Henry County, IAGenWeb

The Insane Asylum.

Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County, Iowa
Chicago: Acme  Publishing Company, 1888.


Few persons visit Mt. Pleasant without taking a look through the magnificent buildings for the insane of the State. Gov. Grimes, in his message to the Fifth General Assembly called attention to the necessity of the State providing some place for the care of its insane. Agreeable to his suggestion, the Legislature appointed a commissioner and appropriated $50,000 for the erection of a suitable building. On the 17th of March, 1855, the valuable tract of land now occupied by the asylum, containing 123 acres, was purchased for $25 per acre. The Commissioners, Edward Johnson of Lee County, and Dr. Charles S. Clark of Henry County, authorized by the act, proceeded to visit the best hospitals and asylums in other States, and also procured a plan from Dr. Bell, of the McLean Asylum at Somerville, Mass., which was afterward substantially followed in the erection of the hospital. The act establishing the asylum and appropriating $50,000 for the erection of the building, advised that the plan determined on by the board should be one that would admit of future enlargement. From the information obtained, it was readily seen that the $50,000 appropriated would be insufficient, and the Commissioners determined to erect such a building as the experience of others had proved best, trusting to the good sense and liberality of the Legislature to sustain them in their course.

Henry Winslow, who had been connected with the Insane Hospital of Maine, was appointed to superintend the erection of the building, and entered upon the discharge of his duties Oct. 22, 1855. The building was completed and formally opened on the 6th of March, 1861, though one patient had been admitted one week earlier. While the cost of the hospital was much more than the original appropriation, there being $400,000 expended in its erection, it was so constructed that additions have since been made that have not detracted from the original beauty of design, but rather added to it, and to-day the building presents a most magnificent appearance, while the grounds are handsomely kept.

The first officers of the hospital were as follows: Commissioners, Hon. James W. Grimes, Hon. Edward Johnstone, Hon. Ralph P. Lowe, Dr. Charles S. Clark, Hon. Samuel J. Kirkwood, W. H. Postlewaite; Treasurer, Presley Saunders; Clerk, M. L. Edwards; Trustees, Harpin Riggs, Samuel McFarland, D. L. McGugin, J. D. Elbert, Joseph M. Merrill, John B. Lash, Lincoln Clark, Timothy Stearns, G. W. Kincaid, Thomas Hedge; Superintendent, R. J. Patterson, M. D.; Stewards, Henry Winslow, George Josselyn; Matrons, Mrs. Catherine Winslow, Mrs. Anna B. Josselyn.

From the third biennial report of the Trustees the following extract is taken:

"The act for the incorporation and government of the Hospital for the Insane, appointed seven Trustees, two for two years, two for four years and three for six years. The longest term, six years, has not elapsed, yet in this brief space four the seven have died -- Col. Samuel McFarland, Dr. John D. Elbert, Dr. D. L. McGugin and Mr. Harpin Riggs. The survivors feel with deep sensibility this fatal and admonitory incursion of death into their narrow circle; they participate in the grief of the bereaved families of their late associates, and they lament the loss sustained by Iowa of so many citizens who virtues pointed them out for the work of putting in operation this greatest of the charitable institutions of the State. They cannot refrain from paying some tribute, slight indeed, to the memory and worth of their departed colleagues. Col. McFarland was the youngest member of the board, yet he had attained the foremost rank among the legislators and politicians of the State. He was the author of the law under which we are not acting, and prepared the code of by-laws by which the institution is now governed. No member of the board had more weight or influence than he. When his country summoned him to arms, he obeyed her voice with alacrity, and led his regiment to the field of battle, where he fell, gallantly fighting at its head.
"Dr. Elbert was a pioneer in the settlement of the State; he had been a member of the Territorial Legislature and President of the Council. His generosity, kindness of disposition, and his public spirit, made him a suitable guardian of an institution of charity, and his cordial good humor made him an agreeable companion in every circle.

"Mr. McGugin occupied the highest rank as a physician, and he devoted his fine talents with zeal to the advancement of medical science and to the improvement of medical education. He gave the first impulse to the movement which resulted in the establishment of this magnificent institution. He made a journey in the winter to the capital of the State, to deliver an address before the Legislature, on the necessity of erecting a hospital for the insane.

"Mr. Riggs was a man of practical and solid sense, and remarkable capacity for the transaction of business. The city of Mt. Pleasant and the county of Henry had employed him in various responsible offices, the duties of which he discharged with exemplary fidelity. It was fortunate for the county to have a citizen so upright and so gifted, and it was creditable to the people to employ him in their service."

On the 18th day of April, 1876, the rear building of the hospital was burned. From a report made by the Trustees, on Oct. 18, 1877, which report was addressed to His Excellency, Joshua G. Newbold, Governor of Iowa, the following is an extract: "The burning of the engine-house of the hospital was a calamity unforeseen and of course unprovided for. It placed upon the Board of Trustees what they felt to be a grave responsibility, and which would admit of no evasion, but must be met. The builders, engines and machinery, were either destroyed or left without an enclosure of covering. They felt that there was but one course to pursue, and that was to rebuild. It was not a matter of convenience, but of absolute necessity. The erection of a temporary structure was canvassed and rejected, as being impossible to meet the indispensable wants of the hospital during the winter season, as well as being a useless expenditure of money, and as endangering the entire institution. After mature consideration, and advising with Gov. Kirkwood and other State officers, it was determined to proceed at once to rebuild in a substantial manner, leaving the building unfinished, except so far as necessary to finish, to meet the immediate pressing needs of the hospital. The Superintendent, assisted by Mr. George Josselyn, who had superintended the building of the hospital at Independence, prepared plans which were approved by the board, and the work proceeded under the personal supervision of the Superintendent, who consented to assume that great addition to his duties and responsibilities, and there has been expended the sum of $32,046.43, the details of which are appended to this report. A considerable amount of the sum was not expended upon the building, but was for repairing and replacing the machinery destroyed and damaged, and other items. It is believed that for economy in building, strength and durability, as well as for convenience and safety, this structure will compare favorably with any public work in the State. To complete, it will require an expenditure of $5,500. The estimates for proper hospital accommodations were over $39,000.

In January, 1882, Dr. Ranney, who for so many years had served as Superintendent of the asylum, died, his death being greatly lamented by every friend of the institution. Dr. H. M. Bassett kindly assumed the duties of Superintendent until the Trustees could secure a successor. This was done in July, and on the 16th day of October following, Dr. H. A. Gilman, long and favorably known as the First Assistant Superintendent of the Hospital for the Insane, at Jacksonville, Ill., commenced his services as Superintendent.

In his first biennial report, Dr. Gilman urged the erection of additional wings to the building for the accommodation of the increased number of patients for whom admission was sought in the institution. The Legislature wisely heeded the request of the Doctor, made the appropriations and gave him charge of their erection. This additional labor he cheerfully assumed, and in connection with this brief sketch a fine lithographic view of the building and grounds is given.

In addition to the erection of the wings, erected at a cost of $200,000, the rooms in the old building have been renovated throughout, repainted and redecorated. Elegant pictures are hung upon the walls of each public room, and everything done to make the surroundings pleasant to the patients.

The following named comprise the officers of the hospital at this writing:

Board of Trustees -- D. A. Hurst, M. D., President, Oskaloosa; J. H. Kulp, M. D., Secretary, Davenport; P. W. Lewellen, M. D., Clarinda; G. W. Cullison, Harlan; G. H. Sharp, Mt. Pleasant.

Treasurer -- C. V. Arnold, Mt. Pleasant.

Resident officers -- H. A. Gilman, M. D., Superintendent and Physician; M. E. Witte, M. D., First Assistant Physician; F. P. Peck, M. D., Second Assistant Physician; P. E. Straub, M. D., Third Assistant Physician; J. M. Aitken, M. D., Fourth Assistant Physician; E. N. Nelson, Steward; Mrs. F. V. Cole, Matron.

The attention of the reader if called to the biography of Dr. Gilman for an account of his special work for the hospital.

Transcribed by Conni McDaniel Hall for Henry County IAGenWeb, November 2014.

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