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Athens State Hospital

1874- 1993

Athens, Ohio


The Ohio Legislature was seeking a site for a new asylum to be built in the South Eastern part of the state in 1867. The site chosen would be on a hill over looking the Hocking River in the town of Athens. Construction for the new facility began in 1868 by architect Levi T. Scofield with the grounds designed by Herman Haerlin a student of famous Frederick Law Olmstead. The new asylum would follow the Kirkbride plan, with the Administrative roles in the center and patients wards spreading out like a batwing on each side of the asylum. The red bricks that would be used to build the Kirkbride would be dug up and fired on site. After 6 years of construction, Athens Lunatic Asylum opened on January 9, 1874. The first patient of the new asylum would be a 14 year old girl with epilepsy which was common in those days. The hospital would also house war vets with PTSD, children, and people who were mentally unstable. The hospital was famous for having an alligator swim in the front fountain of the Admin. Over the years the hospital would expand with new buildings and treatments. A fire broke out in the grand ball room in the 1920s. Instead of fixing it, they decided to repurpose and cover it, making it into two floors. In 1924 with the increase of Tuberculosis in the United States a hospital building would be built away from the Kirkbride to give its patients fresh air and plenty of natural light. The hospital hit its peak population in 1953 with 1,749 patients and employed most of the towns population at the time. The once small town of Athens started to grow and to help support that growth between 1968-1972 the State Route 682 would be rerouted. This would eliminate the hospitals reservoir and 4 lakes on the property losing much of its natural beauty in helping cure the mental state of its patients. With modern advances in the medical field for treatment the hospitals population started to decline.

In 1972 the last patient ever would be buried in the hospitals cemetery. Athens State Hospital would make headlines in 1977 when multiple personality Billy Milligan would be sent to the hospital. Billy was sentence to Athens after Judge accepted his pea of insanity aspected by his prosecutors. (First time in American History) Athen would then make headlines again a year later when patient Margaret Shilling disappeared from the hospital on December 2, 1978 and was found 41 days later in an abandoned ward attic of the hospital with her cloths folded next to her naked body. The hospital would house fewer than 300 patients by 1981 and 344 acres of land was transferred to Ohio University. In 1993, the final patient at Athens would be bused to a smaller hospital in the town for their treatment and then closed for good. The state transferred the old Kirkbride building over to Ohio University. The hospital would remain vacant for much of the 90s before renovation work started to take place. In 2001 Ohio University finished renovations in the main Admin and West Wing. Today the old Kirkbride has a renewed life as the Kennedy Museum, storage space, Ohio University Campus police, and biotechnology offices.


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