Proposal with Annotated Bibliography


This project will examine the fates of various historic asylums following deinstitutionalization and moving into the twenty-first century, with the goal of answering two fundamental questions. The first question is, quite simply, what became of these structures. There are a few common trends that will be discussed, including some asylums continuing for the majority of the period following deinstitutionalization to serve their original functions as a way of providing some form of mental health care, some being abandoned and/or destroyed, and some being repurposed for private use (museum use being the most common result here). The second question that will be answered is what the popular perception of these different historic structures has become over time. For many that have been abandoned, there is a desire to record and preserve them for both their historic and architectural value, and, for some, most reactions to them feed into the “haunted asylum” trope, with ghost hunting being a popular activity. For those that remained in use as psychiatric hospitals into the twenty-first century, many have more recently shut down due to concerns that them being outdated and difficult to maintain has led to safety issues for both staff and patients. 

There are a few select former asylums that will be examined in order to understand a variety of paths they may take, as well as a few sources that look at historic asylums after deinstitutionalization more broadly. The specific ones that will serve as case studies will be the following: St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, Western State Hospital and Dejarnette Center for Human Development in Staunton, Virginia, Fulton State Hospital in Missouri, Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg (this will include discussion of the version owned by Colonial Williamsburg, the abandoned former complex, and the version that remains functional today), Allentown State Hospital in Pennsylvania, and Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania. 

This project will take the form of a digitally enhanced essay. Images of the different historic asylums at various points – when in use in the past, when in use more recently, following being abandoned, etc. – will be used to compare how they have changed overtime. Video clips will also be utilized in order to provide a demonstration and better understanding of different reactions that people have to these spaces. 


Antiquity Echoes. “Demolition of Allentown State Hospital.” Youtube Video, 4:37. January 10, 2021. 

This video shows the process of Allentown State Hospital’s demolition. It will be used primarily to include clips of the demolition as part of the digital component of the project, although it can also be used to provide insight to what groups were upset about the demolition of the hospital and why they felt that way, particularly through the lengthy discussion of the demolition in the video description. 

Beitiks, Emily Smith. “The Ghosts of Institutionalization at Pennhurst’s Haunted Asylum.” Hastings Center Report, 42, no. 1 (January/February 2012): 22-24. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This is a secondary source discussing Pennhurst Asylum. It provides a brief history of the institution but the bulk of the article is about a dispute over what would happen to the abandoned asylum following it being shut down. The Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance intended for it to be made into a museum, meanwhile the property was purchased from the state by a businessman who eventually planned to turn it into a haunted house. This article will serve the purpose of exemplifying two different views on abandoned asylums – seeing them as a historic site to be preserved or as a “haunted asylum” attraction – as well as to provide an interesting look at the legal situation behind what happens to these buildings when owned by the state. 

Bresswein, Kurt. “Here’s a look at the Allentown State Hospital demolition, and what’s next (PHOTOS).” Lehigh Valley Live, December 24, 2020. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This source is a local newspaper’s coverage of the destruction of Allentown State Hospital. It discusses the process of decision making that resulted in its destruction and makes brief mention to what the property will be used for moving forward. Most significantly, it includes a collection of photos of the hospital both prior to and during its destruction. These will be used in the digital component of the project as a demonstration of how the physical appearances of asylums following their being abandoned have changed. This also, albeit to a lesser extent, shows the kinds of ‘tributes’ that would be made to these buildings upon their destruction. 

Cauvin, Henri E. “D.C. celebrates building opening at St. Elizabeths.” The Washington Post, April 23, 2010. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This Washington Post article covers the 2010 move of St. Elizabeths out of its historic home into a newer, updated hospital. Beginning even in the title, it takes on a very celebratory tone and moving into the new building is portrayed as a positive way of improving and innovating the care that the hospital can provide. The old building, on the other hand, is associated with outdated care and a number of long withstanding concerns about the treatment of patients. This will be used as an example of a former asylum that retained its original usage and what problems would ultimately develop. 

Cole, Jessica. “Forgotten Asylums; A Solemn History of Mental Health.” Abandoned Country, March 13, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This blog post discusses the histories of the destroyed Eastern State Hospital and abandoned Western State Lunatic Asylum in Virginia, particularly the negative legacies of each of them in popular memory. It also includes a number of images – historic and more recently – of each of them. The blog post itself will be used as an example of popular opinion to understand more recent views on these buildings and the images will be used as demonstrations of how they have physically changed overtime. 

“Eastern State Hospital.” Department of Behavioural Health and Development Services, accessed September 25, 2023. 

This is the homepage of the current Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg’s website. It includes a summary of its history, connecting it to the legacy of the original Eastern State Hospital built in 1773, despite having changed locations multiple times. This source will be used alongside those regarding the Eastern State Hospital owned and managed by Colonial Williamsburg and the Eastern State Hospital that is now abandoned to have a more complete understanding of the complex history of Eastern State Hospital and its numerous homes, and the difference in attitude towards each of these variations. 

Exploring With Josh. “Exploring World’s Most Haunted Asylum | Terrifying Experience.” Youtube Video, 1:00:48. October 31, 2020. 

This video explores Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania. Pennhurst overall is remembered slightly differently from other asylums; while the haunted asylum trope is very common, Pennhurst itself as seen in the secondary source on the asylum leans into the trope more than the others being examined. That is reflected in this video, where the focus is on the asylum being haunted and scary to visit. As well as being used for visuals of the interior and exterior of the asylum, this video portrays another reaction that many have to the buildings of historic asylums. 

Exploring With Josh. “Our Return To World’s Most Haunted Asylum (Gone Wrong).” Youtube Video, 1:09:37. September 11, 2022. 

This video is the sequel to the previous video visiting Pennhurst Asylum; it elaborates on the former’s application of the haunted asylum trope and reflects one example of the type of reaction one might have to former asylums. It will be used for visuals and for a real life application of what was described in Beitiks’s article.

“Historic Site: The Public Hospital of 1773.”, accessed September 11, 2023. 

This is Colonial Williamsburg’s webpage for the former Eastern State Hospital, referred to by Williamsburg as “The Public Hospital.” The Public Hospital will serve as an example of a structure that was made into a museum in order to preserve its history. This webpage as well as the attached video and list of events made by Williamsburg will be used to understand how Colonial Williamsburg has conceptualized and portrayed the space and its history. It should be noted that the original Eastern State Hospital does not currently stand and there have been numerous recreations and relocations of the hospital; this version possessed by Colonial Williamsburg will also be compared to the other two currently existing versions – the currently functioning Eastern State Hospital and the nearby abandoned Eastern State Hospital. 

Holley, Joe. “Tussle Over St. Elizabeths.” The Washington Post, June 17, 2007. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This article reflects on the dispute over what should have become of the dilapidated St. Elizabeths hospital once it was no longer used to provide care. It expresses concerns about how the building is no longer suited to its original purpose and that required renovations are too extensive for a private investor, as well as complicated feelings surrounding it being repurposed due to its historical significance. This source will be used to provide an example of the fate of former asylums that are not abandoned as well as the climate surrounding their preservation and continued use. 

Howard, Chris. “The Abandoned Eastern State Hospital – Williamsburg, Va.” Youtube Video, 2:30. January 31, 2022. 

This is a video of drone footage capturing the exterior of the abandoned Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia (note that this is not the original building; it has at various times been rebuilt and relocated and this is one of the relocated fascilities). It depicts the overgrown plants, graffiti, and decay that have impacted the building since it was abandoned. This will be used to provide imagery of the hospital as well as insight to the more unusual circumstances surrounding the physical structures of the Eastern State Hospital that come to light alongside the other sources on the institution. 

Lael, Richard L., Barbara Brazos, and Margot Ford McMillen. Evolution of a Missouri Asylum : Fulton State Hospital, 1851-2006. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This book summarizes the history of Fulton State Hospital in Missouri up until 2006. This is an example of a facility that continued to be used for its original purpose for a considerable length of time following deinstitutionalization. Chapters fourteen through sixteen will be used to understand this period and the ways that the hospital evolved and struggled to adapt to new ideas about care due to its outdated home. 

Lam, May-Ying. “New Life For Our Oldest Federal Psychiatric Facility.” NPR, May 3, 2010. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This article was written reflecting on a visit to St. Elizabeths in Washington, DC, following it being announced that it would be repurposed for the Department of Homeland Security. While the media attachment documenting the building in its pre-renovation state is unfortunately no longer available, the account itself serves as an example of the concerns about historic preservation that frequently are expressed regarding former asylums being destroyed or repurposed. 

McNair, Dave. “ONARCHITECTURE- Erasing history: Wrecking ball aiming for DeJarnette?” The Hook 528. (July 2006). Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This news article discusses the impending destruction of the Dejarnette Center for Human Development, an affiliate with Western State Hospital in Staunton built in 1932. This article portrays conflicted feelings on the structure; there is a sense of it being a creepy, unfortunate reminder of an unpleasant past, but the bulk of the article is dedicated to community distress that more hasn’t been done to preserve the institution and make sure that it is remembered not just in spite of but because of its past. The article also has attached a number of community comments that provide valuable insight to public opinion on both the Dejarnette Center more broadly and intentions to destroy it. 

Moe, Richard. “A Disaster for St. Elizabeths.” The Washington Post, January 8, 2009. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This Washington Post article addresses concerns about St. Elizabeths being moved to a new location and the original buildings being repurposed for the Department of Homeland Security, written by the president of the National Trust of Historic Preservation. Moe expresses both past concerns about the integrity of St. Elizabeths due to neglect and current concerns about what renovation plans will mean for the original structure, as well as what he wishes to be done to avoid some of these foreseen issues. This source will be used as further example of the historic preservation concerns that exist regarding historic asylums as they become less suited to their original purpose. 

Muschick, Paul. “Paul Muschick: Allentown State Hospital is gone, but its place in history will be preserved.” The Morning Call, December 23, 2020. Accessed September 11, 2023.

This article from a local newsource reflects on the demolition of Allentown State Hospital and subsequent efforts to memorialize it. These efforts include a proposed historic marker at the former location of the hospital. The article also expresses popular disappointment that further efforts were not made to save the former hospital from destruction. This will serve as an example of what might happen regarding a historic asylum following its destruction, as well as a source of more images for the digital project. 

Otto, Thomas. “St. Elizabeths Hospital: A History.” Washington, DC: United States General Services Administration, 2013. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This book recounts the history of St. Elizabeths in Washington, DC. Interestingly, the preface mentions that it was written with the goal of aiding in interpreting the historic spaces in their future uses. The history recounted includes the process of the hospital being acquired by the state in the second half of the twentieth century. This source will be used alongside those detailing the hospital being repurposed for the Department of Homeland Security in order to better understand how the history of the hospital influenced feelings about its legacy in the twenty-first century. 

Nelson, Alisa. “‘Finest Mental Hospital in U.S.’ Unveiled in Missouri.” Missourinet, May 23, 2019. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This Missouri news article covers plans to replace the at the time 168 year old Fulton State Hospital with a new, modern complex. It additionally outlines some of the issues that have arisen with the original structure due to its age, including primarily gloomy and dangerous living conditions that have caused difficulties for both patients and employees. This will be used alongside the secondary source on the history of the Fulton State Hospital up until 2006 to understand eventual problems that arise with historic asylums that have continued to be used for their original purpose. 

Paulson, George W. “Closing the Asylums : Causes and Consequences of the Deinstitutionalization Movement.” Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 2012. 

This is a book on the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals more broadly. It includes an analysis of how a number of different aspects of mental health care were impacted by this change, including medicine, attitudes towards disability and care, and the emphasis on rural settings. This source will primarily be used to provide a broader background on deinstitutionalization; however, the section on building obsolescence is of particular interest and it will provide insight to situations following deinstitutionalization that might not be covered by the specific examples of former asylums being studied


The Proper People. “Exploring the Abandoned Allentown State Hospital – Amazing Asylum Architecture!” Youtube Video, 37:23. October 16, 2020. 

This video depicts an exploration of Allentown State Hospital not long before its demolition. It is an excellent resource for visuals of the interior of the hospital, but it additionally provides an attitude towards the building and motivation for opposing its destruction different from those seen in most other sources. The videographers are interested in the building as an example of a unique type of historic architecture, not just for the history of the building itself, which sets it apart. The video will therefore be used to demonstrate that perspective. 

Reischman, Collin. “In-depth: Inside of the deteriorating Fulton State Hospital.” The Missouri Times, August 26, 2013. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

This local article discusses Fulton State Hospital prior to it being decided that patients were to move into an updated, modern structure. The primary argument of the article is that employees and affiliated decision makers agree that the historic building it resided in at the time was ill suited to treatment and recovery. The article is very descriptive and expresses both safety concerns regarding the building but also makes it clear that the atmosphere itself is far from therapeutic, repeatedly describing different aspects as unsettling and scary. This article will be used to understand the perspective on historic asylums held by employees and to add to the body of works on Fulton State Hospital specifically.

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