The Kirkbride Plan

In short, the Kirkbride Plan was a system integrated into the architecture of mental hospitals during the 1800s that provided better patient care. It was devised by a psychiatrist from Philadelphia named Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809-1883), the plan’s namesake and superintendent.

The Key People

Thomas Story Kirkbride

Born in 1809, Thomas Story Kirkbride was a pioneer in the psychiatric field, starting the idea of “moral architecture”. This idea later came to be known as the Kirkbride Plan. The Philadelphian doctor died in 1883, but his plan lived on long after his death.

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was a reformist who, in 1844, testified to the New Jersey legislature that the treatment of those with mental illness was rather poor, as in most cases, they were being kept in private homes, county jails, or the basements of buildings. It is because of her that the U.S. established mental hospitals. Because of her tireless efforts, the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum was built.

The History

The first asylum to be part of the Kirkbride Plan was the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum. The requirements of a Kirkbride Plan were based on Moral Treatment and featured a floor plan with wings arranged in a staggered fashion so that they would each receive sunlight and fresh air. This would also help give the patients both comfort and privacy.

In general, the asylums featured farmland so the patients could work them for physical exercise and therapy. A few asylums in Canada and Australia were inspired by Kirkbride’s ideals. In the decades to follow 1900, many of the mammoth facilities had to be shut down due to their high maintenance costs.

While a vast number of the asylums still stand today, most of them were abandoned, neglected, and vandalized. Several are still in use, while others are being renovated for other uses.


  • Athens State Hospital – standing
  • Bryce Hospital – standing
  • Buffalo State Hospital – standing
  • Cherokee State Hospital – standing
  • Clarinda State Hospital – standing
  • Danvers State Hospital – partially demolished in 2006
  • Dixmont State Hospital – demolished in 2006
  • Fergus Falls State Hospital – standing
  • Greystone Park State Hospital – demolished in 2015
  • Hudson River State Hospital – standing
  • Independence State Hospital – standing
  • Northampton State Hospital – demolished in 2007
  • Saint Elizabeths Hospital – standing
  • Taunton State Hospital – demolished in 2006/2009
  • Weston State Hospital (Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) – standing
  • Worcester State Hospital – mostly demolished in 1991/2008

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