Mental Hospital

In 1873, the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee realized the need for a hospital for the mentally ill. The plan remained dormant although several sites were considered. Twelve years later, in 1885, the idea to build a hospital was revised. A former plantation owned by General Calvin Jones was selected and purchased by the State of Tennessee. The 1,140-acre site would provide a quiet, relaxed setting in a country atmosphere.

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Mental Asylum, circa 1900

Designed by the McDonald Brothers Architectural Firm, the mental hospital was modeled after the Kirkbride plan, which was an architectural design meant to have a curative effect for the patients. The Kirkbride plan included open spaces and natural light. The mental hospital officially opened on November 22, 1889. After opening, 156 patients were accepted from an overcrowded Nashville hospital.

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The asylum would be the last state mental hospital ever to be built in Tennessee, also the least funded.

The Kirkbride design consisted of a center section for administration with patient wings staggered on each side in the shape of a batwing. Male and female patients resided on opposite sides, and the more uncontrollable patients were typically placed in the wards furthest away from the central administration section.

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Today, the original Kirkbride building is used for administration offices. The patient wings were demolished in the 1980s.

In 1923, the mental asylum began operating under the Department of Institutions and remained under their guidance for the next thirty years. The institution’s patient population grew from several hundred in the late 1890s to over 2,300 by the 1960s.

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Many individuals were admitted for legitimate and illegitimate mental conditions.
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This building was opened in 1931 with eight wards. In 1942, an annex was added which created eight additional wards for women and children.

The large overcrowded dormitories offered little privacy. With so few doctors and staff, patients became ‘warehoused’ for decades. Due to severe staff limitations, patients were fortunate to see a psychiatrist for ten minutes a week. Treatments performed here included hydrotherapy, insulin shock therapy, lobotomies, and electric shock therapy, to name a few. The system for securing financing for patient care limited the operating budget. State agencies agreed to only pay for one patient per one thousand. Hospital superintendents had to engage in deficit spending to keep the hospital operating.

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All types of patients were housed here, ranging from violent murderers and rapists to individuals suffering from mental disorders.

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Shelves of patient luggage remain inside the attic of the institution. Belongings would be confiscated upon arrival.

Mental Asylum

The institution once had a connection with Georgia Tann, who operated the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an adoption agency in Memphis, Tennessee. Tann used the unlicensed orphanage as a front for her black market baby adoption scheme. Children born to patients at the asylum would be placed for adoption with a false background for as little as $7. Many children were sold to pedophiles or for slave labor. Over the course of thirty years, as many as 5,000 families were displaced due to Tann’s adoption practices.

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Beulah “Georgia” Tann 1891-1950

Backed by local judges and politicians, Georgia Tann made millions from the 1920s to 1949. Children at her orphanage were starved, beaten, and molested. During four months in 1945, fifty children died while in her care, prompting an investigation by authorities. Not until her death in 1950, due to cancer, did the real story of her infamous career come to light.

Mental Asylum

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The most dangerous patients were housed in isolation rooms behind double doors.

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Class action lawsuits during the 1970s exposed the poor living conditions and widespread abuse of patients institutionalized across the United States.

 The advent of modern psychotropic medications and outlawing unpaid patient labor helped dwindle the overcrowding. Newly developed antidepressants were used to treat depression and a few other disorders. New psychiatric drugs made it more feasible to release people into the community. Many of the early records of admission and death certificates are long gone. Patients that died at the asylum were buried in unmarked graves behind the facility. Today, the mental facility maintains care of about 250 patients and has 700 employees.

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Volunteers pose for a group photo in 1973.
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A child restraint chair left behind in the Children’s Ward.
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Jackets still hang on the wall.
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A shattered Freddy Krueger Nightmare on Elm Street pinball machine in a day room.
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38 Replies to “Mental Hospital”

      1. I bet it did give you the creeps. They run the place totally unethic and illegally. They treat you like it 1950 and do nothing to help their patients. It has a bad reputation. I noticed they only house 250 patients but have 600 employees. Talk about a waste of money. Overstaffed and totally illegal pratices. It’s creepy considered it was built for the wrong reasons. Many slaved mixed babies were born there and died there. Considering the connection with the horrible things done to people and their still outdated methods, I can’t believe they are still open. My ex was very abusive and tried to make it my punishment for his affairs. I always felt it needed to be shut down years ago or the staff retrained. I’m not from here but I do know wrong when I see it. I’m educated and never deserved to be abused like I have been. They certainly are behind the times around here. There were mixed slave babies brought there and died there. Nothing was wrong with children. They just weren’t wanted. I hear it was built over a sacrate Indian burial ground. The story just gets creepier. I’m sure it’s haunted. But not all bad spirits just those abanded there to a life of domb. It’s very sad excuse that their doors are still open. It was built for evil reasons and mad scientist kind of methods. Yuck…

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  1. I was housed in the children ward at the time it was Timber Springs. I was placed in and out of this facility from 1992-1995. It is amazing to see what it looks like so many years later. During my stay at one point there was a boy of the age of 4 that was sent there. There are mNy sad stories from the years I was there.
    Thanks for the documentary

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was hospitalized in this hospital in 1979. I was a volunteer patient I was bought there by three family members. While I was there a male patient climbed on the roof across the court yard and committed suicide. Patients in the sitting room could see could see him jump. what was so awful and eerie is that there was a gargoyle figurine very close to where he jumped jumped from,never L was well cared for. That place looked just like the pictures shown, and was as eerie then as it is now.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. May have to visit Mexico for help, as US doens’t seem to have any places remaining for “walk in” admittance anymore.

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  3. My great grandmother died at Western State Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee in 1935. She died of a heart attack, but suffered from Manic Depression psychosis for at least 25 years (this information was on her death certificate. She resided there for almost 20 years until her death. It makes me so sad to think of her being there for so long, and then dying there. The family took her body and buried her in a different cemetery. She was 82 when she died.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, my great grandmother has nearly the exact same story. Mine lived there about 3 years I think. She had a similar disability, but not sure exactly what it was called. Mine died in 1932. Our great grandmothers could have very well met. I agree, it is saddening to think about our family livin in these types of places. When she died, she was took to Dyersburg, TN, to be buried with her husband, and eventually, her children.

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    2. Karen, It is by chance that I ran across this site and postings. I was looking to see if I could find information about the cemetery associated with the hospital. You see, my maternal great grandmother’s story is exactly like yours. I was attempting to find where she was buried. Could we be 2nd cousins? I have an Ancestry.com family tree using my full name. If you have an account you can contact me in the messages. My mother’s maiden name is Bradley. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So…I randomly stumbled upon this story on pinterest. This is very interesting! I don’t even live in this part of the country and now I am wanting to know more info lol. I am from Eastern Washington state. This is just very interesting. I hope you all find what you are looking for. Good luck on finding out your family history. I want to find out more about mine. Happy holidays!

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    3. My fraternal grandmother was a patient at Western State for about 20 years. Same story as yours. She was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. He had a lobotomy at one point. Never the same. My daughter is a psyc nurse & we are going
      Up there to research my grandmothers records. Whole thing is so sad.

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    4. My great grandfather died there….spent the last five years of his life there. Death certificate didn’t mention any mental illness, but certainly he must’ve been to have been there. He died in the 1930’s as well.

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  4. I’m looking for information on J.P. Wooten from Jackson, Madison County, TN, who was admitted to the Nashville Lunatic Asylum in Dec 1886. He might have been transferred to Bolivar when it opened. His wife was poisoned in August 1886 and he participated in the lynching of Eliza Woods who was believed to have been the poisoner. Are there any records available?

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    1. I don’t have any information on this specifically, but I’m extremely interested as my great-grandmother was a Wooten and had a large family. I live in Nashville but am originally from Cannon County.

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      1. I have not been able to find any information on the Wooten family that lived in Jackson, TN, except what I’ve found on the poisoning of Mary Chandler Wooten, J.P. Wooten’s wife. I also found that J.P. Wooten was declared insane about 3 months after the lynching of Eliza Woods, who was accused of poisoning Mary. The City Court records indicate that his father was going to pay for his transportation and his stay at the asylum, but it does not include his name. J.P. Wooten was transported to the insane asylum in Nashville and the records show that the city paid for his transportation there. After that I can’t find any more information about J.P. Wooten. I found the grave sites for Mary Chandler Wooten and her baby, Mary, who died at 18 months in 1885. Interestingly, the last name is misspelled (Wooton instead of Wooten), and the grave stones look too new to have been placed there in 1886. Another mystery to work on!

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      2. My ancestors also had their last name misspelled “Wooten” frequently. That’s an extremely interesting story. I’ll do some more research. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a distant relative.

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      3. Did you say that part of the building is still being used. I had an uncle there for a short period of time in the early 60s!

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  5. Cuttinup38261@yahoo.com I would love to know if tours are done visits can be made with love to see the building old and new and the cemetery I’ll even give you my phone number 731-223-1105 I from Union City Tennessee and was adopted would love to know more about this thanks so much for posting all the information and comments Keegan City Tennessee 38261

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  6. My mother was there from around October 1960 to 1967…She had postpartum, but they did not know that back then. So sad she did not get the help, and what she went through at this place was torture for her. I wish someone would have helped her back then. She got out 1 year in 1967, and had a decent year with her family, but died in 1968 with Asthma untreated incorrect by a doctor in Nashville.

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  7. Ms. K. Sutton, I was hoping you ha replied to my comments about our great grandmothers. They sound like the same person. Her name was Avery Bradley. We might share ancestry information. Hope you look back at this site again and see this comment.

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  8. My mother’s mom died here. Family would not tell what happened and I don’t know how to find out. Are there still records from 1940s. I feel I need to know what happened. She died when my mom was only four leaving her oldest daughter of 14 to raise the other five children. Any thoughts on how to locate records would be appreciated. Thank you.

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    1. If your mother died at Western State then there will be a death certicicate with the State of Tennessee and probably filed in Hardin County. My GR GM died there in 1935 and I have a copy of hers. It will give cause of death . Also it may give the condition for why she was there. If she was there at the time of a Census you can search Census records and find her listed. I’m using Ancestry.com for my searches. Good Luck.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great story..I live in the town so I know how creepy it is..I’ve looked in the Windows and felt ill…but I love it…by the way..who is the guy standing at the end of the hall..in the holding cell shot? Creepy man…lol…

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