Montevue Asylum

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Montevue Asylum
Opened 1832/1870
Closed 1987
Demolished 1987
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Alternate Names
  • Frederick County Almshouse
  • Montevue Home


In 1870, the Montevue Asylum was built to care for the mentally ill and homeless and included a hospital. A Tramp House was located behind it where as many as 600 people per month were housed, many transients. That building in 1934 was renovated to create the Emergency Hospital, and 20 years later it became the Frederick County Chronic Hospital accommodating 22 patients. In 1959, the facility was renamed Montevue Home to house the aged and indigent. In 1884 the state health department lauded the asylum as a model institution which brought credit upon the county. Early Lunacy Commission annual reports also praised the conditions at Montevue as being exemplary. Yet by the mid-1890s, even a Frederick County grand jury suggested that the conditions could be improved for some of its patients. Reflecting the segregationist thought that often pervaded Progressive thinking it noted: "The enlargement of an adjoining building for the confinement and care of the Colored portion of inmates would in our opinion be of great advantage to the institution." Montevue accepted, along with payment from other counties, insane African Americans from throughout Maryland. Chronic overcrowding of black patients at this institution had been noted within the commission's annual report since 1895. It appears that a string of county commissioners viewed Montevue as the means to build up county coffers. Only the Frederick County commissioners steadfastly refused to endorse the concept of state care.

The Montevue photographs contained in the 23rd Annual Report of the Maryland Lunacy Commission built the strongest case for abolishing the system of county care. Commission members had made five visits to Montevue in the space of several months, the most of any such institution, carefully seeking out the most incriminating images. A series of photographs produced in January of 1909, taken with flash equipment, came as a result of a surprise night time inspection by Dr. Arthur Herring, Commission Secretary.[1]

By 1930, the purpose of Montevue Hospital shifted. In 1913, the problem of the overcrowded hospital was partially relieved with the opening of the Springfield State Hospital and the Crownsville State Hospital. The insane residents were sent to both facilities: the white residents were taken to Springfield and the African-American residents were taken to Crownsville). The New Deal era saw a number of laws passed concerning government social services, with work agencies and short-time prison sentences reducing the number of vagrants. Social agencies and institutions reduced the number of children staying at the almshouse. A new law set a maximum ninety days for a child staying at the almshouse. Relief agencies, pension plans, or private hospitals took care of the "respectable aged poor". Montevue Hospital continued to provide shelter for transients, the elderly poor, and those in need of medical care, especially African-Americans.

Montevue's farm and the medical facilities were de-emphasized in the latter half of the twentieth century. During the early 1960s, Frederick County changed the roles of many of the outbuildings and began constructing non-almshouse-related buildings on the property. For example, the old Bake House/Meat House was rehabilitated into the County's animal testing laboratory. By 1984, the almshouse had stopped consuming food from the farm, though local fanners continued to rent the land. During the 1980s, the Frederick County Commissioners estimated that the cost of a new building would be less than maintenance of the old almshouse. The commissioners voted to construct a new home north of the old institution on former almshouse farmland. In 1987, the Montevue Hospital building (1870) was demolished and the residents moved to the new Montevue Home. Since that time, the County has continued to build a number of new government-related buildings on the former Montevue property.

The name Montevue is continued with a Frederick County owned assisted living facility, the current building constructed in 1987.[2]

Images of Montevue Asylum[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Montevue Asylum