Rochester State Hospital

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Rochester State Hospital
Rochester State Hospital
Established 1878
Construction Began 1877
Construction Ended 1884
Opened January 1879
Closed June 1982
Demolished 1964 (Kirkbride)
Current Status Closed
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Location Rochester, MN
Peak Patient Population 1,700 in 1955
Alternate Names
  • Second Minnesota Hospital for the Insane


By a special law passed by the Legislature of 1873 and amended in 1874 a tax of $10 on all liquor dealers was assessed to raise a fund for the establishment of a state inebriate asylum which, when completed, was to be maintained by a continuation of the same tax. As soon as a sufficient fund was accumulated the Inebriate Asylum Board purchased a farm of 160 acres, within a mile and a half of the City of Rochester, for $9000, secured plans and began building in 1877. Strong opposition was raised by liquor dealers against this tax as discriminating and unjust. Test cases were tried in the courts and the constitutionality of the law was sustained. At the same time it became apparent and was admitted generally that additional room was much more urgently needed for the care of the rapidly increasing insane of the state than for the care of inebriates. The Legislature of 1878, in view of this and of the determined opposition to an inebriate asylum to be built and maintained on such a plan, repealed the act levying the tax and changed the inebriate asylum to the Second Minnesota Hospital for Insane, which title was later changed to the Rochester State Hospital (in 1883), with the proviso, however, that inebriates should be admitted and cared for and treated at the expense of the state on the same basis as the insane. Accordingly a separate ward was maintained for inebriates until the department was abolished by the Legislature in 1897.

The building was in an unfinished condition, and consisted of a center and small east wing, then only under roof, without inside finish, and without outbuildings, such as laundry and engine house. When the trustees examined the property they recognized its unfitness for the purposes of an insane hospital and the fact that it would necessarily require many changes to adapt it to this new use. Owing to these objections they hesitated to accept the transfer; but the urgency for room was so great they reluctantly concluded to do the best they could with it. An appropriation of $15,000 accompanied the transfer as a fund to be used to prepare the building for the accommodation of patients. This was in the summer of 1878.

Dr. J. E. Bowers, with over 10 years' experience as first assistant physician at St. Peter, was elected superintendent, and the Rev. A. H. Kerr, who had been a trustee from the beginning of the St. Peter Hospital, was chosen steward. On January 1, 1879, the institution was opened for the reception of patients. Transfers were made from St. Peter and new cases were admitted, and accommodations for 100 men were soon filled.

The Legislature of 1880 granted $20,000 for the erection of a wing on the west side for women. This was erected in the summer of 1880, and was ready for the furniture and heating apparatus when a disastrous fire occurred at St. Peter. Money for furnishing and heating was immediately provided. The building was hastily completed, and furnished room for over 100 women, who were transferred to relieve the crowded condition of the first hospital. In 1882 a large extension was built on the men's side, accommodating 200 patients, and costing when furnished $76,000. In 1883 and 1884 a similar wing was built on the west side for women, costing when furnished $83,000, thus completing the original design of the main structure, with a capacity for 600 patients. The building of a detached ward for women, authorized by the Legislature of 1887, was completed and accepted for occupancy on the 12th of February, 1890.

A modern power plant was constructed in 1916. Within the past few years a home for women nurses has been built and a club house for the men nurses is planned. The Legislature of 1909 appropriated $55,000 for the detention hospital and at the same time passed a voluntary commitment act. Into this building all the new patients are received. The hospital estate contains 1720 acres. The total number of inmates remaining in the hospital in January, 1914, was 602 men and 519 women.[1]

Treatment of mental diseases at the hospital before the 1920s consisted mainly of keeping patients occupied with work and recreation, and restraining violent patients. Many patients worked on the hospital’s 500-acre farm. Plays, concerts, and dances were put on for recreational purposes. In the late 1940s insulin and electroshock treatments were common, and in the 1950s lobotomies were used on some patients. Throughout the hospital’s history the use of drugs became more extensive. The hospital served as a surgical center for many of the other state institutions, as well as for Rochester State Hospital. The Mayo Clinic provided doctors free of charge, and the hospital absorbed the cost of supplies.

A major reconstruction program, begun in 1948, included the construction of two geriatric buildings, a powerhouse, and eleven staff houses.[2] The hospital’s campus continued to change as well. After World War II, there was an influx of geriatric patients. From 100 patients in 1879 the hospital grew to over 1,000 patients by 1900, and there were over 1,700 patients in 1955. With the old Kirkbride building unable to accommodate them, a major construction program began in 1948. By 1964, newer buildings served most of the patients and the Kirkbride structures were torn down. In 1965, the City of Rochester purchased 212 acres of the hospital’s farm land and turned it into Quarry Hill Park.

In the late 1970s, as the economy declined, the treatment of mental illness moved from state institutions to community-based facilities. In 1981, the Minnesota Legislature ordered Rochester to close as a cost-saving measure, triggering a state-wide controversy. Hospital staff and community members expressed concern that the closure would traumatize patients and damage the local economy. Unlike other state hospitals, which received patients through court orders, Rochester admitted a majority of its patients voluntarily. Patient advocates feared that closing the hospital would hurt those who sought help willingly. Despite these objections, the hospital closed in June 1982.

The Federal Medical Center, a prison for inmates with medical problems, was built on the hospital’s grounds in 1984. The prison used some of the detached hospital buildings but demolished others to allow for new construction. The center provides specialized and long-term physical and mental health medical care to male offenders.

Images of Rochester State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Rochester State Hospital


Just north of the former State Hospital, 2,019 residents of the State Hospital were laid to rest between 1886 and 1965 in unmarked graves or graves only indicated by numbers stamped into concrete markers molded from coffee cans. After the hospital closure in 1982 a portion of the state hospital land was acquired by the city of Rochester and is now Quarry Hill Nature Center. When the city became responsible for mowing the old cemetery grounds, the cement grave markers wreaked havoc on their mowers and many of the markers were thrown into the nearby woods. The cemetery is now part of the Quarry Hills Nature Center. Website with cemetery info & names