OPERATION TIME: 1902 to 1973
KIRKBRIDE PLAN: Yes
STATUS: Open as a tourist destination
Peoria State Hospital (which has also operated under the names “Bartonville State Hospital,” “Peoria Asylum,” the “Illinois General Hospital for the Insane,” and the “Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane”) opened as an insane asylum operated by the State of Illinois from 1902 until 1973. The asylum has a total of 47 buildings on its grounds.
The hospital was built after the Illinois General Assembly decided to provide the items needed for the building of the hospital. Initially when it was thought up in 1895, it was going to be entitled the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane. In order to seek out the perfect location for the hospital, Governor John Altgeld created a three-man commission that would deal with find it. One such member of the commission was future Congressman J.J. McAndrews.
After some searching, it was selected that Peoria in Bartonville, Illinois would be the perfect spot. Construction on the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane began in 1895, and the main building was completed by 1897. Despite this, the building was never used because the structure was unsafe because of the abandoned mine shafts on the property. However, in 1927, the situation was described differently:
“The first building erected was a facsimile of a feudal castle, but before it was occupied it was found to be wholly out of harmony with modern ideas for the care of the insane and it was razed and replaced by the present cottage plan, under the direction of Dr. Frederick Howard Wines, the able secretary of the State Board of Charities.”
The reconstruction of the area was completed in 1902 under Dr. George Zeller’s directions. It was designed as a cottage system, and consisted of 33 buildings; they included care taking housing, patient housing, a power station, a store, and a communal utility building.
On February 10th, 1902, the asylum began accepting patients that were classified as “incurable”. Many patients from other facilities were transferred to the new hospital. It opened a training school for nurses in 1906. From 1907 to 1909, the asylum was operated as the “Illinois General Hospital for the Insane”. In late 1909, it was retitled “Peoria State Hospital”.
Peoria State Hospital celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1927, and by this time it had a patient population of 2,650 currently living in it. A grand total of 13,510 walked through the doors of Peoria in the 25 year span. Dr. Zeller was very widely respected for his efforts to use therapeutic methods for curing the insane, opposed to the more brutal and experimental treatments like lobotomy and hydro-shock therapy.
Zeller helped to define mental illness and bring understanding to the public through newspapers. From 1943 to 1969, the hospital provided psychiatric nurse training to students from regular nursing schools. Peoria State Hospital was operated by the Illinois Department of Public Welfare from 1917 to 1961. The Department of Mental Health took control of the institution in 1961, eliminating the need for the Illinois welfare department.
In the 1950s, the asylum featured its highest patient population, which reached a staggering total of 2,800. The number dropped to 600 by 1972 when the hospital announced its closure. Shortly afterwards, the buildings were abandoned and auctioned off. The original buyer went bankrupt, leading the developer, Winsley Duran Jr., to assume ownership.
Duran’s idea was to convert the hospital into an office space, though it never went through and the buildings remained empty. Many of the original buildings have either been demolished or renovated into commercial and industrial buildings. The Village of Bartonville has worked to develop the property and bring life to it. The Bowen building (the administration building) is currently owned by the Save the Bowen Foundation, whose goal is to raise enough funds to renovate the exterior of the building.
When it comes to the paranormal, the hospital is said to be haunted by a patient named Manuel A. Bookbinder, more commonly known as “Old Book”. He worked with the burial crew – a team that would bury the patients that died at the hospital. Rumor has it that Dr. Zeller and over one hundred patients and nurses attended Old Book’s Funeral, and all of them saw his apparition beneath the old elm in the potters field.
During the 1920s, Dr. Zeller wrote a book entitled Befriending the Bereft, which featured the mysterious occurrences at the asylum. Many believe that the hauntings were caused by the cruel treatments of the patients. However, this is most likely untrue, considering Zeller was against such an inhumane thing. In fact, he had all the bars in the asylum’s windows removed and had them used in a zoo for the patients.
Those who were not bedridden were allowed to roam free in it once it was completed. Most of the hauntings are thought to be caused by the patients not wanting to leave, since Peoria State Hospital was home to them. In addition, ghosts of the patients who died are believed to be here, as it is known that at least one patient died every day. Visitors have claimed to hear strange noises and see apparitions. Peoria State Hospital is one of the most famous haunts in the United States.
In Popular Culture
- Peoria State Hospital was featured on Ghost Hunters episode “Prescription for Fear,” but was mentioned as “Peoria Asylum.”
- Forgotten USA. “Peoria State Hospital,” www.ForgottenUSA.com
- The Shadowlands. “Bartonville,” www.TheShadowlands.net
- Wikipedia. “Peoria State Hospital,” www.Wikipedia.org