Eastern State Hospital, located in Lexington, Kentucky is the second oldest operating psychiatric facility in the United States. Founded in 1817, the hospital has gone through a plethora of names ranging from Fayette Hospital to The Kentucky Eastern Lunatic Asylum. Established by a legislative act in 1822, the hospital began accepting its first patients in 1824. Previously, patients who needed psychiatric admission had to be transported to colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Over time, a number of patients steadily increased requiring an expansion of facilities to house the patients in new wards. The first patient admitted to the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum was a “negro” woman from Woodford County. Unfortunately there are no records that reveal the living conditions of African American patients during the earliest years of the institutions history. At the Alabama Insane Hospital, blacks were assigned to the basements, which were considered the worst of the wards, until separate facilities were constructed. It is likely that this was the case at the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum as well. It appears, however, that there may not have been many African Americans admitted to the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum until after the Civil War. In 1845, for example, the Superintendent pleaded to the legislature for the appropriation of funds to build accommodations for blacks. In the late 1880s, African Americans were admitted to segregated housing wards and by the dawn of the new century nearly 900 patients were housed at the hospital. By the middle of the 20th century, the hospital housed nearly 2,000 patients while the hospital was designed to house less than 1,000. Advances in science during this time resulted in many new therapies. Electroconvulsive therapy, Metrazol, and Insulin therapies became commonplace for treating the patients. In the 1950s, advances in psychopharmacology resulted in tranquilizing drugs like chlorpromazine (Thorazine) and others. The leucotomy came to rise and later Dr. Walter Freeman’s transorbital lobotomy was practiced widely across the country. Deinstitutionalization resulted in a massive reduction in a number of patients held at state hospitals including Eastern State Hospital. A new and modern facility was completed in 2013 and is operated by the University of Kentucky. The old hospital now houses Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Across the wide campus of Eastern State Hospital, mass unmarked graves have been discovered since the 1980s. Traditionally, many patients without families or financial resources were buried at the hospital once they died. Given the significant span of time that the hospital has been operating, many patient’s records have been lost or destroyed. It is generally accepted that 4,000-6,000 patients were buried on the grounds of Eastern State Hospital. However, it is posited by some that as many as 10,000 patients were buried there in its nearly two-century history. The Bluegrass Technical and Community College is now housed on the campus of the old Eastern State Hospital; the existing cemetery remains on this property. Most of the original buildings on the campus have since been demolished. The new facility, which opened in 2013, does not contain a cemetery.
Obtaining records from Eastern State Hospital has proven to be a challenge. In some cases, it might be necessary to be appointed as administrator of a relative’s estate in order to access the records. Requests for records must be submitted through the University of Kentucky Healthcare System which currently operates Eastern State Hospital. Court costs and other fees are applicable. We will be providing a database of death certificates on this website but it will initially be limited. We cannot provide legal advice or representation.
Names used by the hospital
- Fayette Hospital (1817-1822)
- The Kentucky Lunatic Asylum (1822-1849)
- Lunatic Asylum of Kentucky (1850-1852)
- The Lunatic Asylum (1850-1852)
- The Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1852-1855)
- The Eastern Lunatic Asylum of Kentucky (1855-1858)
- The Kentucky Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1858-1864)
- Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1864-1867)
- The Kentucky Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1867-1873)
- The First Kentucky Lunatic Asylum (1873-1876)
- Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum (1876-1894)
- Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane (1894-1912)
- Eastern State Hospital (1912-Today)
The Eastern State Hospital Cemetery Preservation Project was born of some very ambitious and caring individuals who wanted to preserve the cemetery at Eastern State Hospital and to provide a dignified memorial to the patients who were buried there as well as helping families and friends of the patients. Many of you are familiar with the website, Naming the Forgotten… The Eastern State Hospital Project. Started, in part, by Mary Hatton, it contains a wealth of useful historical information. Sadly, Mary died in 2014, leaving behind the remarkable legacy of someone who fought tirelessly for the forgotten patients buried at Eastern State Hospital. In time, other members have retired or moved away leaving behind just a scant few but determined members to continue the work. It should be important to note that since Mary’s death we are unable to update the existing website which is partially the reason for establishing this website. Anything we have transferred from the existing website to this website is with explicit permission from the owner or contributor.
Contributors: Phil T., Mary H., Shawn L.
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