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Weston State Hospital
Located in Weston, WV
Photo © 2006 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Weston State Hospital History
In the early 1850s, a new hospital called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was authorized to be constructed by the Virginia General Assembly (before West Virginia became a separate state); a 269-acre site was chosen along the West Fork River, directly across from downtown Weston. The main building was to be based off the Kirkbride Plan, using Gothic and Tudor Revival styles designed by architect Richard Snowden Andrews. Work began in 1858 by prison laborers laying down the ground work, and they were followed by skilled stonemasons from Ireland and Germany. Construction was halted for a year due to the Civil War in 1861, and although the hospital began admitting the first patients in 1864, construction would not be complete until 1881. The hospital was officially called the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane when it first opened.
A 200-foot tall clock tower dominated the central administration area (completed in 1871), flanked by four stepped wards in a shallow echelon pattern. The wing tips were constructed as single-story wards that reached towards the back in a trident pattern, forming narrow courtyards between the structures. The exterior masonry consists primarily of blue sandstone, and at over 1,000 feet long, the asylum was reputed to be the largest hand-cut stone building in North America. The main building was designed to hold 250 patients, but the occupancy was nearly reaching this maximum a mere four years after opening. In the 1870s, additional buildings and separate rooms for African American patients were constructed. The hospital had it's own farm, dairy, waterworks, power plant, gas well and cemetery. It was officially renamed Weston State Hospital in 1913.
A notable fire that was started by a patient in 1935 destroyed six male wards and caused one of the cupolas to fall through the roof. The damaged areas were reconstructed using WPA funds, however the rest of the original hospital was reported to have poor sanitation, insufficient lighting, furniture, and heating in comparison. As with almost every state-funded mental hospital, the influx of patients steadily increased with insufficient funding to support them, and the conditions grew worse. A peak population of 2,600 patients would be living in very overcrowded rooms and hallways by the 1950s.
As the medical field progressed and treatment of mental illness shifted focus, Weston State and many other state hospitals began to slowly empty out, and by the 1980s, a very decreased number of patients were living in the outdated buildings. In 1986 Governor Arch Moore announced plans to build a new psychiatric facility and convert the old asylum grounds into a prison. When the patients and staff were moved to the new William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in May 1994, the old hospital was simply shuttered. Adaptive reuse plans came and went, and even a few small museums were located in the first floor of the Kirkbride building in 2004, but were forced to leave due to fire code violations.
In 2007 the hospital was auctioned off by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources; the winning bidder was an asbestos demolition contractor named Joe Jordan, for the price of $1.5 million. In 2008, the facility actually reverted to it's original intended title, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, sparking some debate amongst mental health activists. The hospital is currently a tour-based attraction, focused primarily on ghost-hunting; more information can be found at trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com.