St. Peter State Hospital
|St. Peter State Hospital|
|Building Style||Kirkbride Plan (Mostly Demolished)|
|Location||St. Peter, Minnesota|
The St. Peter State Hospital began in March 1866 when the Minnesota State Legislature responded to the need for an asylum by passing "an act for the establishment and location of a hospital for the insane in the state of Minnesota, and to provide for the regulation of the same." The act also created a board of trustees and appointed six commissioners responsible for recommending a permanent location for the state's hospital. A number of Minnesota communities vied for the facility and each claimed to be the most attractive village. However, on 1 July 1866, the commissioners made their recommendation. They opted for St. Peter as the permanent site. Citizens of that community purchased a 210 acre farm for $7,000 which was given to the state for the purpose. Shortly after the commission's report was filed, the board of trustees purchased the Ewing house in St. Peter for temporary use until construction was completed on the permanent hospital. The board of trustees estimated that the refurbished Ewing house with accommodations for fifty patients would exceed the state's demands for years.
The Minnesota State Hospital for Insane accepted its first patient on 6 December 1866 and received more patients from Iowa on 28 December. In its first annual report to the governor, the board referred to the problem that would reoccur in the hospital's history for over the next 100 years. The original estimates of the board had proven incorrect as overcrowding had become the foremost problem two months after the hospital opened. In the spring of 1867, after a reorganization of the board of trustees, construction began on a temporary frame building adjacent to the Ewing property and when completed would house an additional fifty patients. In 1867, the board adopted the "Linear Plan" for the permanent hospital consisting of a center building with attached sections.
During the following ten years, construction proceeded on the permanent hospital while the board reluctantly expanded the accommodations of the temporary hospital to relieve the problem related to the increasing patient population. By 1876, construction ended. The new facility was capable of accommodating 500 patients and the valuation of the property was placed at $563,251.69. Because of the increasing number of patients, the hospital needed to continue operating the temporary buildings even though they needed extensive remodeling.
The problem of overcrowding was exacerbated in by a disaster on 15 November 1880 when fire destroyed the hospital's north wing before being contained. There was no insurance to cover the loss, and officials voiced concern over the possibility of another disaster. In response, the board recommended fireproofing the entire complex by replacing gas lights for electric lights and abandoning the temporary wood buildings.
Throughout the 1880s the hospital expanded. The north wing was rebuilt, two detached structures were erected to the north and south of the main facility, tunnels were built beneath the complex for the distribution of food, and a piggery, corn crib, and greenhouse were built. By 1892, the hospital's farm had expanded from the initial size to 810 acres, and numerous patients helped work the land. Besides providing food and employment opportunities, the farm was an economic necessity. Produce raised by patients and staff lowered the institution's food costs. However, the building projects had little effect in abating the institution's overcrowding by 1896. In response to similar conditions at the State Hospitals in Rochester and Fergus Falls, two new hospitals opened in Hastings and Anoka, Minnesota.
In 1906, the Board of Control, the new body of directors, recommended that patients considered dangerous or criminally insane be placed in a separate building located near one of the mental institutions where they could be given proper care. Legislators agreed and appropriated funds for a facility in St. Peter. By the spring of 1911, four separate institutions existed on the St. Peter campus: the mental hospital, the detention hospital, the hospital for tuberculosis insane, and the newly completed hospital for the criminally insane.
World War I necessitated stringent economic measures. Reductions in food, clothing, and other supplies mean that only the immediate needs of the patients could be satisfied. Inflation and a shortage of labor also affected the hospital, and in 1918, the influenza epidemic caused the death of thirty-two patients and one employee severely impacted the institution's population.
The postwar period brought prosperity, expansion, and new methods of treatment. Even the Great Depression had little negative impact on the institution because the Works Progress Administration provided funds for construction of a needed addition to the hospital's facilities. By the summer of 1939, the Board of Control was abolished and the Division of Public Institutions was created. This division within the Department of Social Security was responsible for the administration of the state's institutions while the remaining duties of the Board of Control were transferred to the Department of Social Welfare. After World War II, the institution continued to expand its facilities and enlarge its staff. By 1972, the St. Peter State Hospital consisted of over sixty buildings.
Images of St. Peter Hospital
Main Image Gallery: St. Peter State Hospital
The location of the earliest cemetery at the St. Peter State Hospital is not known. The cemetery had wooden crosses for markers and a prairie fire erased all landmarks in a large area and the location of the cemetery was never found. The second hospital cemetery was in what is now Resurrection Cemetery, the cemetery & land on this side of the highway was later sold by the state but the cemetery continued as a Lutheran cemetery named Resurrection Cemetery. The third cemetery is located on the grounds of the current hospital but up on top of the hill from the hospital campus. All of these graves now have monuments with names as well as their original markers with numbers.
If you are looking to visit the St. Peter State Hospital Museum, please call 507-985-2249 to schedule a tour. It is located in the administration building of what remains of the Kirkbride. Facebook page is located HERE
The following video was shot by the Minnesota Historical Society. It shows the inside of the museum and also give a view of some of the un-restored sections of the hospital.
- From the Minnesota State University, Mankato, Memorial Library, Southern Minnesota Historical Center web page