Weston State Hospital, aka Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston State Hospital, also called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA), was a psychiatric facility that operated from 1864-1994 and served patients with various "mental illnesses." The building, which was constructed from 1858-1881 was designed by Richard Andrews; the floor plan and overall furnishing of the hospital, however, was somewhat inspired by Dr. Kirkbride who felt mental health patients needed housing that provided therapeutic features such as many windows for sunlight and access to fresh air. Moreover, this hospital was designed to be self-sustained by those working at the asylum and patients alike; working in the garden would be a positive mental and physical stimulator for the patients, as those in authority believed. Due to the shift in mental health care from the asylum to more community-based efforts and because of the overall deterioration of the building, the hospital was closed in the 90’s. Today, a new owner has reopened the hospital, advertising a living historical monument where heritage tours and even haunted ghost tours are offered to the public.
Backstory and Context
Before and during the early 1800’s in America, people who were considered mentally ill were thought to be possessed or evil, sometimes claiming the label of a witch or even the devil.1 Historically, this led to myriad amounts of mentally ill people being punished, outcast from society, imprisoned, or sentenced to death in cases similar to the events of the Salem Witch Trials.2 However, some people, like Dorothea Dix, advocated that society needed to stop the terrible and inhumane treatment of the mentally ill; her solution was to provide facilities where the mentally ill could heal.1,2 Dix started a social movement after having many experiences observing the appalling treatment of mentally ill persons who were cast into prisons to suffer and remain chained naked to cold stone walls with no access to the outside world.1 The age of the asylum, then, was a huge turning point for the treatment of the mentally ill whose diseases were originally thought to be incurable; however, with access to mental hospitals like the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, people were given a place to heal themselves.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA), formerly known as the Weston State Hospital, was a facility for the mentally ill during the mid and late 1800’s; until 1913, the hospital was deemed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. The main building of the asylum is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and holds the title of second largest in the world.2 According to the TALA website, the building was designed by Richard Andrews who followed the “Kirkbride plan,” coined by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, which “called for long rambling wings arranged in a staggered formation, assuring that each of the connecting structures received an abundance of therapeutic sunlight and fresh air."2 The building was designed to occupy up to 250 patients; however, by the 1950’s the facility was severely overcrowded with 2,400 persons occupying the TALA. A report in 1938 said the hospital housed "epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts, and non-educable mental defectives”3; moreover, the hospital maintained segregated wings for black and white patients. The hospital grounds, which all-together covered an area of 666 acres, was designed to be self-sustainable; it operated its own farm, cemetery, and a gas well.2
The TALA website explains that innovation in treatment within the area of mental illness and also the overall deterioration of the original building led to the eventual closure of the TALA as a hospital. Closing of the facility immensely affected the local economy, which has still barely recovered to this day.2 However, after the building went up for auction in 2007, Joe Jordan, an asbestos contractor, bought the 242,000 sq. ft. building for 1.5 million dollars and opened it up to the public as tourist attraction. Jordan is in the process of renovating the facility, which has since been given a "haunted history” to complement its new purpose.2 In order to promote the restoration efforts and produce funding, heritage tours and haunted ghost tours have been offered to the public. The new identity of the building produces business for the local community, while promoting its rich history.2