Cambridge State School

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Cambridge State Hospital
Cambridge State School
Established 1919
Opened 1925
Closed 1999
Demolished 2003-2004
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Cambridge, MN
Peak Patient Population 2,008 in 1962
Alternate Names
  • Minnesota Colony for Epileptics at Cambridge
  • Cambridge State School and Hospital (1949)
  • Cambridge Regional Human Services Center (1985)


The legislature in 1919 authorized the State Board of Control to select from the public lands of the state sites for a colony for feeble-minded and a colony for epileptics. In 1923, the law was amended to permit the purchase of a site for a colony for epileptics. Land was secured at Cambridge. The first expenditure voucher under the name of the Colony for Epileptics was dated December 20, 1923, for the purchase of 323 acres of land for $37,065.00 from T.C. and Adelaide C. Blomgren. The first unit (Cottage 1), a fireproof structure, was finished in April 1925. It was built by the Askov Construction Company. Cottage 1 was described as a self-contained building for men having its own kitchen, laundry, pump and well, heating plant, refrigeration, and everything necessary for the life of the patients there. In May, a small workforce was sent from Faribault to uncrate the furnishings and prepare the buildings for occupancy. Patients were transferred in small groups by automobile beginning June 1, 1925. At the end of June, a total of 45 had been transferred. Later, with other transfers and admissions, the population was brought to a total of 61. A total workforce of only nine persons was required to conduct the institution as it was organized.

Under an appropriation of $255,000.00, a contract was awarded for erecting the Main Building. It was reported that the building would be fireproof and would contain the Administration Offices, quarters for the superintendent and other employees, a hospital adequate for the whole institution when finished, wards for epileptic children, school and industrial rooms, recreation rooms, kitchen, dining room, pantry, cold storage and power plant. The Main Building was completed and opened August 22, 1927. Construction work on Cottage 2, a unit with a capacity of 72 females, began in August 1927. It was ready for occupancy by June 1928. By this time, the capacity of the institution was 284 and the number of employees was 37. A party and dance were held in the assembly room once a week. Special occasions, such as Christmas and the patriotic holidays, were observed with appropriate exercises under the direction of the school principal and assisted by the teachers.

By September, 1935, two new Cottages (3 and 4) were erected and ready for occupancy. This brought the capacity of the institution up to 460. On October 2, 1931, eighteen acres of land was purchased from Christine Dahlsten for $2,000.00. This was located to the north of the existing campus and adjoined it. Total land was now 341 acres. Cottages 5 and 6 were completed and occupied by June 1932. A new power plant was constructed, necessitating the building of over 500 feet of service tunnel. It housed two 250-horsepower boilers with live storage for 400 tons of coal, had a smokestack 150 feet high, and was put into operation February 1932. The old boiler house at the west end of the main building was remodeled into a new laundry. Cottages 7 and 12 were completed and occupied by February, 1934. Each had a capacity of 100. This brought the capacity of the institution up to 878.

On March 30, 1936, work started on Cottages 9 and 14 which would house 230 additional patients. These buildings were opened in March 1937. This brought the capacity of the institution to 1,108. On July 26, 1937, 18 acres of land was purchased from Andrew Westberg for $1,800.00. Dr. D. E. McBroom, Superintendent, was granted a leave of absence beginning September 1, 1941, to head the Mental Health Unit. Dr. Royal C. Gray was appointed acting superintendent. The purpose of this program was to coordinate the medical and psychiatric activities of the various mental hospitals in an attempt to find an outlet for the many patients now being housed in state institutions but could get along outside, with some supervision; and to establish an “out-patient” clinic at the various hospitals.

The Biennial Report for the period ended June 30, 1946, showed 111 admissions, 27 re-admissions and 20 transfers during the past 2 years. There were 978 patients in the institution, 109 on vacation and 6 on escape, making a total population of 1,093. [A total of] 238 women and girls and 91 men and boys attended school classes at the institution. The total number of employees was 130. The total expenditure budget for the 2 years was $611,517.56, or an average of about $22.00 per month per patient. Dr. R. J. Gully was acting superintendent.

The 1949 Legislature changed the name of the institution from Minnesota Colony for Epileptics to the Cambridge State School and Hospital. A continuous research program had been in operation under the direction of Dr. Franz Hallberg and Dr. Rudolf Engle, Clinical Director. They worked with new medications for epilepsy. The Dormitory Building was completed by 1952. An addition to the power plant had also been constructed and in operation. The Dormitory was used as additional living space for employees. All employees had been required to live on the grounds from the time of the opening of the hospital until about 1945; then some were permitted to live off-grounds. All employees were subjected to a 24-hour call for duty. At times there was only one attendant on a ward for 60 patients. Each adult patient was then assigned to one child in another ward, a sort of foster mother or father arrangement. These adults would care for the child as if their own.

The 1955 Legislature authorized what was to be the last expansion in the bed capacity of the institution. A sum of $2,954,000.00 was appropriated for the construction and equipping of "a new hospital facility with a capacity of 500 beds for persons who were mentally deficient, also a necessary power plant addition." These new buildings were Boswell and McBroom Halls and were opened in 1958. This brought the bed capacity up to its peak of 2,000. The population peak of 2,008 was reached in 1962. On July 1, 1961, the Cambridge State School and Hospital was given responsibility for the management of the Lake Owasso Children's Home, located 7 miles north of the State Capitol. The facility housed 130 residents who were mentally retarded. The state had leased it from Ramsey County since 1955 to accommodate residents of the Sauk Centre Children's Home when that closed. The home had been under the management of the Faribault State School and Hospital. [1]

In 1965 the superintendent’s position was abolished and superseded by a medical director and administrator. Populations increased greatly in the 1950s and by the early 1960s the highest populations of 2,008 (approximately 12% of the total populations of residents of the state hospital system) was reached. During this era, state wide efforts were made to “humanize” living conditions in institutions as well as start rehabilitation treatments which lead to a decline in the population at Cambridge State Hospital. A lawsuit in 1972 was filed against six state hospital, including Cambridge State Hospital, for improper care, treatment, conditions and training “did not meet constitutional standards.” The lawsuit formed strict restrictions on the structure of the state hospital system, patient rights, and staff to resident ratios. The populations of Cambridge State hospital decreased by fifty percent before the lawsuit was finally settled in 1987.

Additional Information[edit]

Of the original buildings, several still stand today. Both Dellwood North and South are still used by other organizations, the Infirmary and Auditorium/Warehouse are used by M.E.T.O (Minnesota Extended Treatment Options Program), Cottage 11 “Oakview” has been renovated and is now used for office and overflow jail space, and the power plant has had the smokestack removed and is still standing. The rest of the land formerly occupied by the state hospital campus may be used for housing and a public park.



The burial area eventually grew to include five cemeteries, which occupied a plot of land behind the main buildings. The older graves are marked with stones that bear only patient numbers, as many of the patients came there without names. There are about 400 graves in the cemetery, now known as the "Garden of Remembrance". Find a Grave list of burials