There were steel bared calls in the tunnels which were obviously not in use but a quick lesson of mental health disorders soon proved to me that people were actually housed in these cells and chained to the walls as one poster mentioned. There is indeed a cemetary on grounds and there was alos a museum there which held old medical related equiptment like straight jackets and shock machines etc. I t was a scary place for a kid. There was an on grounds fire department as well as ball fields. There is no tunnels going from Cromwell to any of the buildings just from Renolds to Whitty but they are spooky to say the least.I bet I been in them half a dozen times. The stairwells also have a desperate feeling in them as well. If you want to know what it is like on a ward, just watch one flew over the cucus nest,it’s pretty close.

  15. Cheryl May 16, 2011, 1:24 pm

    I just toured Independence. I was told there were graves and the area was pointed out. RECORDS: I was told that, amazingly, they have every patient record from the first admission forward. Unheard of. They were at the most a 1/2 inch thick, so were easy to keep.

  16. Gene November 15, 2013, 7:55 am

    Are tours still given at this hospital and who do you contact to arrange for one?

  17. Ethan November 17, 2013, 10:20 pm

    Gene, as far as I know, tours are still given if you make an appointment. It’s been many years since I visited, so I’m not sure. I would call the hospital to find out. Their number is listed on this page:

  18. Rylie Fenimore November 17, 2015, 11:12 am

    I was in the phase program(a program for troubled kids) not mentally ill. I was there for over a year. The building is in no way functional or practical for anyone to live in. Imagine having to walk through the dungeons on your way to eat a meal which by the way was told to us was road kill from a mile radius. The memories of that hell hole still haunt me. I pray for the children they place in that place daily. In no way is that a positive place for them.I hope they close this place and find better living situations or at least don’t place children there!

  19. Carla December 11, 2015, 3:11 am

    I used to work at MHI Independence. It was a very interesting place, with much history. The museum is very interesting.

  20. bonnie groen December 20, 2015, 2:19 pm

    I had a great grandfather that was a patient at Independence hospital. his name was Hio or Heye Reiman or Rieman and am wondering if I can get any records or anything from the hospital. It stated in his obit that he was there for many years. He died in 1914, us there anyway, I can see his records.

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