Research Tips From Sandi Gorin

Kentucky Research Tips 



"You've looked everywhere but a member of your family just has disappeared. They didn't marry as far as you know, they disappeared from the census records or the tax records. You can't find a
Bible record, you can't find them buried anywhere in the county. There wasn't a war going on ..
Where did they go? Were they hiding out? Did they change their last name? Or, were they in what was originally called a lunatic asylum?"

In earlier times, all too often a person was brought before the county court and adjudged to
be a "lunatic", "insane" or other terms. Were they all as shown? Likely not. Without modern
testing facilities that we know now, many people were shuffled off to the nearest asylum for care.
It is obvious that many did belong there (although it was a horrible experience at the time), but many were simply suffering from depression, epilepsy, PMS (ah, yes), old age senility. Families often handed grandpa or grandma off because their memory wasn't as sharp as it used to be and they couldn't take care of
them any longer. Mothers having children every year simply were worn out. "Religious mania" was
sometimes shown as the cause when one family member "got religion" and the family didn't like
the new-found enthusiasm and thought the individual had "lost it." Below is a brief look at the three asylums in Kentucky to which patients were transferred.

Western State Hospital: In the 25th of February, 1848, the Legislature of Kentucky provided for
the location and erection of a second lunatic asylum. The Spring Hill tract of 383 acres of land (which proved to be of indifferent quality) on the turnpike road east of Hopkinsville, was purchased for $1,971.50 (only $5.14 per acre). This sum was refunded by the citizens, and $2,000 additional paid by them. There was expended upon the buildings and other improvements in 1849 $43,052; in 1850, $43,484; the additional outlays for these purposes do not appear in any documents before us. The Legislature appropriated  $15,000 in 1848, $20,000 in 1849, $45,000 in 1850, $35,000 in 1851 $43,000 in 1852, $44,017 in 1854; total, $202,017. September 1, 1854, the first patients were received. By December 1, 1857, 208 had been admitted, but only 102 were then in the institution, the others having died, eloped, or been restored and discharged under the care of the Superintendent, Dr. S. Annan. The number admitted in 1858, 106; and in 1859 to December 1st, 129 ; total for two years, 235 ; during the
same time 133 were discharged, of whom 65 were restored, 56 died, and 10 escaped.

On the 30th of November, 1861, the main building was destroyed at mid-day by fire, which caught
from sparks from a chimney falling upon a shingle roof. The 210 patients escaped uninjured, except
one, who fastened himself in his room, near where the fire originated, and perished in the flames.
The court house and other buildings in Hopkinsville were kindly tendered for the use of the unfortunates; twenty-three hewed log-cabins were speedily erected at about $90 each, and everything done that could well be to mitigate the sufferings of the patients. The walls being mainly uninjured it was estimated that $50,000 would replace the brick and wood work, and $67,000 more (including $3,856 for tin roof and
gutters) would complete the building. In February, 1861, the Legislature made an appropriation to begin it, and before January 1, 1867, had appropriated in all $258,930 to complete the rebuilding. This, added to the manager's probable net valuation of the property after the destruction by fire of the interior of
the main building $145,420 (exclusive of the enhanced value of the land itself, makes the total value of the improvements at that time (1867) $404,350, providing comfortably for 325 patients.

Some time in the year 1863 the present able and successful Superintendent, Dr. James Rodman, took
charge of the asylum. The total number of patients received and treated up to October 10,
1871, was 1.273. of whom 321 were then in the asylum. Calculated upon the number of patients
received, 50.847 per cent were discharged restored, eight were discharged more or less
improved, two were unimproved, one escaped and twenty-two died. There is (nearly) one insane
person (October, 1871) in every 1,000 persons of the population, at least 1,400 in Kentucky, of
whom there is room in the two asylums for only 850, and both are full.  (Western Lunatic Asylum
is an excerpt from "County of Christian, Kentucky" By Wm. H. Perrin, 1884. )  Since the above article was penned for Collins' History, the asylum at Anchorage has been built, and some changes have been made in the one located here, so far as relieving it of a crowd of patients it was unable to accommodate. As a conclusion to this sketch, we give the officers and board, which are as follows: Dr. James Rodman,
Superintendent; Dr. B. W. Stone, First Assistant Physician; Dr. B. F. Eager, Second Assistant
Physician ; Frank L. Waller, Steward; John B. Trice, Treasurer; George Poindexter, Clerk of Board. The present Board of Commissioners: S. E. Trice, Chairman; S. G. Buckner, John N. Mills, James E. Jesup, J. C. Tate, George 0. Thompson, R. T. Petree, John Feland and Charles M. Meacham. The commissioners are appointed by the Legislature­three at each session. The term of the first three mentioned will expire in 1886; that of the next three in 1888, and that of the last three in 1890. The institution bears the name of being one of the best-managed in the United States. The present Superintendent, Dr. Rodman, has been in charge of it for over twenty years; no other words in his praise are needed ­his long period of service denotes his fitness for the responsible position.

Central State Hospital - Lakeland, Anchorage, Kentucky: "Lakeland Asylum" was actually the
Central Kentucky Asylum for the Insane. Built in 1869 in Anchorage, it initially housed juvenile
delinquents and was called the Home for Juvenile Delinquents at Lakeland. In 1873, it became a
lunatic asylum and was renamed the Central Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. By the time "The Little
Colonel's Knight Comes Riding" was published (1907), the name had been changed to the Central
Kentucky Asylum for the Insane. The facility cared for patients with psychiatric disorders, mental retardation and brain damage and was located next to where Louisville's E. P. Tom Sawyer Park stands today. The original building shown in the post card above was bulldozed in 1996.  During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, escaped lunatics were an every day hazard of life in Pewee (Lloydsboro) Valley. The Central Kentucky Lunatic Asylum was located only a few miles outside the city limits and inmate
escapes occurred with some frequency. - (excerpted from the Little Colonel website.)

  The secluded, rural setting was typical for such facilities in the late 19th century, as such an environment was thought to be beneficial for recovery from mental illness. However, not all patients had mental disorders, some suffered from brain damage, mental retardation or were simply poor or elderly. Though built for 1,600 patients, by 1940 there were 2,400. However, starting in the 1950s, changing community perception of the mentally disturbed, as well as the development of effective psychiatric medications, lead to fewer patients staying permanently in mental hospitals, and the average stay at the facility was two
weeks by the 1990s. In 1986 a new facility was completed on the original grounds, and the old
buildings were razed. Though it flirted with privatization in the 1970s, it is publicly operated today....

The land that is now Anchorage was a part of Isaac Hite's 1773 land grant, which awarded most
of the land in today's Jefferson County to officers in the Virginia militia, in exchange for their service in the French and Indian War. Early maps refer to the area as Hite's Mill. Part of his original grant now makes up the grounds of Central State Hospital and E. P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park.  (from their website)

Eastern State Hospital, Lexington, KY:  From 1792 until 1824, the mentally disturbed residents of
Kentucky were boarded out with individuals at public expense, or a few were sent to Eastern
State Hospital at Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1816, a group of public-spirited citizens in Lexington, banded together to establish a hospital to be called the Fayette Hospital. It was to be for the poor, disabled and "lunatic" members of society. A building was started that year and, in 1817, the Honorable Henry Clay gave an oration at the dedicatory ceremony; however, the building was neither finished nor occupied.  On December 7, 1822, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky passed an "Act to Establish a Lunatic Asylum". Ten acres of land, along with the unfinished building of the Fayette Hospital, were purchased and thus the second oldest state mental hospital in America was established. The first patient was admitted May 1, 1824.

Samuel Theobald, M.D., a physician on the hospital staff and a member of the faculty of Transylvania University Medical School here in Lexington, wrote in 1828, a dissertation titled, Some Account of the Lunatic Asylum in Kentucky, that the goal was "the custodial care of the insane and the protection of society.Most of the lunatics admitted were incurable cases, as non-violent insane were to be maintained in
private homes, being sent to the hospital when no longer tame enough to be kept at home."  In these
early years, even the custodial treatment was less than ideal and barely met the minimal needs of the residents. There was no medical staff directly associated with the hospital at this time. Any severe medical problems were treated by physicians in the community, or by faculty and students of Transylvania College School of Medicine.

In 1844, Eastern State Hospital welcomed its first medical superintendent, John Rowan Allen, M.D.: Eastern State Hospital has been under a full-time director ever since. With this change began an era of "moral treatment" during which the hospital staff strived to treat the residents humanely. ("Moral treatment" meant compassionate and understanding treatment.)  Dorthea Dix, one of America's great philanthropists interested in better treatment of the insane, visited the hospital in 1847, and again in 1858.

Restraints including strait jackets, leather cuffs, chains, etc. were originally used and were accepted treatment for the mentally ill. Beginning with Dr. Allen's administration, the use of such measures was largely eliminated. Following the discontinuance of Transylvania University Medical School, around the end of the Civil War, fortunes declined. The patient population increased, there was much over-crowding, and the use of restraints was re-activated.

During the late 1800's and the early 1900's, modes of treatment changed often, usually as a direct reflection of the degree of interest and support provided by the public. In general, hospital staff attempted to give the best treatment possible with the current knowledge and with the resources made available by the public.

In its first years, because of its being the only facility of its kind in the area, Eastern State Hospital admitted people from all over Kentucky and from nearby states. The census of the hospital has varied over the years. In 1945, the hospital was very crowded with a population of 2,000; as late as 1967, there were over 1,000 Eastern State Hospital residents.

Eastern State Hospital was an isolated institution, separate from the community around it. Many employees lived on the grounds in cottages, dormitories, separate rooms in the main hospital building, or on wards with the residents. Residents did most of the work required to operate the hospital. Among the many jobs performed by the residents were farm work; grounds and building maintenance; custodial work; cooking, serving, and dishwashing; laundry, sewing, and mending service. The hospital grew
and prepared most of its foodstuffs on the hospital grounds. At one time, Eastern State Hospital grounds consisted of 400 acres, and most of this acreage was farm land. In 1956, over 300 acres were sold to IBM; at present, 88 acres make up the Eastern State Hospital grounds.

When it was first established, the name of the hospital was the Lunatic Asylum. In 1876, it was called Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. On January 2, 1912, the General Assembly, Commonwealth of Kentucky, officially renamed the facility Eastern State Hospital.
(c) Copyright 24 Sept 2009, Sandra K. Gorin