May 22nd, 2012
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Check out this news item on the former Saint Vincent’s hospital: Civil War Insane Asylum Turned into Affordable Housing. They muddle the hospital’s history a little—although the asylum was founded in 1858, shortly before the Civil War, the Kirkbide was built between 1873 and 1891, well after the Civil War ended in 1865.
It’s great to see the building put to good use. It’ll probably be around for years to come. One can’t help but wonder why it can happen in Missouri, but not in other states. I’m sure it’s relatively modest size and location in a densely populated area both help.
May 7th, 2012
At the May 7th Fergus Falls City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously in favor of drawing up demolition plans for most of the city’s beautiful, 100+ year-old Kirkbride building. The central administration section will probably be preserved, but the wings will be destroyed under the proposed plan. This vote came in spite of a substantial showing of public support for full preservation. According to the Fergus Falls Journal, about 200 people showed up for the meeting and the council chamber was filled to overflowing.
So yet another Kirkbride is likely fated to become to a mere fragment of its former self. Such a shame that something couldn’t be done to save it. It is some consolation that at least a part of the structure would be saved. Hopefully that at least will happen. In my opinion, it’s really the wings that are the most beautiful part of the Fergus Falls Kirkbride though, at least in terms of the building’s exterior.
May 5th, 2012
There’s been a flurry of activity regarding Fergus Falls lately. If you haven’t heard, things aren’t looking for preservation. The Fergus Falls City Council rejected the only submitted reuse plan, and has started discussing demolition.
If you live in Fergus Falls and want the building saved, please attend the city council meeting on Monday, May 7th at 5:30PM to show support for preservation. The meeting will be taking place at Fergus Falls City Hall.
There’s also an online petition you can sign to show your support, even if you don’t live in Fergus Falls. Please take a minute to sign it. I know online petitions aren’t the most useful thing in the world, but signing one can’t hurt, and it might do some good. (Note that after signing, you’ll get an email with a request for a $5 donation. That donation is for the petition site, NOT for saving the Kirkbride.)
April 28th, 2012
They finally went and did it. The organization behind the proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the former Hudson River State Hospital campus has put the property, along with its magnificently sprawling Kirkbride building, on the real estate market. All CPC Resources‘ plans for Hudson Heritage Park are dead. For details, check out the Poughkeepsie Journal’s Psych Center Site Development Plan Stalls.
This doesn’t come as a big surprise given the devastating fire in 2007, the backing out of project partners in 2008, and the long-term lack of news about the redevelopment plans. In my opinion, the chances for preservation of the Kirkbride are greatly reduced by this sale. I doubt whoever purchases the property in this economic climate will have preservation of an historic property high on their agenda.
March 20th, 2012
There’s a new book about Athens State Hospital coming out. On Friday, March 30th from 5:00-7:00PM Ohio University Press is hosting a free public event at The Kennedy Museum of Art to celebrate the release of Asylum on the Hill by Katherine Ziff. (In case you didn’t know, the museum is located in the former Athens State Hospital Kirkbride building in the neighborhood now known as The Ridges.) Read more about it here: Ohio University Press Event Celebrates New Book on Athens Asylum
Some special points of interest about the event mentioned in the article:
“Items relating to the former mental institution will be featured in displays arranged by Ohio University’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections and the Athens County Historical Society. There will also be a self-guided tour of The Ridges from 3-5 p.m. in which visitors may look inside some of the institution’s buildings while learning about their current use. Tourists will be able to obtain a new map of The Ridges produced by Ohio University Press that complements “Asylum on the Hill.” Copies of both the map (free) and “Asylum on the Hill” ($35) will be available at The Kennedy Museum of Art and Ohio University Press, also located at The Ridges.”
Learn more about and purchase the book here: Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape
I haven’t yet read the book myself, but it sounds very promising. I’m sure anyone with interest in old asylums will find it worth checking out. Katherine Ziff, by the way, is the author of the dissertation Asylum and Community: Connections between the Athens Lunatic Asylum and the Village of Athens 1867-1893 which I mentioned in an old post about the Athens State Hospital alligator. Check out her blog about asylums: Asylum Notes
March 13th, 2012
A DVD of the Worcester State Hospital fire is now available for purchase. You can learn more about it and buy it at D.M. Wenc’s photography website. The DVD has a running time of thirty-eight minutes, the first eight of which are taken up by radio communications from firefighters on scene as the person who filmed the video races to the blaze.
I haven’t seen the DVD myself so I can’t vouch for its quality, though I suspect it’s at least a decent record of that terrible day. There’s low-resolution sample footage available on the DVD information page. And you can check out the photos of the fire also available on the site for an idea of what you’ll see in the video.
March 9th, 2012
Fans of the Electric Pencil—AKA James Edward Deeds, Jr.—will be pleased to learn there’s a documentary film about the artist in the works. There’s also a Kickstarter project looking to raise funds for the film. You can learn all about it and back the project here: The Mystery of the Electric Pencil.
The project’s Kickstarter funding run will go until the afternoon of Tuesday, April 3rd. They’re looking to raise $30,000 by then. Backers who pledge $10 or more will be eligible for various gifts related to the film and the artist.
February 23rd, 2012
An article on the Boston Globe website includes an artist’s rendering of the Worcester State Hospital clock tower replica: Clock Tower: Time Isn’t Up in Worcester. Even though I’m very disappointed in the clock tower replica compromise and don’t think it could ever be a fitting stand-in for the entire building, I have to say it doesn’t look quite as silly as I had feared. What do you think?
February 4th, 2012
According to the Fergus Falls Journal, only one proposal for reuse of the Fergus Falls Kirkbride was submitted in time for the deadline on Wednesday: Only One RTC Proposal Submitted. That’s a little disappointing, but we Kirkbride enthusiasts eat disappointment for breakfast, right? I wouldnt get too upset just yet.
The proposal was submitted by Minneapolis-based Geitso Export Management. The company wants to transform the Kirkbride into what it’s calling The Global XChange Village—using the building for a mix of business, education, retail, and the arts, including an “international boarding school.” The article also suggests that other developers who had planned to but didn’t submit their own proposals may end consolidating their projects within Geitso’s plan. Details of the plan are to be released in mid-February.
In somewhat related news, the Otter Tail County Historical Museum will be hosting an open house this Friday, February 10th from 4:00-7:00PM, unveiling the new exhibition “The State Welcomes: Minnesota’s Third State Hospital. See State Hospital Exhibit Opens at Museum for more details.
January 23rd, 2012
Looks like Massachusetts is planning to proceed with demolition of the entire Worcester State Hospital admin (including the clock tower), and construction of a replica clock tower using material from the original building. See this official report dated Friday, January 20, 2012. It’s a lengthy, wordy document which is painful to read in some respects, but the overall gist is their intent is to completely raze the admin and build a clock tower replica. They acknowledge strong community support for preservation, but say the cost is just too high.
While destruction of the clocktower is tragic and more should have been done to save it, there’s some small comfort in the fact that part of the reason this is happening is because of the new hospital building being built nearby. The advancement of care for the mentally ill should always trump preservation and memorialization, no matter how important the latter two are. While I don’t think that fully excuses the state from responsibility for this tragedy, it’s at least something of a silver lining.