Spencer State Hospital
Source -- The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia -- Volume 20 -- Pages
Author -- Edited and published by Jim Comstock - Richwood, West Virginia
Date ---- 1976
Spencer State Hospital, located on a 180-acre tract in Spencer, Roane County,
was authorized by the Legislature in 1887 and formally opened in 1893. Having
its own water and power supply, the hospital serves an eight county area. An
additional 295 acres located two miles from the hospital are used for a
recreational area for the patients as well as a water shed for the dam.
Geographic relocation of patients has been completed, with patients from a
county or group of counties located in a manner providing a home and community
relationship within the hospital. Specialized units are maintained for the
physically ill and infirm alcoholic treatment programs, Medicare and Medicaid
patients, and rehabilitation programs.
The hospital operates under the open door policy, with approximately 76% of
the patients residing in open wards. No mechanical restraints are employed,
and all forms of psychiatric treatment such as psychotherapy,
electronconvulsive therapy, chemotherapy, milieu therapy, remotivation and
group therapy, family counseling, industrial therapy, religious counseling and
active occupational and recreational therapy are utilized. A new program, a
class in remotivation for patients, has been in effect in the hospital.
Spencer has the largest alcoholic treatment unit of any of the state
institutions, has a dental unit and x-ray department, and offers
electrocardiogram and laboratory services. The hospital utilizies a camping
program, designed to create self-help and provide patient responsibility
through outdoor activities. This program has become one of the outstanding
therapeutic programs in the modern treatment of the mentally ill.
Opportunity Hall, a unit for emotionally disturbed adolescents between 13
and 19 years of age, was opened in 1972. It is equipped with a medication and
a treatment team in addition to a project director, psychiatric nurse and a
social worker. Adolescents functioning below the average range of intelligence
are accepted if they have average intellectual potential.
See sup. vol. 10-11, p. 365; sup. vol. 14, p. 169.
Sup. Vol. 10-11, page 365 :
The Spencer State Hospital (open 1-4 p.m., Mon., Tues., Thurs., Sat.),
corner W. 2nd and State Sts., was authorized in 1887 to relieve overcrowded
conditions at the Weston State Hospital, but was not opened until 1893. Towers
and cupolas surmount the four-story main building, which is connected by
glass-enclosed bridges with two three-story ward buildings and a three-story
dining annex. The solemn red brick buildings strung together in a straight
line resemble battlements, pierced by iron-studded embrasures for arquebus and
bow, defiantly rearing their bulk across the path of an invader. Other
structures on the 184-acre tract, which overlooks the city, are a power house,
conservatory, laundry, farm and work buildings, and cottages for the resident
doctors and the superitendent. The institution cares for 900 patients.
West of Spencer US 33 circles through close-cropped pasture land, broken
here and there by gas wells or compressor stations. Few crops are planted, as
each farm has gas wells to provide the farmer a steady income. Fat,
red-and-white Hereford beeves are driven along the roads to the livestock
markets at Spencer, as are tawny Jerseys and spotted Guernseys, and
heavy-flanked Scottish Ayrshires, white as the milk they give. Rich black
earth in the creek bottoms is turned by plowshares drawn by magnificent
workhorses, broad-shouldered Percherons and heavy-flanked Belgians, some of
which weigh almost a ton. Split-rail fences divide the pasture land into even
squares. The countryside exudes comfortable well-being and a sense of security
based on the little black iron pipe mountings visible in the pasture lands,
signs of throttled gas wells.
Sup. Vol. 14, page 169 :
"One Thousand Questions"
#546. Overcrowded conditions at the Weston State Hospital made it necessary
for the state to establish a similar institution in what town?
[Apr 1999 - pb]
Spencer State Hospital
Source ----- Roane County West Virginia Family History 1989 -- Page 15
Submitter - Donna J. Walbrown
Publisher-- Walsworth Publishing Company
Date ------- 1990
In 1885, the state legislature began hearings on the need for a Second
Hospital for the Insane. The first hospital for the insane was built at Weston
in 1859. Because of overcrowded conditions, it was determined that a second
facility was needed. They appointed a commission to choose several sites and
present their findings at the next session in 1887. John G Schilling, a
Spencer attorney, was among the members of the commission.
One of the factors that would determine the final selection of a site was
the willingness of the county government to purchase the necessary land and
donate it to the state free of charge. Roane County was enthusiastic with the
prospect of obtaining the hospital. The Roane County Court immediately issued
an order stating that they would indeed be willing to meet this requirement.
The decision on the hospital's location was not made until the legislative
session of 1887. Spencer was eventually chosen as the site of the new
hospital. The legislature approved an appropriation of $10,000 to begin
construction. The county was now required to provide the land for the
facility. On February 10, 1888, the county court purchased 184 acres of land
from William R. Goff for the sum of $9,200. Goff, after receiving this large
sum of money began looking for a safe repository for his money. Goff and
several other citizens joined together to form the Bank of Spencer. It opened
for business in March 1891. The county's first bank was designated to handle
the funds for the construction of the new hospital. It also later handled the
state hospital's regular transactions. The building was 1/4 mile in length. It
was sometimes referred to as the longest continuous brick building in America.
Bricks for the hospital's Gothic structure were made on the grounds. Native
Roane County stone hand cut by Henry Waldeck and Lee Kelley was used for
facings and adornments. The slate roof was adorned with cupolas which were
typical of the period. The administration building stood four stories high and
was topped with two round towers. On each side of the administration building
were the two three-story wards, one for men and one for women. The building
was completed in 1893 at a total cost of $93,393.
The state's Second Hospital for the Insane was opened on July 18, 1893. At
the time of the opening, 54 patients were admitted to the new facility. By
1899 the number of patients had increased to 389 and by 1910 to 696.
Second Hospital for the Insane ~~~ photo
Photo courtesy of Donna J. Walbrown
Some of the disorders patients were admitted for were alcoholic excess,
overwork, senility, hereditary insanity, worry, ill health, head injuries,
syphilis, epilepsy, paralysis, morphia, cocaine use, cholera, disease of the
uterus, pneumonia, bereavement, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and childbed
For the first ten years the open door system was used. No doors were locked
and some doors were even removed. This system was considered a success. Even
though this open door system was very successful a fence was erected around
the hospital to separate the patients from the town.
Many of the patients were able to work. They worked in the kitchen,
laundry, sewing rooms, lawns, gardens and on the farm. The 15 acres of farm
and woodlands were used for grazing of a fine dairy herd, fattening hogs, and
raising poultry, as well as, supporting large gardens. The gardens produced
enough to feed patients and staff during summer, with extra vegetables and
canned goods for the winter.
In the early 1920's the name of the institution was changed to the Spencer
State Hospital. In 1937 a five bed hospital clinic was added. By 1941, reports
show that over 9,000 persons had been treated there. Many persons without
families lived most of their lives in the institution and were buried in
unmarked graves. Many of the patients were not mentally ill. Among those were
elderly persons and unwanted children. In 1950, a staff of three doctors and
150 psychiatric aides were caring for 1,200 patients.
In the 1950's the number of employees increased. An assistant to the
superintendent, social workers, a dietician, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a
registered nurse, and a beautician were added. An 85 bed clinic was
constructed in 1952. A hospital library, the first and largest in a state
institution, was built along with a women's dormitory.
In 1959 the employees began working eight hours a day and they no longer
were required to pay a maintenance fee. Before 1959 they worked six days a
week, 12 hours a day. They were paid $90 a month, from which a $50 maintenance
fee for room, board, and uniforms were deducted, whether the employee lived on
or off the grounds.
About 1959, workers began to replace the structure's original slate roof
with its cupolas and other ornaments with a flat roof. This radically altered
the appearance of the hospital.
The administration building was torn down and replaced with a modern
administration and food service complex between 1973 and 1976. This also
changed the view of the hospital greatly.
Spencer State Hospital's function had become provision of custodial care
rather than serving its patients as a therapeutic treatment center. This
situation would prove to be the seed of the facility's eventual destruction.
For more than 30 years attempts were made to free the hospital to fulfill a
treatment mission again. All attempts failed.
Spencer State Hospital's late years saw the citizens of Roane County united
in a battle to save the hospital, much as they united to bring the hospital to
Roane County nearly a hundred years ago. In June 1989, the closure of Spencer
State Hospital came quietly and an important chapter in the history of Roane
County came to an end. The townspeople can no longer depend on the State
Hospital whistle to remind them of lunch time and the end of the day. For the
whistle is also silent.
[May 1999 - pb]
Spencer State Hospital
Source ------- Roane County Historical Society - Spencer, WV
Newsletter -- The Roane County Journal - Volume 2, Number 2, Page 26-29
Date --------- Winter 1994The above article is reprinted in full plus this following update from
Donna J. Walbrown:
History Update on Spencer State Hospital
In October 1993 the city of Spencer held an auction at the former State
Hospital, in which nearly everything on the property was for sale. Everything
from patient x-rays, office furniture, light fixtures, mortuary equipment,
kitchen utensils, to the pine, oak and maple trees from the grounds.
A recent grant from the state provided $750,000 toward the hospital's
demolition. A developer is being sought to contribute additional funds to
complete site preparations. The auction was a prelude to what city officials
hope will be an economic development on the site.
Sadly, yet another of Roane County's historic landmarks will be no more.
However, on a happier note, the Spencer State Hospital whistle, a familiar
part of life in the Spencer area for years, has found a new home at the
Monarch Rubber Company. The whistle was blown at 8 a.m., noon, 5 p.m. and 10
p.m. during its days at the hospital, which ended with that facility's
closing. The Monarch Rubber Company will follow the whistle's old hospital
schedule, with a day shift employee handling the first two blasts and a worker
on evening shift taking care of the final two 15-second soundings. The
community owes Monarch a big "thank-you" for preserving a little
part of our past.
Obtaining copies of records
Files were microfilmed and are now stored at Lakin State Hospital and the
contact person can be reached at 304-675-0860. Requests should be sent to her
attention at Lakin State Hospital, 1 Bateman Circle, Lakin, West
Virginia.....25287. Those seeking information need to know that there is a
$15.00 research fee and then possibly a per copy charge. They need to send as
much information as possible such a the name of the patient, birth and death
dates, home address at admission, approximate date of admission etc.......I
was informed that some files can be extensive where others may be only a few
pages. I was also given the case number by calling the West Virginia State
Archives and they connected me to another department that holds the admission
books. By knowing the approximate dates she was able to give me the case
number and basic information. However the actual patient records are kept
confidential and are available only to family member that is the Executor of
the persons estate or they must obtain a Court Order.