Central State Hospital

On November 4, 1834, the general assembly convened in Milledgeville, then Gov. Wilson Lumpkin made a plea on behalf of “the lunatics, idiots, and epileptics.”  Georgia legislators passed a bill in 1837 for the creation of a state-operated insane asylum. After five years of construction, the Georgia State Lunatic Asylum opened in 1842. Over the years, the campus went through several name changes including; Georgia State Sanitarium, Milledgeville State Hospital, and Central State Hospital.

Milledgeville
A sketch of the Georgia State Lunatic Asylum when it opened.

The first patient was a 30-year-old farmer from Macon named Tillman Barnett. He was admitted in December 1842, chained to a horse-drawn wagon by his wife and family. Barnett was described as violent and destructive. Unfortunately, he died of “maniacal exhaustion” before the following summer. He became the first casualty in the long and dark history of one of the nation’s most notorious institutions.

Central State Hospital

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The Jones Building was a general purpose hospital that served the hospital as well as the community of Milledgeville. It opened in 1929 and closed in 1979.

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Care of the patients was based on an “institution as family” model which asserted that hospitals worked best when they resembled an extended family. Dr. Thomas Green, the head physician at the time, would eat with patients. He abolished the use of chain and rope restraints, allowing patients to roam freely. Many of the patients were Civil War veterans who were unable to be cared for by their families. By the 1870s, patient to physician ratio was a miserable 112 to 1, a number that would remain for over a century. Black patients were admitted after the Civil War, but were segregated to their own buildings until the 1940s.

Milledgeville
The female convalescent building was erected in 1883. The back portion of the building was torn down and a modern auditorium erected in its place in 1949. The front portion was saved because it has a cornerstone with the hospital’s original name of the Georgia Lunatic Asylum.

Central State Hospital

Milledgeville
A quad of pecan trees is located in the middle of the sprawling campus.

 The Central State Hospital campus was once the largest insane asylum in the United States, some say even the world. At its peak, there were over 12,000 patients. The campus was its own town with a school, church, fire and police departments by the 1950s. Central State Hospital even had its own power, water, and steam plants.

Central State Hospital

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Milledgeville
As parts of Central State Hospital closed, some of the buildings were converted into state prisons. The state prisons made up for the jobs that were lost, however the buildings were not efficient and were eventually shut down. 
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The buildings that house Rivers State Prison were constructed in 1937 and converted into a prison in 1981.
Milledgeville
A guard tower overlooking one of the abandoned prison buildings.
Milledgeville
Rivers State Prison held 1,100 medium security inmates. The prison closed in October of 2008.
Milledgeville
Some 2,000 iron markers at Cedar Lane Cemetery commemorate the 25,000 patients buried throughout the hospital grounds.
Milledgeville
The original markers, with numbers instead of names, once identified individual graves but were pulled up and tossed in the woods by unknowing prison inmates to make mowing easier.

Today, Central State Hospital encompasses 1,750 acres with 200 buildings in various states of decay. In 2010, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities announced the hospital would no longer be accepting new patients and portions of the facility would be closed. For more photos of Central State Hospital, as well as other locations from all over the state, check out my book Abandoned Georgia: Exploring the Peach State.

26 comments

  1. Really cool piece! (Saw your post in the community pool) There was an abandoned asylum not too far from where I grew up that I and others visited many times in our teen years. There is definitely a unique appeal and draw to those kinds of places.

    -John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Rockwell Mansion has been partially restored, and is on the market for $350, 000. I grew up in Milledgeville, now live in Atlanta, so that price seems like a steal.

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      1. It’s a steal, but you have to have VERY deep pockets to restore them as they should be done. No mass produced overseas crap can be used and real craftsmen should be doing it.

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  2. I’ve actually seen all these buildings myself while i was at a military school in Baland circle which is the entrance to the lunatic asylum . We were told that all the abanded prisons and hospitals, and mansions were haunted

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My grandmother died there. During her child bearing years she started loosing her hearing and became completely deaf. No one could communicate with her and she was always lost. Her family put her there because nobody took time to try to help her learn to communicate. Mother said she wasn’t crazy, only deaf . So sad, very sad.

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  3. After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same
    comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service?

    Cheers!

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  4. I graduated from Georgia College in 1990. Part of my teaching degree was to log so many hours at Central State. I could not tell the staff from the insane. I even played checkers with a man that had killed his brother. I will never forget going there…

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  5. The reason I have family in Milledgeville is a few decades ago, on my mom’s side we had somebody who got shorted on their paycheck and took an axe to the boss’ house, broke down the door and killed him with said axe. He was sent to Milledgeville Asylum. Even after being deemed fit to leave, he chose to stay as a janitor there, as he was afraid he’d kill again. It’s neat to actually see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My Aunt worked in one of the buildings that has been repurposed at Central State. Specifically, she worked in the giant kitchen that is right across from the original morgue. Her back dock looks over most of the grounds there. Also, back in the 80s, my uncle worked in the hospital itself. They had all sorts of people who were confined there, but one of the worst, at least for him, was a patient that was bed-bound obese. She also was HIV positive, and would attempt to bite anyone who attempted to move her. It would take at least 8 guys to get her moved from one point of the hospital to another for various doctors. It was not a great job.

    Finally, my aunt and uncle obviously live in Milledgeville. They have four daughters, and my uncle would get scared out of his mind when they were teenagers every morning. Their hair dryers had the same tone as the alarm for an escaped prisoner from the hospital.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was once an inmate at Rivers in the 80s. The place was so primitive. Basically, not fit for human beings, but that’s what is expected from a state like Ga. They still have slavery, it’s simply instituted via the prison system. They should have torn that building down decades ago. Most of the crime committed there was by the administration. I discovered the warden at the time was using inmate labor for pay he received. I was there for years, and got a check for $25 minus tax. The eating area only held about 15 people at a time, it rained inside, only 3 people could use the toilet at a time, and you sat, side by side. The place was full of bugs, due to window problems. If it was meant to be a place for lunatics, by the time you left, you’d fit the bill. Tare that mother—— down.

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