Bartonville State Hospital

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: Bartonville, Illinois (directly south of Peoria)
OTHER NAMES: Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane; Illinois General Hospital for the Insane; Peoria State Asylum/Hospital
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: Existing buildings, 1902 – 1948
DATE OF CLOSURE: 1974

Aside from some well-told ghost stories, the history of the shuttered Bartonville State Hospital (BSH) near Peoria, Illinois has not attracted much research. This is a shame, because BSH has a significant role in the development of the Illinois state mental health system. The State of Illinois built the original mental hospital here, the Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane, in 1887. The first building — which resembled a castle and was built on the Kirkbride model — ended up never being used. Built over a mine shaft, the building began sinking upon completion and eventually collapsed. The state cleared the land in 1897 and, under the direction of Superintendent George Zeller, began construction of a new hospital that opened in 1902. Zeller called for a radical re-dedication of the hospital plan: housing patients in 33 individual “cottage” buildings with administrative, medical and kitchen services centrally located. This “cottage plan” (also called the “segregate plan”) replaced the old ideal of the singular, self-contained asylum championed by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride in the nineteenth century with a campus that suggested free and open living for the patients.

Whether or not Bartonville lived up to Zeller’s ideal is uncertain. While Zeller refused to use restraints at Bartonville, there are numerous tales of abuse of patients. Yet the state was convinced of the success of the new form of mental hospital and later employed it in design of the Alton State Hospital, which opened in 1914 and the Manteno State Hospital (located south of Chicago in Manteno), which opened in 1929.

Bartonville’s own campus contains diverse architectural styles and sits on hilly ground, so it avoids the linearity of Manteno and other hospitals. The centerpiece of BSH is the severe Bowen Building, designed in a rare Italianate style that is executed in rusticated limestone. The Bowen Building housed the nursing staff quarters and administrative offices. Nearby stand the tile-roofed, Arts-and-Crafts kitchen and dining buildings. Farther behind these is a later powerhouse. Surrounding all of these large structures were the many Georgian Revival, one-story patient housing buildings and lots of open land. There was a farm and four cemeteries for patients, which are still extant on the grounds today.

The state of Illinois closed Bartonville in 1973 and auctioned its grounds to local developer Winsley Durand, Jr., who failed to do anything with the property. The city of Bartonville acquired the hospital land in 1986 and began redeveloping it as the “Bartonville Industrial Park.” While a few of the former cottage buildings saw reuse as warehouse and office space, most ended up demolished and replaced by new, bland one-story metal frame buildings. Fortunately, the city has never torn down the landmark Bowen Building or the nearby dilapidated dining and kitchen buildings. Thus the ground retain some invocation of mystery and historical dignity with the presence of these buildings, which were the most unique at BSH. Yet the kitchen and dining buildings are in various states of collapse and the Bowen Building has suffered decay recently and the loss of many dormers and cupolas as well as its three-story porch structure in an earlier remodeling.

More information (Note: While we don’t share the conclusions of the ghost sites on this list, they over invaluable anecdotal history of BSH.):
Historic Peoria: Bartonville State Hospital
Illinois Trails History and Genealogy: Bartonville State Hospital
Bartonville State Hospital
Illinois EPA: Former State Hospital Site Sealed, Secured
Prairie Ghosts: Bartonville (Peoria) State Asylum
The Shadowlands: Famous Hauntings

Images from May 2004:

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  • Rev. Jackie Clevenger

    My cousin and I visited the site of the former state hospital one week ago. Our great-great grandmother who had immigrated from Hanover, Germany to Coal City, IL died at this facility in 1932. As we were walking around the site we noticed a group of young people cleaning up the surrounding grounds. One of them, a young woman, walked over to us as we were taking photographs and identified herself as the daughter of the current owner of the facility. She told us the group was working to prepare for a fund-raising event to pay the taxes on the property, She was was very knowledgeable and welcoming – and did an excellent job of providing us with information on the hospital’s history. Thanks to all of those who are doing the hard work of preserving and restoring Bartonville State Hospital’s important contribution to the history of our mental health system.

  • brandy williams

    Im leaving this comment because when i was 16 and now 31,i saw this place.i found out later My great aunt was torchered here and died. So now cause of health reasons Im looking into it.i was told She was german and looked like jean harlow. Also My relatives might have been in waverly hills Also cause of tb.Id like more info about this place.

  • Lyn

    My great grandfather was the grounds keeper. In the 1940′s. I am looking for photos of the staff