DeJarnette Sanitarium

Located in Staunton, VA US

  • Built:1932
  • Opened:1932
  • Age:86 years
  • Closed:1996
  • Demo / Renovated:N/A
  • Decaying for:22 years
  • Last Known Status:Abandoned

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DeJarnette Sanitarium History

The origin of the DeJarnette Center begins with the old Western Lunatic Asylum (also located in Staunton VA). The director of the asylum from 1905 to 1943 was Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, a vocal proponent of eugenics - the belief of improving the genetic quality of the human population. The eugenics movement was becoming popular in many countries in the early 20th century and gained traction in the U.S. at many universities, and especially in the world of mental health. In the early 1920s DeJarnette lobbied passionately for Virginia to pass a compulsory sterilization law, preventing "mental defectives" from having children. He also testified against Carrie Buck in the famous eugenics case Buck vs. Bell. With funding from huge corporate philanthropies (mainly the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Harriman railroad fortune), the U.S. would eventually sterilize over 60,000 Americans deemed "unfit," which were mainly Native Americans, African Americans, the "feeble-minded" (intellectually disabled), the insane, and the poor. 8,000 of those people were sterilized in Virginia. In 1938 DeJarnette lamented the progress of eugenics in the U.S., saying "The Germans are beating us at our own game," in reference to the Nazi eugenics movement. Other similar remarks earned him a less than favorable reputation in later years.

On recommendation from the doctor, the Virginia General Assembly ordered the construction of a semi-private sanitarium for people with mental afflictions, including alcoholism and drug addiction in 1932. The facility would be constructed and opened in that same year as the special pay unit of the Western State Hospital, and named after the doctor. The sterilizations that the doctor pushed for were most likely conducted at the state hospital, and not at the sanitarium. In 1938 the Peery Building was constructed next to the original sanitarium, and the entire complex provided 171 beds. The grounds also held tennis courts and a golf course for recreational therapy. In 1946, the sanitarium separated from the state hospital, and operated independently. Dr. DeJarnette retained the position of superintendent of both WSH and the sanitarium until his retirement in 1947.

In 1972, The General Assembly's Commission on Mental Indigent and Geriatric Patients, or "Hurst" Commission, recommended that the DeJarnette Center be used to serve "the hundreds of children and youth with severe behavioral disorders." In 1975 the Commonwealth of Virginia took responsibility of the entire complex, and the focus of the hospital changed to treating children and adolescents with severe emotional disorders; patients over 21 were moved to the new campus of Western State Hospital. The campus transformed from a private enterprise to a state-managed health care system, and was also renamed The DeJarnette Center for Human Development. A new central building was constructed which connected the two sanatorium buildings together.

When the adolescent unit at Western State Hospital closed, minors were permanently transferred to the DeJarnette Center, making it one of the busiest times in the hospital's history. A concrete above-ground pool was put in around this time but only saw a short lifespan - in 1987 the stock markets crashed, leading towards an underfunded institution and poor quality of care. The outdated buildings would eventually be replaced with a newer children's hospital on the grounds of Western State Hospital (their new campus), and the old sanitarium was shuttered in 1996. The new facility did not retain DeJarnette's name, due to his now-discredited history. 

The old sanatorium buildings were purchased by the nearby Frontier Culture Museum, but their future seems uncertain; plans for a shopping mall and parking lot fell through in 2004 due to lack of tenants that could be secured.

Photos of DeJarnette Sanitarium