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Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
June 8, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
Built on 269 acres of the Henry Flesher farm across the West Fork River from Weston, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was authorized by the Virginia legislature in the early 1850. Politics may have been the overriding reason in choosing its site; Lewis County, a Democratic island in a sea of Western Virginia Whigs, exercised considerable influence in Richmond.
The hospital’s huge main building, two-tenths of a mile long, was designed by Richard S. Andrews of Baltimore, whose other work includes the south wing of the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington and the Maryland governor’s mansion. A committee toured similar institutions in several states to determine what features were required. The General Assembly appropriated $50,000, and construction was under way by the end of 1858.
The Civil War interrupted the work. Virginia’s Confederate government demanded unused funds be returned for state defense, but the money was saved by sending it to Wheeling. In 1862, the pro-northern Reorganized Government of Virginia added $40,000. Work resumed and continued through the rest of the war. In 1863, the name changed to West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, and Dr. James A. Hall was appointed its first superintendent. He was replaced by Dr. R. Hills, formerly of Columbus, Ohio, just as the first patients entered in October 1864.
By 1868, 200 patients were being cared for at the hospital. The legislature voted $110,000 in 1870 for additional buildings, and separate rooms for black patients were added in 1873. The hospital had its own farm, dairy, waterworks, and cemetery. Ultimately, it grew to house about 1,200 patients. In 1913, the West Virginia legislature changed the name of the hospital to Weston State Hospital.
On October 3, 1935, a patient started a fire in the main building that destroyed six men’s wards and caused a cupola to fall through the roof. The building was repaired and remained in service for nearly 60 more years. It closed in May 1994, replaced by the new $27 million William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital. The building, now privately owned, is operated as a tourist attraction under its original name, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
For the complete history of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, read “A Short History of Weston Hospital” by Joy Gilchrist-Stalnaker.
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Front gate of the Weston State Hospital. Photo courtesy of www.trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com.