Established in 1848 as the Western Lunatic Asylum of Kentucky in Hopkinsville, the original tract of land, “Spring Hill,” was composed of 386 acres and was purchased for $1,971.50 — $5.14 per acre. Citizens of Hopkinsville raised money for the land, according to the hospital’s history. The first patients were admitted in 1854 and by 1860 there were approximately 200 patients. On November 31st, 1861 a fire caused extensive damage to the main building; while there were no serious injuries, one male patient burned to death after he ran back to his room and locked himself in. Several patients ran away from the hospital into the community but were later returned. Since the fire left the hospital without adequate living quarters, some of the stable patients were returned home to their families. Paying male and female patients were relocated to hotels. The non-paying male and female patients had to stay elsewhere. The boarding house of Bethel College was purchased and non-paying female patients were housed there. The non-paying male patients returned to the campus and stayed in the engineering house; log cabins were later built to help ease with the overcrowding. Employees were required to live in the hallways with patients 24/7. The winter following the fire proved to be difficult for patients and employees and nearly every attendant at the hospital resigned their positions because of the added stress and demands.
During the Civil War, staff were required to go between locations to bring supplies to female and male patients. Unfortunately, the staff were harassed by both Union and Confederate soldiers; some were captured and forced into batter while nearly all of the supplies were stolen. A confederate general made a deal with hospital superintendent Dr. James Rodman where an unknown number of Confederate soldiers were treated at the hospital for injuries received in combat and some were buried in the property.
The hospital was rebuilt and had 2 wings added by 1867. By 1880, the hospital had about 400 patients. In 1919, the name was changed to Western State Hospital and patient population was around 1,500. Through the 1950s, the number of patients steadily increased to a peak of 2,200 in 1953.
As with other state psychiatric hospitals throughout the country, the patient numbers began to decline and farming operations ceased in the early 1960s.
Western State Hospital is still in operation today utilizing the original Kirkbride building.
Contributed by Phil T., Shawn L. and Susan A.
Some newspaper images are from historical archives of The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky). Some photos are provided from former annual reports of the hospital to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. All other photos were obtained, donated, or copied from state and hospital archives or personal collections. Please contact us before using any photographs or images on this website. We do not own the copyrights to all photos and those photos we do own require written permission before any use.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.