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Welcome to an almost daily peek at our beautiful Williamsburg, Virginia which includes the "Historic Triangle" consisting of Colonial Williamsburg -the world’s largest living history museum- Yorktown and Jamestown.

June 26, 2010

America's First Mental Hospital, Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia



The Public Hospital was the first public building in North America dedicated to the treatment of the mentally ill.  Prior to its completion in 1773, local church groups and the infirmed person's family did their best to take care of them.  At times, the severity of the illness was more than they could handle. 

In 1766, Governor Fauquier asked the House of Burgesses to remedy the situation of "a poor unhappy set of people who are deprived of their senses and wander about the countryside, terrifying the rest of their fellow creatures." He asked for a hospital, staffed by doctors who would "endeavour to restore to them their lost reason."  The burgesses apparently did not see the need.

Governor Fauquier decided to make his point by having some folks who clearly would have qualified as patients held in the Public Gaol. On June 4, 1770, the legislators adopted an act to "Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds." 

The original Public Hospital was destroyed by fire, the debris was pushed into the basment and covered. The new hosptial was built next to it on the site. When the hospital, now known as Eastern State Hospital,  relocated to land donated to it by John Rockefeller, Jr., an archealogical dig occurred on the site to uncover the original reopened on June 8, 1985, foundations and it was rebuilt. with six exhibition cells in the first floor of the east wing and staff offices on the second story. From the west wing an underground hall leads to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.


The hospital can be seen in the movie, John Adams, along with many other scenes shot in Colonial Williamsburg.

4 comments:

Matty said...

Wow, mental illness goes way back I guess.

T. Becque said...

Nice, clear photos. The history is very interesting, and quite scary if you were among the patients!

Anonymous said...

It´s United States oldest Mental Hospital, not from the Americas.

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