I have a curiosity for humanity's darker side and I love doing research so I've combined those two things to write in-depth articles.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston West Virginia was constructed between 1858 and 1881 but opened its doors in 1864. It is still the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the United States. Richard Andrews designed the building to house 250 people but was soon grossly overcrowded. The construction of the building was initially prison and slave labor until they brought in skilled workers from Europe to complete the building. The building was designed to allow as much fresh air and sunlight into the wings as possible. The idea behind this design and this facility was to help mentally ill patients and make them feel safe and comfortable.
By 1881 when the main construction of the Asylum was built it had cost $725,000 and had gone more than $300,000 over the initial budget for the project. The building was 1,295 feet long with more than 2.5 miles of hallways. The building was now housing over 700 patients and with 2.5 feet thick walls nobody would be able to hear their screams.
October 1864, the first patient was admitted and she was a housewife because she had “Domestic Trouble”. A quick look at the logbooks for this time showed that people could be admitted for the oddest things. You could be admitted for grief, laziness, novel reading, seduction, religious enthusiasm, menopause, masturbation, and tuberculosis. A lot of the people admitted showed no signs of mental illnesses when they first arrived and were usually just societies unwanted citizens. It was even reported that the asylum would pay people who admitted patience.
With over 600 acres of land, the asylum was mostly self-sustaining as the patients were allowed to grow their vegetables and maintain a dairy herd. They had a reservoir for freshwater and a nearby coal mine provided heat and fuel for the buildings. The patients learned trades by making their clothing, furniture, and beds as well as other fabric materials and essentials.
The grounds also had a section of land reserved for the dead. Many patients would pass away here over the years so they had to have a private cemetery on the grounds.
While still under construction in 1861, the Civil War broke out and halted work on the Asylum. The Asylum and the surrounding grounds became a military post called Camp Tyler for the Union. The southern wing was converted into the barracks and the main building foundation was now used as stables. Throughout the war, this location was raided and overtaken several times by both sides.
After the admission of West Virginia into the U.S. in 1863, the Asylum was renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. The Asylum had a stockpile of food, clothes, and bedding for their first group of patients when the Asylum was ready to open their doors but one last raid in early 1864 from the Confederates cleaned them out. They also took over $5 thousand from the town bank. After the war completing the Asylum was a top priority.
A House of Horrors
This Asylum was supposed to be the home of gentle healing and rehabilitation but during its time of operation, they practiced some barbaric healing tactics. A lot of patients were misdiagnosed or in the Asylum just because their family didn’t want them and had no mental illnesses at all. This didn’t matter as it didn’t save them from the overcrowding and experimental doctors.
In the beginning, some of the healing practices conducted were bloodletting and, insulin coma therapy. For the more violent patients, they had seclusion cells and confinement cribs as well as restraint chairs.
Though the main building construction was completed they continued to add buildings and in 1890 they installed a large Victorian-style iron wrought fence around the front yard. They even had a gas well drilled onto the property in 1913 to make the Asylum even more self-sufficient. The name was changed for a second time to the Weston State Hospital.
Over the years the staff suffered from a lack of funding and was forced to focus more on maintenance and repairs then rehabilitation of the patients. This meant they also had to add more wings and extra buildings to try to relive some of the overcrowding in the main building. Unfortunately the new buildings filled up as soon as they were built. Between 1930 and 1935 a tuberculosis building was constructed after the severe outbreak in the early 1900’s.
Because of the overcrowding and lack of funds, many patients were left unattended and free to cause trouble. Patients had set fire to the building several times over the years but the largest one that did the most damage was set in October 1935 on the fourth floor. Nobody was killed but it did cost $155,000 to repair.
By 1949 the compound housed over 1,800 patients consisting of drug addicts, alcoholics, the non-educated, epileptics and those with mental defects among others. The facility was found to be in unsanitary conditions with a severe lack of lighting, heating and, furnishings in much of the units. Patients had been found covered in filth, starving and without care. Many of them lived there for most of their lives and would die and be buried in an unmarked grave in cemetery on the grounds.
By the 1950s things only got worse for the patients here. Already being understaffed and underfunded, the Asylum had reached its peak of 2,400 patients. That is ten times the max amount this facility was built to accommodate. During this time they decided to add more units to the back of the main building. They added a larger kitchen, dining room, laundry facility, storage, shops, and a forensics building. The staff was so overwhelmed that any patient that acted out or complained would be put in solitary confinement or chained to a wall in an empty room for months on end.
These conditions led to an increase in violence between patients and even on staff. Patients would attack and often kill one another, one patient was hanged by two fellow patients and they later crushed his head with a steel bed frame when the hanging didn’t work. The staff members would be violently attacked as well and many of the female staff members would be raped. There was at least one report of a nurse that had gone missing only to have her body discovered months later under an unused staircase. Many of the repeat violent offenders were often kept in cages to try to control some of the violence.
Around this time there had been some new advancements in mental health and the healing techniques used. Some of the new practices used at this Asylum were ice-water baths, electroshock therapy, seclusion cells and, ice-pick lobotomies. The lobotomies were a favorite technique to be used on the patients as it was believed to relieve some of the more severe symptoms. They would take an ice pick and drive it in the corner of the eye socket and into the front portion of the brain destroying the frontal lobe. One doctor was reported to have completed 228 lobotomies in just 2 weeks in 1952.
A medical center and a morgue was finally built in 1960.
The Charleston Gazette exposed the facility in 1985 of the abhorrence of the conditions of both the buildings and the patients. Patients were seen to be dirty, naked, malnourished and often kept in cages, cribs or chained to the walls. It was a sickening and saddening sight to see. Nothing was done for seven years until once again the Charleston Gazette exposed them and their lack of effort to change. One patient named George Edward Bodie was murdered in a fight with another patient while Brian Scott Bee killed himself and his body was not found for eight days.
Finally, the Asylum was forcibly shut down in 1994 due to the deplorable conditions and treatment of the patients. The buildings were left abandoned until 2007 when it was auctioned off and bought for $1.5 million by Joe Jordan.
The New Owner
After it was bought in 2007, portions of the buildings were restored and made into museums to remember it’s brutal past. You can now see how the patient rooms would have looked like when it was first built. Some of the hallways and even the main entrance was restored to it's former beauty.
A large portion of it remains untouched and decayed for visitors to explore. It is now open to the public and hosts historic and ghost tours with special events for Halloween. It was also given back it’s original name of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
There have been numerous accounts of paranormal activity on these grounds and with over 2,000 people that died here, it’s not hard to see why. Many popular tv shows and YouTubers have visited this place and gotten video evidence of ghosts and spirits. It’s said visitors will see shadow figures roaming the halls and lurking in rooms at all hours of the day and night. They claim to see figures that look like soldiers, patients, nurses and, children.
Some people have had things thrown at them by violent spirits. There are also claims of people being pushed against walls, scratched and having things follow them home. People say they often hear the squeaky wheels of possibly a gurney, whispers, shouts and, giggles in the hallways and patient rooms. Balls of white light have been seen floating in the hallways and enthrall figures have been caught peeking around corners.
The Asylum owners believe they have figured out who’s ghosts might still be roaming the halls. A former patient named Ruth had a dislike of men and there is a spirit on the first floor that tends to throw items at male visitors.
On the third floor they have a spirit by the name of Big Jim who doesn’t harm anyone but wonders the halls. A nurse named Elizabeth is said to also inhabit this floor.
Lilly is a child spirit that has been seen in a white dress and appears to be around 9 years old. She has a room in the Asylum that is filled with toys that she will move around and play with. There are two theories about who Lilly could be. One theory says she was dropped off at the Asylum by her parents who no longer wanted her while other theories say she was born in the Asylum to a committed mother. Both stories have the same ending for poor Lilly though and that’s that she died of pneumonia around the age of nine.
There are many, many more stories of the paranormal activity here so it might just be best to go visit for yourself to see what’s true.
How to visit
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is closed on Mondays but is open Tuesday through Sunday from March 30th till November 17th 2019. Their historic tours start at noon most days, Saturday they start at 10 am. The last tours start at 5 and 4 pm. The website mentions Ghost Hunts are all year. You can check out more information here.
Amy from New England, USA on March 29, 2020:
I'm fascinated by old asylums. I'm not sure why. Maybe I was in one in a former life or something. Scary!
L.M. Hosler on September 14, 2019:
Very interesting article. I think I might like to visit but only during the daylight hours.