History of the Asylum Southern Ohio Lunatic Asylum, Dayton Ohio

In 1851, the Ohio Lunatic Asylum in Columbus was the only one in the state, with a capacity of only three hundred patients. Because the estimate of the insane in that year was placed closer to two thousand, the proposal for an additional asylum was made. Plans began in 1852 when an act was passed by the Ohio Legislature and $140,000 were appropriated by the Legislature for the building of two additional "Lunatic Asylums" in the State of Ohio. On July 7, 1852, the board met in Cincinnati and on July 8, 1852, in Dayton and decided to locate in Dayton. The required fifty acres of land had been donated and on September 6, 1852, the County Commissioners appropriated $500 toward paying for the land, the balance of the purchase being requested to be donated by the citizens. Finished in September, 1855, the entire cost came to about $110,000 including architect's fees and superintendents.

Joshua Clements was the first superintendent, serving under Governor Reuben Wood while Franklin pierce was President of the United States. The institution opened under the name of "Southern Ohio Lunatic Asylum". In 1855 Mr. Clements' first Steward's Report to the Board of Trustees advised that, in the two and one half months of occupancy a total of 70 patients had taken residency. During that period 11 patients were discharged or removed. Of the remaining 59 patients, 52.5% were between the ages of 20 and 35 years of age with distribution of males and females being almost equal, over 50% of the men being single and over 50% of the females being married of widowed. The predominant form of insanity was defined as "mania acute". Of the supposed causes, 27 of the 59 were catagorized as "unknown". Although the institution was to serve the 13 west central counties with a uniform per county quota, 57.6% of the original patients were from Hamilton County, a result of the over-crowded conditions of the Hamilton County Asylum. (Two years later Hamilton County would be declared a separate district to itself.) Of the 59, 27% were born in Germany, 25% in Ohio and 13-6% in Ireland. Predominant male occupantion for this group was laborer or farmer, for women patients 34.4% were housekepers and 24% had no occupation. In his report Clements advises the Board of Trustees that they have only 8 iron beds. He also stressed, among other things, the need to grade and beautify the grounds stating that outdoor exercise and amusement are valuable curative agents. He lists, also, the need to provide an adequate library, noting that this is an "important appendage to all hospitals for the insane" and that "all kinds of miscellaneous reading matter is eagerly sought after by the inmates." The hospital met Mr. Clements' goal, the grounds becoming some of the most beautiful in the area with varieties of pine now almost extinct and a well stocked library containing many rare books. Clements' requested appropriation for 1856 was $21,534.00, to which he notes "The liberality of the people is shown by their attention to benevolent institutions and it is for them to make them what they should be and what they are capable of being - the pride and ornament of Ohio."

On October 8, 1858, the roof of the southwest wing blew off in a windstorm and in 1860 a severe storm blew off 40 squares of roofing. Over the years the property was beset by wind damage, a factor of its elevated site, and reports indicated extensive portions of the roof were lost 6 times in 13 years.

Fran 1862 to 1872 Dr. Richard Gundy served as Superintendent and is credited with effecting much of the physical expansion and bringing the institution to its high standard among those of the Union as one of the formost asylums in the land.

In 1873 small-pox broke out in the asylum and a large brick house, known as the Dr. William Egry property, was secured for a pest-house. By 1880 the daily average of patients was 594.

In 1875 the name was changed to "Western Ohio Hospital For The Insane" and in 1894 it became the "Dayton State Hospital For The Insane". In 1970 it was renamed the "Dayton Mental Health Center".

Between 1881 and 1905 several additions were made to the facility. By 1894 it was part of a self-contained community with its own power plant and water tower. The hospital had a working farm where a variety of vegetables and grains were produced in addition to cattle and poultry. The farm produced adequate food to provide for the needs of the SOLA facility and ship the surplus to other state institutions. The farm is in what is now east Kettering and was purchased from the Shaker community in 1909. The farm was tended by mental patients many of which lived permanently on that site. A canning factory on the hospital site was operated by the patients as well (demolished in 1978). Any type of work in the hospital, grounds or farm a patient was capable of performing was thought to be of theraputic value.

On May 6, 1902, the board authorized conveyance by deed of a strip of land 75 ft. wide to the Dayton, Lebanon and Cincinnati Railway for the main line tracks onto the grounds.

By 1909 there were 595 women and 604 men registered as patients with 84 attendants and the superintendents as staff. The approximately 190 acres contained the main hospital structure and additional outbuildings consisting of three ward buildings, a power house, an electrical plant, a new horse and dairy barn, a laundry, an infirmary cottage, a convalescent cottage, a cottage for working men, two greenhouses and a list of other appurtenant structures too numerous to list, 62 in all, in addition to the main building. All of the outbuilding structures have since been demolished, including a two-story brick stagecoach stable built in 1845 (demolished in 1978).

In 1929 the Dayton State Hospital and grounds were brought into the City of Dayton corporation limits. There were 20 patient wards in the main building, in 1940 the State required that 125 feet of floor space be provided per patient, exclusive of dining rooms, serving rooms and kitchens. The current superintendent reported an overcrowding status of 38.5% In 1951 the per capita cost per patient was $4.60 per day - comparable to the weekly cost in 1860.

There are 13 cisterns around the building and the downspouts still drain into them. The water from these cisterns was used to wash hair and clothes for the inmates. Local reports indicate that in the early days of the institution a shrill whistle was blown to warn the neighboring residents that an inmate had escaped. We believe that the bell towers were originally designed to the same purpose, preceding the whistle. In the early 19O0's a trolley car traveled to the institution from downtown Dayton at regular hours. It was marked "Insane Asylum". An old horse-drawn car marked "Wayne Ave. Hill Car - Asylum" was pulled up Wayne Ave. hill from Wyoming St. to the hospital. The usual myths and controversial issues still abound regarding the existence of a dungeon with iron chains and cages under the main building. Some say it was definitely there, some say it never existed. In light of the fact that these types of restraint were common practice in the 1800's it is likely that they did, in fact, exist but were eliminated as more progressive methods of treatment evolved and the use of sedatives employed to calm the more excited and violent patients. Floor plans indicate a number of seclusion rooms which were padded and contained only a low couch type structure. Some reports indicate that the bars on the windows which are iron, were originally made of hard wood. Barred windows seem to have been chiefly used on the wards most distant from the central building which would coincide with Dr. Kirkbride's architectural theory. In the early 1900's the hospitals list such things as constipation, hemorrhoids and excessive use of tobacco as perceived causes for mental illness and used such treatments as "laxatives" or "dumping water on a patient's head from a height of about four feet", the latter being a primitive form of shock therapy.

Upon touring the building in 1979, a local resident, Ruth R. Stasio, reports that "the basement was like a city in itself. There was a modern barber shop with 2 or 3 chairs and we also found the original barber shop with white tiled floor and 2 pedestal sinks. There was a print shop with the old equipment there, in place. There was a huge sewing room with sewing machines and bolts of fabric. The women patients hemmed sheets and draperies, etc." From a visit in 1967 she describes the interior furnishings of the main building, much of which she feels were donated through the generosity of the conmunity, as "...beautiful antique furniture and oriental carpets and brass beds etc...The music room had 2 grand pianos - one was a concert grand. There were all kinds of instruments, horns, drums, probably all donated, that patients could use, for those musically inclined...There were rooms full of craft supplies." she stated that occupational therapy was "almost as important as pills or shock treatment." Many staff offices displayed patient art.

Mrs. Stasio describes the cottage buildings as reminiscent of lakeside vacation lodges with "large open living room and dining room, kitchen in the rear and single bedrooms upstairs around an open balcony" and were inhabited by the "not so sick" patients. She also adds that the patients were not all mentally ill but rather some were just senile (today's rest home patients) and mentally retarded (today's group home residents).

Decentralization took place in the late 1960's and the men's and women's wards were mixed. Mrs. stasio, who's daughter was a nurse at the facility, reported that patients ranged in age from 18 to 80, from all socio-economic classes (Ohio's asylums were established to serve all those in need at the total financial support of the taxpayers) and "all were encouraged to interact". This is a dramatic change from the philosophy of the Ohio Legislators in 1831 when they passed a resolution on March 1 appointing a Commission to visit the Cincinnati institution and inquire and report, among other things, "whether the cells and apartments of the lunatic asylum are sufficiently separated from each other by thick walls to prevent the inmates from communicating with each other...". Their method was based on total isolation.

Although we have been unable to determine how the residents of the immediate area related to the facility when it was in use, we do know that the residents of Dayton have displayed a great interest and effort to save the the main facility from demolition and are in favor of restoration and renovation efforts, A number of large homes were built in the immediate area in the early 1900's which implies that the institution did not affect the desirability of the neighborhood.

The institution's more recent history has not been so positive. Starting in the 1960's, newspaper reports of the overcrowded hospital conditions and the poor treatment and negligence of patients were often heard. Staff cut-backs began, and by the early 1970's, the institution was quickly failing as a facility. In 10 years the number of patients dropped from 1,600 to an average of 380 patients. Treatment became more community based and sophisticated. A new facility was built on the grounds, and the main building of the Dayton Mental Health Center was vacated in 1978.