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A VISIT TO MT. PLEASANT ASYLUM 1871
FROM MT. PLEASANT
Correspondence of the Enterprise
MT. PLEASANT, March 21.
It is a fact that at least one half of the pleasure derived from traveling, is the enjoyment of communicating and describing to others what the individual himself has seen or heard. Therefore, friends, pardon me if we are a little prosy and tiresome-possibly a little egotistical-in telling you of our "overland trip" from Birmingham to Mt. Pleasant, and also what we saw in this pleasant town after our arrival.
On the morning appointed for starting we were almost discouraged at finding the skies clouded with dark, dreary banks of clouds, entirely obscuring the sun; and the wind, chilly and penetrating, whistling around and above us with a telling force, and seemed to gain a new impetus at ever stride, so that when taking a prospectus of our situation, we almost involuntarily shoved our hands to the very depths of our "trowsers" pockets, with a cold shiver shooting through every joint and fiber in our bodies, and our teeth chattering like "rattle boxes."
Nevertheless, in the face of all these, we determined to try it at all hazards, bearing in mind the old and tried maxim that 'where there is a will there is a way." Accordingly in a short time we were comfortably ensconsed [sic] in our conveyance, beneath thick, heavy overcoats and robes, ready for our thirty miles drive. With a flourish of the whip and a word to our noble team, we were off, thinking that after all it was not so cold as we had thought.
The first ten miles passed off pleasantly enough, the roads being in fine order and our team fresh. The fields and meadows along the roadside were quite green, and along in the afternoon the sun came out bright and warm, and many a pretty rural landscape did we meet with, making our journey now very pleasant and interesting. Soon we came to the far-famed Skunk River, which we crossed on a ferry, it being higher than usual on account of the heavy rains of late. We learned from one of the "natives" here that the last State Legislature had changed the name of this river from that of Skunk to the more euphonious one of "Pole Cat"!
Here the road becomes almost intolerably muddy, and the country was rough and broken. As we sunk down into a deep mud hole, which almost seemed to have no bottom, one of the company remarked that he was not yet ready to go to China; to which came up the lively repartee, in muffled tones, from under a big overcoat-" No, and when we do go, we do not care to go by way of h--l". That, you see, shows where one man imagines he will go to when his spirit deserts this vile body.
The sun was just going down, dying the sky overhead with a deep red hue, as we came into town, and in every respect a more beautiful evening could not have been brought forth from such a raw, damp, cold and cheerless morning.
Mount Pleasant was well named, and with its 5,000 inhabitants, fine buildings, good public improvements, schools with a wide and enviable reputation, sung residences and some noble and imposing structures, it is certainly a very desirable place to live. The spring terms of most all of the schools have been commenced, and the attendance seems to be good. Mount Pleasant College opens with a good many students, both male and female, and promises a very interesting and profitable session. Besides the University, there is a High School and Ladies' Seminary devoted entirely to the education of ladies. Its public schools occupy two large and substantial brick buildings, employing something near twenty teachers. By vote of the citizens two or three years since, billiard and liquor trafficing [sic] saloons were prohibited, and in this respect it can hold its head above almost every other town in the State, or in the whole United States, either larger or smaller than itself.
An object of special interest to persons visiting this city, is the State Hospital for the Insane. It is located about a mile from town, in the center of fine commodious grounds, which are well laid off and present a pleasant appearance. It is a superior stone building in the Elizabethan style of architecture, costing $400,000. It has a front of 512 feet, an an outside circumference of half a mile. There is one mile of halls; also a railroad one-eighth of a mile long is used for carrying food from the central kitchen to the various dining rooms. The iron pipes used for distributing water and light through the building are twelve miles long. It is heated entirely by steam pipes connected with an engine in the basement. There are some 500 rooms, 1100 windows, and 200 doors. Visitors are shown through a part of the institution every day between the hours of two and four o'clock P.M. Only the miler and more racional [sic] inmates are to be seen, consequently a visitor can learn but little of the afflictions and the afflicted that are provided for here.
We were struck with the perfect neatness, order and cleanliness of everything. The walls are of a pure white, and the floors polished till they fairly glisten and reflect your image. The inmates were engaged at various occupations although we think a majority were doing nothing but sitting still. Some were reading books and newspapers and others were talking out loud to themselves, about such subjects as possibly may have been the cause of their insanity and that still engaged their minds. It was generally some incantation that they go over a hundred times a day, and the utterance is so indistinct that one can gather nothing from it.
The kitchen and cooking department in the cellar, is really a sight, and the eyes of lady visitors generally open pretty wide when conducted through this part. The water is boiled and steam furnished by the engine.
From the main tower, rising high above the building, is obtained about as comprehensive a view as we ever saw. it gives a perfect bird's eye view of Mt. Pleasant and the surrounding country for many miles. We noticed a train coming into Mt. Pleasant several miles off. It seemed as small as a lumber wagon, and it was difficult to notice any motion at all, although it was undoubtedly going at a good speed.
In front of the Hospital is a large reservoir that holds water for the use of the inmates. There are about 450 inmates at present.
One knows comparatively little of the suffering and afflictions in this world until a visit is made to one of these public hospitals. And we may truly say that they are only the index to what we will find all over the world, if we are only observing.
- Birmingham Enterprise; Birmingham, Van Buren, Iowa; Saturday, April 1, 1871
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