Columbus State Hospital

Columbus State Hospital first opened in 1838 and was originally known as the "Lunatic Asylum of Ohio". After a fire devastated the original asylum in 1868, the Ohio Legislature authorized reconstruction of the institution on a different tract of land. An immense Kirkbride building was completed in 1877. Construction took seven years and the total cost was over $1,500,000.

The building was very similar in appearance to the Athens State Hospital Kirkbride, although it was significantly larger. The distance around the foundation was reportedly one and a quarter miles in length. The building was designed to accommodate 850 patients—well over Dr. Kirkbride's prescribed 250 patient limit and still greater than the more generous AMSAII recommendation of 600 patients.

The institution closed in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, attempts at preservation failed and the Kirkbride was razed in 1991. The Ohio Department of Public Safety and Department of Transportation now call the former asylum grounds home, sharing them with four remaining hospital cemeteries.

Other names for this hospital:

  • Lunatic Asylum of Ohio
  • Central Ohio Psychiatric Center

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Memories of Columbus State Hospital

From Deborah Kovitz Barkat (daughter of Benjamin Kovitz, M.D., clinical director of Columbus State Hospital from the 1940s to 1964).

I definitely have memories of the "Main Building" with beautiful white gingerbread and a wide staircase with shallow steps going up to the main entrance. There were flower beds in front, white iron benches and a green, hilly area where we'd play and my father would set up an easel to paint.

The entrance hall room of the Main Building was my favorite. It had giant square tiles on the floor (darkish red and white) in a checkerboard pattern, diagonal I think, and always full of people, hustle and bustle.

To the left was a big wood and glass display case with things made by patients in the "OT Shop" [occupational therapy shop--Ed.]. I remember loving a certain turquoise felt skirt with sparkly butterflies on it, and I'd look at it every day. Finally my father bought it for me. It turned out to be an apron with a black, satin sash, and I still have it!

At the end of the big entrance hall were two giant glass doors which went into the next section: a continuing hallway where there were offices, including my father's. The floor was different in this part, smaller white hexagon tiles as opposed to the giant squares in the main hall.

There were big, white radiators and lots of big, tall windows. It had a much quieter atmosphere than the exciting main entrance hall.

There were huge, caged elevators with heavy doors. I was scared of them. There was one mean neighborhood kid who would stop the elevator on purpose when I was in it. Terrifying! The elevator went to upper floors where some doctors lived in apartments. One woman doctor from India (Rani Jactiani) lived up there and we liked to visit her. I remember her apartment had very high ceilings and big, tall windows with long, flowing satin or velvet drapes. I think there was some kind of decorative relief work in the plaster walls too, like in a castle.

There was a dark basement, but that may have been in a different building, near the main hospital kitchen. It was long and dark with concrete floors and walls. It was lit with red light bulbs every so often, and there were rats running around.

There were other buildings, also red brick, but not fancy like the Main Building. There were grids [bars--Ed.] on the windows, but we made friends with some of the patients there. The "Clark Bar Man" used to drop us Clark Bars through the window grids.

There were so many things going on there... like a carpenter shop. The "Handsome Carpenter" (probably a high-functioning patient) built us a great dollhouse. We would walk to the "quarry" where there was a huge rockpile where we'd hunt for fossils.

A big, friendly guy, Rufus Lindsey (I can still see his smile) would come over to pick up laundry to take to the hospital laundry. I'm sure he was a patient too. He always wore bluejean overalls. When we left the hospital to move to another part of Columbus, it was so traumatic. It took a long time to get over it.

I still dream about the house we lived in. There was an old rocking-chair left from the time the house was built (1800's?). My mother asked the hospital for permission to keep it when we moved. She gave it to me recently, so I really treasure it. The house was white wood with a front porch and hanging swing. There was another similar white house next door. The rest of the doctors' houses were red brick, duplex-type buildings.