From Asylum to Haunted House: The Unexpected Story of Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, IL

A Humble Beginning

In the heart of Illinois, nestled near the city of Peoria in Bartonville, stands the vestiges of an institution that was once a beacon of hope for the mentally ill.

The Peoria State Hospital, initially known as the ‘Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane,’ has a rich history from 1895. This hospital was not merely a medical institution; it was a testament to the resilience and vision of its founders.

The establishment of the hospital resulted from the proactive measures of the Illinois General Assembly. Governor John Altgeld appointed a three-person commission responsible for selecting the site, and Bartonville was chosen.

The first building, completed in 1897, was never used due to compromised structural integrity caused by abandoned mine shafts. This setback, however, did not deter the hospital’s mission.

In 1902, under the innovative guidance of Dr. Frederick Howard Wines, the hospital transformed, adopting a cottage system that resulted in the construction of 33 buildings.

Years of Service and Enduring Impact

Opening its doors in 1902, The Illinois Hospital for the Incurable Insane emerged as a haven for those believed to be beyond help. The facility later became known as the Illinois General Hospital for the Insane, and by 1909, it was recognized as Peoria State Hospital.

The leadership under Dr. George Zeller, a man ahead of his time, was instrumental in shaping the hospital’s reputation. His holistic approach to therapy was groundbreaking and changed the lives of many patients.

Dr. Zeller removed all bars from the windows, took away all forms of restraint, and began a new, compassionate approach to therapy. This revolutionary concept of treating mental illness humanely made him a maverick in the eyes of many.

The hospital gained recognition as the leading institution in patient recovery for an impressive 69 out of its 71 years of operation, a clear indicator of the success of Zeller’s approach. It also housed a highly respected nursing program, further elevating its standing.

The hospital peaked in the 1950s, with 2,800 patients calling it home. However, the patient census had dropped to 600 when its closure was announced in 1972. The closure was met with employee protests, but lacking funding and staffing led to its inevitable end in 1973.

From Closure to Modern Era

After the closure, the buildings stood vacant and were auctioned off. Winsley Durand Jr., a developer, acquired the hospital with the vision of transforming the structures into office spaces, but his plans never fully materialized.

As time passed, many of the original structures were torn down, with the remaining ones refurbished to accommodate a range of commercial and industrial businesses. The Village of Bartonville marked the entire area as a TIF district to promote continued growth and revitalization.

Unfortunately, the Bowen building, the nurses’ dorm, and the administration building were demolished in 2016. The loans taken for the demolition remain unpaid to the Village of Bartonville, leaving a bitter reminder of the historical loss.

Supernatural Connections and Public Engagement

Despite its closure, the hospital continued to draw visitors due to reported paranormal activity. The grounds became a hotspot for paranormal enthusiasts, and stories of the property being haunted began to circulate.

One such tale involves Manuel A. Bookbinder, a former patient at the hospital who worked with the burial crew. According to the tale, Bookbinder’s ghost was seen by 400 staff and patients at his funeral, a sight that led to his coffin being opened to confirm his body was still inside.

Peoria State Hospital recently reopened its doors for public tours, allowing the curious and the brave to walk through the historic buildings. Tours include the monument area, the four cemeteries, and the Old State Mine Haunted Trail.

The Peoria State Hospital Museum even started offering private asylum tours, where guides lead guests to paranormal hotspots inside the building, leaving guests alone to explore the property.

A Final Reflection

The Peoria State Hospital was more than just a medical institution. It was a beacon of hope for those shunned by society, a sanctuary where they were treated with compassion and dignity.

The hospital’s legacy, from its inception to its closure and beyond, is a testament to the resilience and vision of its founders and the enduring spirit of those who walked its halls. It is a stark reminder of our society’s evolving approach to mental health and the necessity of preserving such historical institutions.

While the hospital no longer serves its original purpose, it remains interesting. It welcomes the public to immerse themselves in its rich history, to walk its haunted trails, and to remember a time when this place was a refuge that society had deemed ‘incurable.’

The Peoria State Hospital is a testament to the passage of time, the evolution of mental health care, and the enduring spirit of humanity.

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