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While the Indiana legislature had authorized the establishment of a "hospital for the insane" as early as 1827, the doors of the Indiana Hospital for the Insane (later re-named Central State Hospital) did not open until 1848. At that time, the hospital consisted of one brick building situated on a large parcel of land, numbering over a hundred acres, in the outskirts of Indianapolis. From 1848-1948, the hospital grew yearly until it encompassed two massive, ornate buildings for the female and male patients, a "sick" hospital for the treatment of physical ailments, a farm colony where patients engaged in "occupational therapy", a chapel, an amusement hall complete with an auditorium, billiards, and bowling alleys, a bakery, a fire house, and a cannery.
Central District, 1899 [105 kb]
For a half-century, this complex array of buildings and gardens beckoned to all of the state's mentally ill. By 1905, however, mental health institutions built in Evansville, Logansport, Madison, and Richmond relieved an overcrowded Central State Hospital of some of its patient load, leaving it to treat only those from the "central district", an area of 38 counties situated in the middle portion of the state.
By the late 1970s, most of the hospital's ostentatious, Victorian-era buildings were declared unsound and razed. In their place, the state constructed brick buildings of a nondescript, institutional genre. These modern buildings and the medical staff therein continued to serve the state's mentally ill, until allegations of patient abuse and funding troubles sparked an effort to forge new alternatives to institutionalization which, in turn, led to the hospital's closure in 1994. Fortunately, the Indiana State Archives, the Indiana State Library, and the Indiana History of Medicine Museum (housed in one of the hospital's remaining nineteenth-century edifices), are preserving the history of an institution that served, albeit not always well, the mentally ill of Indiana for 146 years.