Kirkbride Buildings Blog

August 19th, 2008

Oregon State Hospital & The Library of Dust

Oregon State HospitalAs a result of the site’s 15 minutes of fame a couple weeks ago, I got a few emails about Oregon State Hospital. Each made a case for including the Oregon State Hospital “J Building” (soon to be “The Kirkbride U“) in my list of Kirkbrides. They were pretty convincing I have to say. Apparently the building was originally designed according to Kirkbride’s specifications, but when it came time to add on additional wards, real estate issues prevented the wings from being extended in the normal fashion. Instead, they were extended back at a right angle to the original building’s main axis.

After hearing the evidence from multiple sources, I’ve decided to finally consider the building a Kirkbride. I’m a little worried that adding it to the list will open the door to other variants and ugly cousins of the Kirkbride plan, but we’ll see. (Just to be clear, I don’t mean to say that OSH is ugly:) I also got a bunch of messages about other possible Kirkbride buildings not included in the list. Some people were obviously just mistaken, but a couple submitted promising candidates. I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting turns up.

What reminded me about Oregon State Hospital in particular was a couple items I recently stumbled across on the web. One of these is Oregon State Hospital during the 1960s by C.L. Brown, a former patient. The complete piece contains her memories of the hospital and a couple interviews she did with her former psychiatrist. It’s a pretty interesting read.

In addition to that, there’s also the fascinating and more unusual story of the “Library of Dust”. From the 1880s to the 1970s, the unclaimed, cremated remains of patients who died at Oregon State Hospital were placed in individual copper canisters and then stored in the basement. Over the decades, chemical reactions caused by moisture resulted in brilliant colors streaking across the canisters and “blooms” of corrosion erupting from their sides. It’s kind of nice to know that even though the cannisters were originally almost identical, each one has become an individual because of its unique reaction to the elements. Photographer David Maisel has documented this collection of “cremains” in a collection of photographs titled “Library of Dust”. You can see some of the photos and learn a bit more about the remains on Maisel’s web site, or you can purchase his book which will be released this month: Library of Dust.

« Blog Home Page


  1. WSH August 19, 2008, 9:29 am

    Am I correct in that they very recently demolished the J? I believe I heard not too long ago they were offering one last tour to the public.

    Regarding the remains, I heard when they found them a few years back and it was a big deal about how they were “forgotten remains” I think that died down a little when people realized that the cremated remains were most likely better off than in other states where they were buried. That book seems really cool, thanks for the update!

  2. Ethan August 19, 2008, 12:01 pm

    You’re welcome. The whole building is still standing. The final open house tour will be on September 10th which isn’t too far away.

    Last Chance to Tour the Hospital

  3. Martin August 25, 2008, 12:41 pm

    Actually the final tour is Sept. 13th, a Saturday, and only a limited number of people get to go in. First come, first served, sign up this week online. Come visit the last true West Coast Kirkbride as we blow it up and send it back to the nether regions of heck from whence it came…..

  4. Ethan August 25, 2008, 1:05 pm

    Heh heh:) Thanks for the correction, Martin.

    BTW: the URL you entered for your link doesn’t work. If you let me know the correct URL, I’ll fix it for you.

  5. Mr. Ni February 3, 2009, 12:58 am

    To be fair Eastern Oregon State Hospital (Now home to Eastern Oregon Corrections) is a true Kirkbride. The only other PNW Kirk was the now demoed Eastern Washington State Hospital.

  6. Eben December 15, 2009, 7:46 pm

    From the photo above, we are clearly talking about the facility in Salem.

    To my knowledge, there have only been two State Hospitals in Oregon– namely “Oregon”, located in Salem, and “East Oregon”, Dammasch, in Willsonville. Neither appears to be a Kirkbride. I have a photo of Dammasch. It is extremely modern. (A la 1950s style.)

    Am I wrong?

  7. Mr. Ni April 6, 2010, 2:14 pm

    There were three state hospitals in Oregon state proper.

    “Oregon State Hospital” in Salem which the article is about.

    “Dammasch State Hospital” in Wilsonville which is now demolished and part of Villebois Condos.

    “Eastern Oregon State Hospital” in Pendleton which is now Eastern Oregon Corrections. The grounds are shared by, IIRC, Eastern Oregon Psychiatric or Blue Mountain Psychiatric which is the descendant of the state hospital.

    The original Eastern Oregon hospital is most definitely a Kirkbride by design and is still standing today.

    Here’s a convenient aerial photo of the building as a prison today.

  8. Ethan April 6, 2010, 2:22 pm

    Nice aerial photo. I had the pleasure of “discovering” (for myself) the Kirkbride in Pendleton a few years ago during a trip to Oregon. I think that was the only time I’ve actually stumbled upon a Kirkbride building in person that I wasn’t previously aware of. This is kind of geeky, but the moment is still very fresh in my memory. It’s too bad it’s a prison, but at least it’s still in use.

  9. Rebecca October 19, 2010, 2:40 pm

    I have to make some corrections about eastern oregon psychiactric center and the prison, since i live in the area, and work at the psych center. EOPC was origionally the prison, when they build the building that is now the prison the psych center was used for children that were developmentally disabled with some being also mentally ill. then it moved into taking care of the over 18 population of the mentally ill, and all the DD adults went either across the street to the state DD institution (which closed in the summer of 09), or to fairview. the Psych center is still a state hospital for the mentally ill.

  10. Ellen April 1, 2011, 8:44 pm

    Is there any comprehensive list of the cremains?
    A distant cousin died there in 1979. How do I find out about the disposition of her ashes?

  11. Patti Jaconetti January 5, 2012, 2:04 am

    I am searching for a picture of my father,John Francis Snodgrass who was placed in a hosp. for alcoholism on May 3, 1937. Paper work just says a State hosp. in Eastern Oregon. CAn anyone help me out with this?? Thanks,Patti Jaconetti

  12. johnnyncarleen jones February 8, 2013, 4:24 am

    Mr Ni, is correct about the kirkbride building in Pendleton, Oregon and about it being a former hospital and now a prison. My husband is currently in that prison and it is well known for many spiritually spooky happenings as told by both guards and inmates. One particular side of the building is well known for it and does give off this feeling that tends to stay with you after each visit. Sad building to me as it holds my husband captive but beautifully old at the same time.

Leave a comment:

(required, will not be published)