Like many early asylums and mental hospitals built in the United States, the building originally known as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was constructed using the Kirkbride Plan. The approach, created by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-19th century, emphasized architecture designed to have a curative effect on patients, with long, staggered wings that gave all the rooms access to light and fresh air. Unfortunately for the residents of the Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum, those admirable goals of Moral Treatment wouldn’t last much beyond the construction of the building…
Construction of the building began in 1858, with work conducted by prison laborers. Construction was interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, but by 1864 the first patients were admitted to the hospital, which by then had been renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. Construction continued until 1881, and, in an ominous portent of things to come, the grounds of the hospital ultimately numbered 666 acres.
By 1880, the hospital, which was intended to house 250 patients, held 717. By 1938, that number had more than doubled, and a report issued by a group of medical organizations listed its population as including “epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts and non-educable mental defectives.” At its peak in the 1950s the hospital’s population had almost doubled again, and the building, which by then was known as the Weston State Hospital, housed as many as 2,600 patients, more than ten times the number it had been built to accommodate.
Besides the nightmarish overcrowding, the patients were kept in substandard conditions. A series of reports published by The Charleston Gazette in 1949 revealed poor sanitation and a lack of furniture, light, and heat in much of the building. While the population of the hospital had decreased by the 1980s, treatment of its patients had not improved, with those patients who could not be controlled spending time locked in cages. The hospital was finally shut down in 1994.
Any big, old, imposing asylum is bound to have a reputation for paranormal activity, and the dark history of the Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum gives more than its fair share of grist for such rumors. The building, which is also a National Historic Landmark, has been featured several times on shows like , , and Forgotten Planet. The building’s current owners offer historic daytime tours and paranormal tours six days a week, as well as Ghost Tours and Ghost Hunts on Friday and Saturday nights.
Journey down the empty corridors of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in the haunting photos below:
An early body refrigeration unit is seen inside the Medical Center building at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
A view into two patient rooms in the main building of the Asylum. It was forcibly closed in 1994 due to changes in treatments of patients.
A tour guide dressed as a nurse stands in the first-floor lobby in the main building of the Asylum. The now privately owned building complex is opened to tours and other money raising events, and the proceeds of which go to the restoration and preservation of this historic landmark.
A rendition of the living room in the doctor’s apartment in the main building.
Medical equipment in a room in the main building.
A prop bed sits in the smoking room in the main building.