History – Insane Asylum

The Mt. Pleasant Journal
January 1, 1869
Submitted by A.M.W.


Mt. Pleasant is the County Seat of Henry County, Iowa, and is located near the center of the county. It is on the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, 28 miles west, or rather a little northwest, of Burlington. It’s situation is on what was originally a beautiful high rolling prairie, with a body of timber approaching from the western limit. Eastward of the city, the broad prairie extends for many miles, and it is now a continual succession of well improved farms. Some four or five miles to the southwest, Skunk River winds its course in a southeasterly direction towards the Mississippi. Its bottoms, and the adjoining slopes, afford some of the finest bodies of timber to be found in the state. Between the Skunk River and Mount Pleasant, a stream known as Big Creek almost surrounds the city, approaching within a mile and a half on the north, west, and south. Fine groves of timber also border this stream and a number of quarries afford and abundance of excellent building stone.  

James Dawson, the first white man who settled in the county, made his claim a mile and a half west of Mt. Pleasant in the summer of 1834. In the fall of the same year _______ Saunders came over from Springfield, Illinois and took a claim on the present site of Mount Pleasant, and after laying the foundation of a cabin, returned to Illinois. In February, 1835, he again came to Iowa, completed his cabin, and settled permanently. During the same season, he temporarily staked off a number of town lots. On one of these, his brother-in-law, Joseph Moore, created the first house within the limits of Mt. Pleasant, in the fall of 1835. It stood at the northwest corner of the Public Square, where P.C. Tiffany’s store now stands. Here Mr. Moore at the same time started the first store, a small stock of goods being on the ground before the building was completed. The town was not regularly surveyed until the summer of 1836. The plat was duly recorded February 3, 1837. On the 12th of May, 1836, Colonel John H. Rudolph opened a store.  

The first death which occurred was that of a man named Pullun, who came from Indiana in 1835. After being here but two or three months, he either accidently or intentionally shot himself while hunting in the woods. His remains were entered in what is known as the “Old Cemetery”.  

The first hotel was kept by a man named Martin Tucker, in 1836, the building being a log cabin of diminutive size, that stood on North Jefferson Street, about where the Journal office is now located.  

A post office was first established here in 1836 and Alven Saunders subsequently well known in Iowa, and late Governor of Nebraska, was the first postmaster.  

Hon. John P. Grantham, it is claimed by some, had the honor of inaugurating the first educational institution in what is now styled the “Athens of Iowa”. In the spring of 1837 then being quite a young man, he opened a school in a log cabin at the west end of town where he for some time daily imparted to a merry group of boys and girls, the rudiments of an English education. That was over thirty years ago, and only a few of the boys and girls who were schoolmates in that primitive log school house still linger among the fathers and mothers of Mt. Pleasant.  But the schoolmaster still knows the home of his early usefulness.  

When the asylum was built, Henry Winslow was employed to superintend the building, which was commenced in October, 1855. The first patient was admitted February 27, 1861. In 1861, the building was complete and furnished. It now contains nearly 400 patients. The state has expended over $100,000 upon the _____ and making improvements upon the grounds connected therewith.  

The building is of the Elizabethan order of architecture, and of a quadrangular form. The central portion is four stories high and the wings, three stories above the basements. The walls are solid cut stone masonry, surrounding an inner lining of brick. The central building is surrounded by a tower, the top of which is 1000 feet from the ground. A smaller tower of cupola surrounds each of the wings. These cupolas rise 90 feet above the ground. At the extreme ends of the ______ wings are return wings, each 101 feet deep by forty wide. A central wing extends from the rear of the central building 110 feet deep and three stories high. The central building is 90 x 70 feet. The whole building contains 125 rooms exclusive of those in the basement. It has 1160 windows, 600 doors, and 120 square feet of galvanized sheet iron in the roof. In the basement, there is a railroad with iron rail one/eighth of a mile in length upon which a hand car is used in carrying food from the central kitchen to dumb waiters beneath all the dining rooms. The whole building is warmed by steam and all the machinery for ventilation, elevating water, washing, etc., is driven by steam. Hot and cold water is carried to every part through galvanized iron pipes. About 12 miles of this pipe is used. Ventilation is produced by means of a rotary fan 15 feet in diameter which is operated by steam. The building is now about lighted with gas.  

The hospital farm contains 178 acres of good land, nearly one half of which is sparsely timbered. The balance is rolling prairie. It is situated immediately southeast of the city limits. Mark Ranney, M.D. is the present superintendent.


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