The Early Years
Prior to operating as the Eloise Insane Asylum, the building served as the Wayne County Poor House, established in 1832. By 1834, it was in poor condition, and a new poorhouse was built in the Nankin Township.
On April 11th, 1839, thirty-five people were transferred from the old poorhouse to the new one, with one-hundred-eleven refusing to go into what they referred to as “the awful wilderness.”
On the same property was the Black Horse Tavern, which served as a stagecoach stop between Detroit and Chicago, a two-day trip. The tavern later became the keeper’s quarters. Between 1838 and 1839, a frame building was constructed to house the patients of the asylum. A kitchen was built along the back of the quarters in order to feed both families of the keeper and of the patients.
Inside the Hospital
Like many 19th century mental hospitals, Eloise was like a self-sufficient, functioning town, with its own police station, fire department, railroad and trolley stations, bakery, amusement hall, laundries, powerhouse, dairy herd, dairy barns, piggery, root cellar, tobacco curing building, and employee housing.
The Eloise Insane Asylum may have been the first may have been the first to utilize x-rays for diagnosis, with patients coming from surrounding cities, such as Detroit, to use them. These screenings were performed by Dr. Albarran. It was also the first hospital to have a kidney dialysis unit in Michigan. Eloise pioneered the use of music therapy.
Over the years, the asylum grew increasingly large as the Detroit-area’s population increased. In 1839, there were only thirty-five residents; during the 1930s, the number had increased to ten-thousand.
By 1958, all farming operations had shut down, but the hospital’s downfall did not truly set in until the 1970s. Larger psychiatric buildings on the premises were emptied by 1973 and the psychiatric division started to close in 1977 as the State of Michigan took over. The Eloise Insane Asylum was closed by 1984.
Famous patients to have died at the hospital were:
- Jus Kustus – d. April 27th, 1916
- Charlie Krause – d. March 30th, 1948
- Larry LeJeune – d. April 21st, 1952
- Marty Kavanagh – d. 1960
Inventor Elijah McCoy had spent a year in the Eloise Infirmary and musician Horace Flinders went through music therapy.
The Asylum Today
Today, the property serves as a strip mall, golf course, and condominiums, with only two of the originaly buildings currently in use. One of them, the D Building (also known as the Kay Beard Building) was formerly the administration building used for psychiatric admissions. What used to be the commissary building is now a family homeless shelter. The utility buildings now stand in ruins, with the old smokestack being demolished in 2006. Marked by a Michigan Historic Marker, the Eloise Insane Asylum and its cemetery are protected and maintained by the Friends of Eloise.
Both the properties are believed to be haunted. Ghosts of the patients are purported to roam the halls, moaning and growling. Voices have been heard, photographs of the paranormal have been taken, and lights turn off and on by themselves.
In Popular Culture
The hospital was featured in Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg. The book tells the story of Luxenberg’s secret aunt who was committed to the asylum during the 1940s.