Insane Asylum: Peoria State Hospital


Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, Illinois

Location: Bartonville, Illinois, USA
Built: 1897
Operation Time: 1902 – 1973
Type: Kirkbride Plan
Status: Open as a tourist destination

History

Peoria State Hospital (which has also operated under the names “Bartonville State Hospital”, “Peoria Asylum”, the “Illinois General Hospital for the Insane”, and the “Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane”) opened as an insane asylum operated by the State of Illinois from 1902 until 1973. The asylum has a total of 47 buildings on its grounds.

The hospital was built after the Illinois General Assembly decided to provide the items needed for the building of the hospital. Initially when it was thought up in 1895, it was going to be entitled the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane. In order to seek out the perfect location for the hospital, Governor John Altgeld created a three-man commission that would deal with find it. One such member of the commission was future Congressman J.J. McAndrews.

After some searching, it was selected that Peoria in Bartonville, Illinois would be the perfect spot. Construction on the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane began in 1895, and the main building was completed by 1897. Despite this, the building was never used because the structure was unsafe because of the abandoned mine shafts on the property. However, in 1927, the situation was described differently:

“The first building erected was a facsimile of a feudal castle, but before it was occupied it was found to be wholly out of harmony with modern ideas for the care of the insane and it was razed and replaced by the present cottage plan, under the direction of Dr. Frederick Howard Wines, the able secretary of the State Board of Charities.”

The reconstruction of the area was completed in 1902 under Dr. George Zeller’s directions. It was designed as a cottage system, and consisted of 33 buildings; they included care taking housing, patient housing, a power station, a store, and a communal utility building.

On February 10th, 1902, the asylum began accepting patients that were classified as “incurable”. Many patients from other facilities were transferred to the new hospital. It opened a training school for nurses in 1906. From 1907 to 1909, the asylum was operated as the “Illinois General Hospital for the Insane”. In late 1909, it was retitled “Peoria State Hospital”.

Peoria State Hospital celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1927, and by this time it had a patient population of 2,650 currently living in it. A grand total of 13,510 walked through the doors of Peoria in the 25 year span. Dr. Zeller was very widely respected for his efforts to use therapeutic methods for curing the insane, opposed to the more brutal and experimental treatments like lobotomy and hydro-shock therapy.

Zeller helped to define mental illness and bring understanding to the public through newspapers. From 1943 to 1969, the hospital provided psychiatric nurse training to students from regular nursing schools. Peoria State Hospital was operated by the Illinois Department of Public Welfare from 1917 to 1961. The Department of Mental Health took control of the institution in 1961, eliminating the need for the Illinois welfare department.

In the 1950s, the asylum featured its highest patient population, which reached a staggering total of 2,800. The number dropped to 600 by 1972 when the hospital announced its closure. Shortly afterwards, the buildings were abandoned and auctioned off. The original buyer went bankrupt, leading the developer, Winsley Duran Jr., to assume ownership.

Duran’s idea was to convert the hospital into an office space, though it never went through and the buildings remained empty. Many of the original buildings have either been demolished or renovated into commercial and industrial buildings. The Village of Bartonville has worked to develop the property and bring life to it. The Bowen building (the administration building) is currently owned by the Save the Bowen Foundation, whose goal is to raise  enough funds to renovate the exterior of the building.

When it comes to the paranormal, the hospital is said to be haunted by a patient named Manuel A. Bookbinder, more commonly known as “Old Book”. He worked with the burial crew – a team that would bury the patients that died at the hospital. Rumor has it that Dr. Zeller and over one hundred patients and nurses attended Old Book’s Funeral, and all of them saw his apparition beneath the old elm in the potters field.

During the 1920s, Dr. Zeller wrote a book entitled Befriending the Bereft, which featured the mysterious occurrences at the asylum. Many believe that the hauntings were caused by the cruel treatments of the patients. However, this is most likely untrue, considering Zeller was against such an inhumane thing. In fact, he had all the bars in the asylum’s windows removed and had them used in a zoo for the patients.

Those who were not bedridden were allowed to roam free in it once it was completed. Most of the hauntings are thought to be caused by the patients not wanting to leave, since Peoria State Hospital was home to them. In addition, ghosts of the patients who died are believed to be here, as it is known that at least one patient died every day. Visitors have claimed to hear strange noises and see apparitions. Peoria State Hospital is one of the most famous haunts in the United States.

In Popular Culture

  • Peoria State Hospital was featured on Ghost Hunters episode “Prescription for Fear”, but was mentioned as “Peoria Asylum”.

Awards

  • “Scariest Insane Asylum 2012” – Voted by the visitors of Ghostly World

Sources

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22 Comments Add yours

  1. Storm says:

    Oh, How I would LOVE to go there and explore! (Swoon!)

    Like

    1. Same here. It is so creepy! This is exactly why I love insane asylums…that eerie connection between the insanity of the patients and the doctors themselves. But then again…there feels like there is something I like about them but I don’t know what exactly it is.

      Ghostly World
      Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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      1. Storm says:

        I agree completely

        Like

      2. It would be fun to visit Peoria.

        Ghostly World
        Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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  2. My only criticism would be that Peoria State Hospital was one of the only institutions like its kind that did not torture its patients. When Zeller took over he even went so far as to remove all the bars from the windows and reconstruct them into a zoo, which he took all the patients to (and who were, unless bedridden, free to roam). The spirits were compelled to stay not to seek revenge for unfair treatment, but because it was a home to them. The story of the institution is more sad than gruesome. Otherwise, this was a very informative article.

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    1. Thank you for the information! I’ll update the post right now. I used a source called ForgottenUSA.com, but it’s about 80% reliable on information. But thank you so much! I always appreciate it when visitors help me out :T

      Ghostly World
      Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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      1. Anonymous says:

        I think that is the first time anyone has said “It would be fun to visit Peoria.” We use to go to the Asylum when I was younger but I can’t say I ever saw or heard anything strage there. I think the most frightening thing about the place is how easy it is to fall through the floors.

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      2. XD I’m a big fan of the eerie feeling of old hospitals (especially insane asylums). And what you said about not seeing anything strange…that’s just the thing. Places sound like their teeming with paranormal activity 24/7. But I would agree with what you said about the floors…it sounds like that would be freakier than the actual paranormal/death element of the place. I hope that they are able to raise enough money to preserve the asylum because it would be awful to lose such an interesting place…also hoping that the episode of Ghost Hunters last night will inspire people to help PSH. Glad you stopped by Ghostly World and shared your story!

        Ghostly World
        Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I understand why the boss took off the bars but really it is or rather was the most “insane” hospital with the most dangerous and psycho people in it so the patients were in danger with no bars.

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    1. The patients were not, quote, “psycho”. They were in fact just mentally ill, but not criminally insane. Most of them were not even insane, often having autism, Down’s syndrome, Epilepsy, and Tourette’s. The bars were used to build a zoo, which patients visited if they were not bedbound.

      GhostlyWorld
      Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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      1. Pamela Rowe says:

        I’m sorry but you have some incorrect information! I am the daughter of a mother who was a patient there from 1956 until the closing of the facility in 1973. She was a manic depressive paranoid schitzophrenic and very dangerous when not medicated from age 36 until she died at age 80 in a nursing home in Bloomington. She was heavily medicated, received over 100 shock therapy treatments and that’s just part of it. She started out in the hospital part at first and then to the locked wards and then to the cottages as she slowly partially progressed. It just really saddens me as her daughter to know even though she and many other people were treated as best they knew how at that time it simply was horrible and they all went through their own living hell on earth. To have people think it is “cool” to visit a haunted place such as this hospital is unbelievable to me and my family! I would love to have the opportunity to share with some of you that are not adequately informed about how it REALLY was. I’m not mad at you however some terrible things went on there that need to be shared! And yes I believe there are probably ghosts there and understandably so. I am interested in setting the record straight as I can on behalf of my poor mother who had her hell on earth and unfortunately we still don’t have a good handle on her illness. We need a lot of research done on this but I don’t know if the day will ever come that we find the answer to mental illnesses.

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      2. Hi Pamela,

        First off, I would like to thank you for sharing your story. I’ve received multiple stories about Peoria’s patient treatments, some regarding to the asylum with positive and negative tones. Personally, I believe what you’re saying – 19th/early 20th century mental institutions featured “quackery” treatments; it was a very experimental time in medicine. I will definitely update the entry. When it comes to the wanting to visit haunted places, I would chalk it up to a human curiosity in wanting to know about the “other side”. Thank you again for sharing your story.

        Ghostly World
        Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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  4. Sam says:

    Thanks for your comment on mental illness. Having a disorder in your brain is no different than having a incurable disease of your lungs or kidneys. Would you call someone like that a derogatory name and label them hopeless. Although someone with mental illness must be handle with much more care, it doesn’t make them weird or strange and they deserve the same dignity as anyone else. They did not ask for the ailing brain anymore than the person with kidney disease.

    Like

    1. The 1800s was a messed up time. Doctors and dentists without anesthetic…psychiatric doctors torturing/experimenting on their patients. Yeah. Overall it was a weird time. The anonymous commenter that I replied to (if that is the comment you’re referring to) is exactly what was wrong with the 1800s – constant assumptions. But don’t take this the wrong way – I love the 1800s.

      Ghostly World
      Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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  5. Carrie says:

    Hello! I live very close to the asylum and have explored every area, including an area some believe is an unmarked cemetery where murderers were buried. I have many pictures and have experiences several hair raising events like being scratched down my back and seeing an apparition of a little girl who illuminated . I also brought her and a male home with me after exploring one day. From the age of 17ish, I have dealt with many spirits, and I guess some would call me a “Sensitive”. I visited the hospital grounds a lot until the 2 spirits went home with me. I have had many, many paranormal experiences. 🙂
    MyzBhaven2@icloud.com

    Like

    1. Hi Carrie,

      I think it would be great if you could share your paranormal experiences with us. Ghostly World is a judgement-free site where you can share your experiences as well as read about well known haunts. So, I encourage you to share your stories. Thank you for telling me what you have.

      Ghostly World
      Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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    2. April says:

      Please, do share, I’m always very interested in paranormal happenings. My Aunt wants to go on an all night tour here, and it’s a little expensive, in all honesty, I didn’t want to go if I didn’t come home with at least one hair-raising story. It would be nice to know that I may experience something here.

      Like

      1. Hi April,
        If you’re regarding the story below from Carrie, I can’t post it until she gives me the “ok”…it’s one of my rules here. But thank you so much for stopping by!

        Ghostly World
        Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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    3. Anna says:

      so is it the kind of thing where there aren’t any locks on the doors and you can just explore?

      Like

      1. Are you regarding to when it was in use or modern times?

        Ghostly World
        Email At: ghostlyworldblog@gmail.com

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