Big Spring State Hospital

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Big Spring State Hospital
Established 1937
Construction Began 1938
Opened 1939
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Big Springs, TX
Peak Patient Population 1,100
Alternate Names
  • West Texas State Hospital for the Insane


The 45th Texas Legislature authorized the construction of Big Spring State Hospital in 1937 to serve the people of the West Texas area. The city donated the 577 acres, which at the time was valued at $51,400 and philanthropist Dora Roberts guaranteed a permanent water supply. Governor James V Allred placed the facility in Big Spring because of the need for a psychiatric hospital in West Texas. Ground was broken in January 1938, and the hospital opened 18 months later in June 1939. Within six months, the hospital treated 402 patients, most of whom were transferred from other state facilities.

The original eight buildings designated as the general hospital were the administration building, including professional and administrative staff living quarters; the employees building, which included housing for direct care and clerical staff; the men's receiving hospital; the women's receiving hospital; the psychiatric hospital; the laundry; the power house; and the supply building. A railroad spur was located west of the supply building in order for the transportation and delivery of hospital supplies.

Five additional buildings were constructed on campus within the next 10 years at a cost of $778,000. Improvements to the grounds and the addition of equipment brought the total hospital investment to $1,060,571. Today, the hospital physical plant includes 25 buildings.

Big Spring State Hospital's staff also has grown since 1939. More than 100 employees originally tended to the needs of more than 400 patients. Two physicians, a social worker, psychologist, superintendent, clinical director, a storekeeper/accountant, four registered nurses, a dairyman, swinesman, yardman and about 500 attendants. Most of the employees lived on hospital property working 12-hour shifts. The pay was low, but was supplemented by free housing, meals and medical care. More than 640 employees currently work for Big Spring State Hospital, serving people in 58 counties through seven community mental health centers.

At the height of the hospital's population, more than 1,100 patients were cared for at the psychiatric hospital. During World War II, the hospital census fell to 211 patients, and buildings were closed for a short period of time. The development of active treatment programs, drug treatment, the addition of treatment modalities and the use of community-based outreach clinics, shortened hospitalization stays.

Patients attended dances, which were attended by employees, patients and Big Spring-area residents. These social events were held on the tennis courts during the summer. Movies were also shown for the patients' enjoyment, and the community provided a Christmas party each year. This tradition continues today, and is coordinated by the Community Relations Department.

The original methods of treatment for the patients were very innovative for their time and included hydrotherapy, "fever" therapy, insulin therapy, and custodial care. In 1947, electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT) came into popular use and it was added to the treatment procedures used. In the middle 50s, the census of the hospital was increasing and the hospital began to participate in the clinical investigations of the use of tranquilizing medications. When tranquilizing medication was finally accepted into general practice, many patients before seen as chronic and incurable, were released to their home communities and families and other methods of treatment such as hydrotherapy, insulin therapy, etc., were declared antiquated and taken out of use.

Big Spring State Hospital was the first Texas mental hospital to have its doors unlocked during the daylight hours. In cooperation with the local school district, it was first in the state to pilot an on-campus educational program; in 1990 it had a fully accredited school program on campus. It was the first to have a public-awareness program, specialty units for the treatment of adolescents and alcoholics, and both male and female patients in the same unit. The hospital was a pioneer in developing aftercare programs for the mentally ill. It was one of the first in the state to have an organized volunteer program. Big Spring State Hospital is financed through the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and accredited by the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Health care Organizations and Medicare.[1]



  1. History of Howard County, 1882-1982 (Big Spring, Texas: Howard County Historical Commission, 1982)


Several hundred former patients are buried in a cemetery on the hospital grounds. It is open to the public, however signing in at the administration building first is required.