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Overcrowding in Indiana’s five mental institutions prompted state officials to establish a sixth one on February of 1905. Several towns and cities vied for the honor of hosting the hospital but Madison was chosen in large part because of the spot’s seclusion and beauty. The land (about 360 acres) was located on a high, remote hill overlooking the Ohio River and was purchased from Henry and Ford Hitz for about $100 an acre.
The overriding concept, at the time, was that environment, physical activity and a feeling of personal accomplishment contributed to mental well being. This was the aim of the new hospital.
Initially called the Southeastern Indiana Hospital for the Insane it was to be patterned on an enlightened view of mental illness and, with this in mind, about 30 cottage style buildings were erected to house the patients. Each building was a functioning entity giving patients the feeling they were living in a small hotel or lodge. The buildings were attractive with a Mediterranean flair and red tiled roofs. There was also a large administrative building and dozens of other structures to house the power plant, dairy, farm equipment and domestic animals. This was to become a self sustaining community with patients doing the gardening, farming, landscaping, dairy work and even road building.
This approach, though foreign sounding to us today, seemed to work quite well. It kept the patients occupied, gave them a sense of accomplishment and contributed to the general welfare of the community but politicians in their infinite wisdom, deemed this servitude and stopped the patients from working on the premises. It has been inferred that fat contracts to be awarded for food, clothing and other necessary items may have been a factor in this decision.
As the study of mental illness progressed and more professionals entered the field, the practice of “out patient” treatment took hold. Private facilities and “mainstreaming” many people who had once been held in institutions began to reduce the number of patients in the hospital. It was clear the facility needed to downsize and diversify if it was to survive. As a result, Head Start, Point in Time and special education programs sprang up on the old hospital campus. In the late 1990s a men’s correctional facility was housed there and in 2004 a women’s correctional group was created. The women have integrated into the community through work and educational programs.
The original work of the hospital still takes place and dedicated and varied programs continue to make the old institution a vibrant part of the Madison community.
MJCPL: Historical Files
MJCPL: Newspaper on microfilm
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