The Evansville State Hospital. It originally opened in 1890 and was called Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane. The name changed to Evansville State Hospital in 1927, a more politically correct name for it. However, it was known as Woodmere for reasons unknown to myself, but it carried that nickname until the new building (1945 Continuing Treatment Unit) was constructed. Most of the patients worked as farmers. The thinking behind this was that it was therapeutic to do that kind of work and would help in recovery. The financial gains from this helped to pay for the hospital itself.
|Woodmere standing proud. At the very top far left you can see part of the Laundry Room. To the far right you can see what looks like the Phantom Theatre. It isn't. At one point they had two identical buildings on either side. This twin was razed years ago. The new hospital stands just about where it was. I'm not sure when this picture was taken, but the bakery built in 1920 appears to be there and not the 1927 Phantom Theatre so it probably is early to mid 1920's. I only wish this building was still standing, then it really would be an old asylum they make movies about.|
|An old postcard of Woodmere. A good idea of what it probably looked like while you were approaching it. You can get a better feel of how impressive this building was before it burnt.|
|ESH as it stood proudly in 2000. Click to see an enlarged picture including the beautiful park patients could relax and feed the ducks in.|
The hospital grew rapidly and by 1937 it had 829 acres of land. If you are from the Evansville area, the land for Wessleman Park, the State Hospital Park, and Roberts Stadium all belonged to Woodmere at one point. Woodmere changed drastically after the 1943 fire that burned it to the ground. Supposedly, a worker set fire to the building and 8 people died. When they moved the patients to an interim facility, the same worker tried to set it on fire as well, but it was put out quickly. This worker eventually joined the patients as it was derived that she was mentally ill. It is truly unfortunate as one can only imagine what a beautiful building it was. In 1945, the newer state hospital was completed and is the one they are currently taking down.
I'm not certain as to the treatments given here. I do know at one point they did use ECT's, but I'm told now they do not. It is possible that back in the 50's and before they used rational methods that many people hear about, but I really don't know.
What I do know is that the workers at ESH put forth exceptional effort and care for their patients. I've been told many stories about plays, basketball games, parties, dances, and other things the staff has put on to provide a comfortable living place for their residents. They even had a haunted house to provide extra funding for some of these wonderful programs for their patients. They take much pride in helping them, and I commend them on their dedication.
As with many hospitals, the introduction of drugs in 60's caused many patients to be able to recover and these large hospitals were no longer necessary. At it's height, in 1955, it had just over 1,400 patients, now it has 148. The deinstitutionalization of the 80's also has reduced the need for such a large building. Now prisons have become a holding cell for many mentally ill. I've read articles about this, and it's a serious problem. There are people out there who can be helped, and a prison may not be the best placement for them. Also, public tolerance and understanding of mentally ill patients has also allowed patients to have out treatment and not have to stay in a hospital. For all of these reasons and many more, the Continuing Treatment Unit was too large for its patients. In 2003, they completed a new 30 million dollar facility right next door to it.
Now they plan on turning what's left of the old hospital into a park. I have issues with this decision, but I am not in a position to do anything about it except get mad. This has been an area of controversy, but it seems that the building is going be razed. It is too bad because it does seem that another use for the large building could have been found.
I have organized these by building. Enjoy.
Everyone of these buildings has now been razed. What a waste........
Continuing Treatment Unit
Source: Evansville Courier and Press
Photo: Evansville Courier and Press