Western Lunatic Asylum

On the 28th of February, 1848, the legislature of Kentucky provided for the location and erection of a second Lunatic Asylum. The ” Spring Hill ” tract of 383 acres of land (which proved to be of ” indifferent quality “), on the turnpike road east of Hopkinsville, was purchased for $1,971.50 (only $5.14 per acre). This sum was refunded by the citizens, and $2,000 additional paid by them. There was expended upon buildings and other improvements in 1849, $43,052, in 1850, $43,484; the additional outlays for these purposes do not appear in any documents before us. The legislature appropriated $15,000 in 1848, $20,000 in 1849, $45,000 in 1850, $35,000 in 1851, $43,000 in 1852, $44,017 in 1854-total $202,017.

On Sept. 18, .1854, the first patients were received. By Dec. 1, 1857, 208 had been admitted, but only 102 were then in the institution ; the others having died, eloped, or been restored and discharged, under the care of the superintendent, Dr. S. Annan. No. admitted in 1858, 106, and in 1859, to Dec. 1st, 129-total for two years, 235; during same time, 133 were discharged, of whom 65 were restored, 56 died, 10 eloped.

On Nov. 30, 1861, the main building was destroyed at mid-day by firewhich caught from sparks from a chimney falling upon the shingle roof. (It had ” once or twice before caught fire near the same place.”) The 210 patients escaped uninjured, except one who fastened himself in his room, near where the fire originated, and perished in the flames. The court house and other buildings in Hopkinsville were kindly tendered for the use of the unfortunates ; 23 hewed-log cabins were speedily erected, at about $90 each ; and every thing done that could well be to mitigate the sufferings of the patients.

The walls being mainly uninjured, it was estimated that “$50,000 would replace the brick and wood work,” and $67,000 more (including $3,856 for tin roof and gutters) would complete the building. In Feb., 1861, the legislature made an appropriation to begin it, and before Jan. 1, 1867, had appropriated in all $258,930 to complete the rebuilding. This-added to the managers’ ” probable net valuation of the property after the destruction by fire of the interior of the main building, $145,4.20 (exclusive of the enhanced value of the land itself)-makes the total value of the improvements at that time (1867), $404,350-providing comfortably for 325 patients.

Some time in 1863, the present able and successful superintendent, Dr. James Rodman, took charge of the asylum. The total number of patients received and treated, up to Oct. 10, 1871, was 1,273-of whom 321 were then in the asylum. ” Calculated upon the number of patients received, 50.847 per cent, were discharged restored, 8 were discharged more or less improved, were unimproved, 1 eloped, and 22 died ” (9 of tubercular consumption). The two lunatic asylums were, in Oct., 1871, full; and in Dec., 1872, a number of lunatics were confined in apartments in jails, or at home, awaiting increased facilities by the state for their care. ” There is (nearly) one insane person in every 1,000 of the population “-at least 1,400 in Kentucky, of whom there is room in the two asylums for only 850; and both are full.

Since the above article was penned for Collins’ History, the asylum at Anchorage has been built, and some changes have been made in the one located here, so far as relieving, it of a crowd of patients it was unable to accommodate. As a conclusion to this sketch, we give the officers and board, which are as follows: Dr. James Rodman, Superintendent; Dr. B. W. Stone, First Assistant Physician; Dr. B. F. Eager, Second Assistant Physician; Frank L. Waller, Steward; John B. Trice, Treasurer; George Poindexter, Clerk of Board. The present Board of Commissioners: S. E. Trice, Chairman; S. G. Buckner, John N. Mills, James E. Jesup, J. C. Tate, George O. Thompson, R. T. Petree, John Feland and Charles M. Meacham. The commissioners are appointed by the Legislature-three at each session. The term of the first three mentioned will expire in 1886; that of the next three in 1888, and that of the last three in 1890. The institution bears the name of being one of the best-managed in the United States. The present Superintendent, Dr. Rod-man, has been in charge of it for over twenty years; no other words in his praise are needed-his long period of service denotes his fitness for the responsible position.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

5 thoughts on “Western Lunatic Asylum”

  1. I was wondering if it is possible to find anything out about the patients who were housed there. I have come across a court record from 1869 that describes someone who may by a daughter or granddaughter of my great great grandpa, and I am trying to make a connection. Her name was Laura Shelton, about 13 or 14 years old, father and mother both dead.

    thank you


  2. My second-great-grandaunt passed at Western State Asylum on 23 May 1943. Her name was Sarah C. Hildebrand. She was born in November 1873. Prior to her residence at Western State, she was living in Beech Grove, Kentucky. Sarah appears to have lived at the asylum for over 30 years. She died of gangrene of the foot. Is there a way to get more information about her time at Western State? Are there records that can be accessed? And are there any photos of her that might be stored with other records? I’m very attached to this little branch of my family, who seemed to be very fragile and vulnerable. I would like to know more about them. And I would like to keep their memory alive for future generations. (Sarah C. Hildebrand was the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Cora Ann Hildebrand McCroy.)

  3. My 3rd great grandmother was Lucy Reno (born 20 Mar 1825, Bedford, Trimble, KY) who married Benjamin Franklin Calvert in 1845. In the 1860 census (Trimble, KY) she was living with her husband and 5 children and was listed as a “lunatic.” Family records indicate she died 13 Dec 1863 and her husband remarried shortly thereafter. However, in the 1880 census I find a Lucy Colvert (a common alternate spelling of Calvert) as a patient at the Western Kentucky Asylum for the Insane in Hopkinsville, Christian Co., KY, and in the 1900 census, a Lucy Calvert as a patient there. I believe this Lucy is my 3rd great grandmother and that she lived well beyond 1863. Is there a way to find records of patients of this institution during the early 1900’s?

  4. My great grandmother Rubina Deering was a patient here twice. The last time being in the fifties. My mother remembers her being erratic and wonders now if she was bipolar. My mother was just a child when her grandmother was a patient. Is there a way to find old records? Have they all been destroyed? I would love to know her story.

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