For 150 years, the Athens Asylum has been one of our region’s most notable institutions and complex of buildings. Construction began in 1868. The original cost of construction was $621,000 (equivalent to $15 million today). This facility was not just a hospital. It was its own small community consisting of stables, farms, a dairy, metal shops, kitchens, and its own steam power plant. Originally, the Asylum covered 150 acres but eventually grew to over a thousand. Eighteen and a half million bricks, all made on site, were used to build the monumental structures that you see today.
On New Year’s Day in 1874, the Asylum admitted its first patient. An 11 year old young girl who suffered from a seizure disorder, now known as epilepsy. Built to provide care and a relaxing environment for the mentally ill, the asylum also became home to those who could not be cared for by family members due to physical limitations, or diseases such as Tuberculosis.
Over the decades, the quality of care ebbed and flowed, and many new treatments were employed, such as cold water baths, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies. The history of mental health care at the Asylum reflects the ever changing nature of medical treatment in the country. Originally, the asylum was operated under the “Moral Treatment” philosophy, which believed that if you give a patient a safe housing environment, good nutrition, fresh air, and beautiful surroundings, recovery was possible. The Athens Asylum was a model of this philosophy, providing beautiful surroundings, safe housing, and enough staff to meet all treatment needs.
The Athens Asylum underwent many changes over the years.The complex is now administered by Ohio University who has several of their departments located at what is now called “The Ridges.” The Kennedy Museum is also located in the old Administrative section of the Asylum and is free and open to the public.
In 2018, the 150 anniversary of the beginning of Asylum, the Southeast Ohio History Center is collaborating with Co-Curator, Katherine Ziff, author of “The Asylum on the Hill” to bring you The Athens Asylum: 150 Years of a Healing Landscape, an exhibit that will showcase the many facets of the Athens Asylum.
On March 24, 2018, the Southeast Ohio History Center will hold the exhibit opening from 2:00pm-5:00pm. Please save the date and come see the amazing photographs, documents, and artifacts which will bring the story of the Asylum to life. You will be able to see what it was like not only for patients who inhabited the buildings, but also the staff, medical teams, physicians, and the many others who kept the institution running for 150 years.
There will be a reception during the opening so please make plans to come and celebrate this 150th anniversary with us!
This exhibition is made possible, in part, by Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any findings, views, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.