State Hospital for Inebriates

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State Hospital for Inebriates
Construction Began 1891
Opened 1902
Closed 1920
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Knoxville, IA
Alternate Names
  • Industrial Home for the Adult Blind at Knoxville
  • Knoxville VA Clinic


Although this is a state institution, it is located at Knoxville and its history constitutes a part of that of Marion County. In 1888 the Legislature made an appropriation of $1,000 and appointed commissioners to investigate and report on the best method of furnishing employment to the adult blind within the State of Iowa. Upon the reception of their report the Legislature passed an act, which was approved by the governor on April 23, 1890, appropriating $40,000 to build and equip an “Industrial Home for the Blind,” with a capacity of 200 inmates. Half the appropriation was to be expended on workshops and a steam heating plant; $4,000 for a men’s building and a similar sum for a women’s building, the remainder to be used as the commissioners might elect. The act also authorized the governor to appoint five commissioners, one of whom should be a woman, to select a location and erect the buildings.

It was also provided in the act that the commissioners might purchase a site, in case a suitable one was not donated by some county or city that wanted the institution. The people of Knoxville became interested and offered the commissioners fifty acres of land, which was accepted and the Industrial Home for the Blind was opened on January 1, 1892, with F. S. Whiting as superintendent. The first board of trustees consisted of J. H. Nichols, L. T. Richmond, John R. Elliott, Miss Lorana Mattice, John Killen and Robert Colbert. The first three as above named were president, secretary and treasurer of the board, respectively.

Mr. Whiting was succeeded as superintendents by M. C. Gebhart, who served until 1896, when Cambridge Culbertson, of Knoxville, was appointed and held the position until the institution was abandoned in 1900. During the time the home was in existence its inmates made brooms, hammocks, cane chair seats, bead work and some other articles. The institution was intended as a home for such adult blind as were able to work at some occupation, but the opinion became prevalent that it was intended for all the adult blind, without regard to whether they were workers or not, and this may have had some influence upon the situation that led to the discontinuance of the home by the state.

By the act of the Legislature, approved on April 12, 1902, it was provided that “dipsomaniacs, inebriates and persons addicted to the excessive use of narcotics” might be treated in one or more of the insane hospitals of the state. After trying this plan for about two years the state decided, through the Legislature, to convert the abandoned home for the blind into a hospital for such cases. Accordingly, on April 6, 1904, Governor Cummins approved an act, the first section of which is as follows:

The Industrial Home for the Adult Blind at Knoxville shall hereafter be called the State Hospital for Inebriates and shall be used for the detention care and treatment of all male dipsomaniacs, inebriates, and persons addicted tot he excessive use of morphine, cocaine or other narcotic drugs.”

An appropriation of $125,000 was made for the purchase of additional land, domestic animals, tools, implements, etc., and before the summer was over the new institution was opened for the reception of patients. Since then 300 acres of land adjoining the original site have been purchased, giving the hospital a tract of 350 acres immediately outside the city limits of Knoxville to the northwest. Additional buildings have been erected, an artesian well drilled, and in 1914 a large clay working industry was established. At the time the institution was discontinued as the Industrial Home for the Adult Blind it had thirty-seven inmates, who were returned to the counties from which they had been admitted at the expense of the state. At the beginning of the year 1915 the number of inmates in the Inebriate Hospital was 187, with Dr. George Donahoe in charge as superintendent. About that time Doctor Donahoe was appointed superintendent of the Cherokee State Hospital and was succeeded in the Knoxville institution by Doctor Mackin.[1]

As the inmates of the Hospital would escape and cause the townspeople a lot of grief, Knoxville residents soon had the Hospital closed. On August 21, 1920, the buildings were reopened as a hospital for disabled veterans. It had a 171 bed capacity with 125 of the beds filled immediately. In 1922, the federal government purchased the 345 acres, buildings, and greenhouse for $200,000 from the State of Iowa to open a hospital under the Veterans Administration. At the close of 2009, much of the VA hospital was being merged with the Des Moines location. A community-based, out-patient clinic still remains.