Wood County Asylum

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Wood County Asylum
Established 1896
Construction Began 1910
Opened 1911
Closed 1974
Demolished 2006
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Single Building
Location Marshfield, WI
Architecture Style Astylistic Utilitarian
Alternate Names
  • Wood County Asylum for Chronic Insane
  • Wood County Hospital
  • Norwood Health Center


Norwood Health Center got its beginning in 1909 when the Wood County Board passed a resolution to build a "County Insane Asylum" at a cost not to exceed $130,000. After reviewing several sites, the County Board approved a site in Marshfield. The city's newspaper announced with pride that Marshfield was indeed fortunate to be awarded the site. The site, located along County Highway A, adjacent to the current industrial park, was awarded "due largely to the fact that it is located on two lines of railroad..." The Marshfield News, November 25, 1909. It included 640 acres of prime farm land. Work began on the County Asylum on June 10, 1910 and was completed the following year.

Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Gilson were appointed the first Superintendent and Assistant. The building, which had a capacity of 250 mental patients, was staffed with 19 employees. Much of the care in the early days could be viewed as "protective" in nature. In addition, "work therapy" was utilized to a great extent as psychiatric medicines had yet to be developed. Many patients were expected to work at the facility performing daily farm chores. They were not paid. Over the years, this farm became one of the more respected operations in the county.

As the field of mental health progressed, psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses became more prominent caregivers. As such, the name of the "Wood County Asylum" was changed to "Wood County Hospital" in 1938. The number of patients cared for at the facility remained relatively stable for the first fifty to sixty years. Many were transported via the railroads from other counties who did not have a county hospital.

In the late 1960's a significant change in the way county hospitals could operate occurred. Laws were enacted which forbade using patients of mental hospitals to perform free labor. Thus, the economics of the farm operations became less financially viable. "Farmwork" was no longer a recognized form of therapy. More energy was put into treating the mentally ill with medicine and talk therapy. This led to patients being discharged back to homes much quicker and the eventual demise of the county operated farm.

By 1972, the hospital's original capacity of 250 patients was only being utilized at about 50%. In addition, the main treatment building was quickly becoming outdated and in need of replacement. A decision was made to build a new facility which would allow more community integration of the patients.

In 1972 the current site at 1600 North Chestnut Avenue was chosen as the site for the new Norwood Health Center, Fears for the danger mental patients posed to community members were eventually allayed. On March 25, 1974, approximately 100 patients, and their belongings were moved into Norwood Health Center.

The year 1974 also brought about changes in licensing requirements for people being treated in facilities such as Norwood Health Center. Previously, Norwood was licensed as a County Mental Hospital. Patients came to Norwood with diagnoses of Mental Illness, Mental Retardation, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse. This was subsequently changed to segregate the disabilities into different licenses. Thus, Norwood Health Center became licensed as a Specialty Psychiatric Hospital and Nursing Home.

In 1988, the licensure of the facility would change again to include a special license for the treatment of adults with developmental disabilities. Currently, services are provided primarily to Wood County residents in need of short term emergency Mental Health care, as well as long term care for the Chronically Mentally Ill, and Developmentally Disabled, In addition, surrounding counties refer patients for the services provided at Norwood.

The facility continues to be owned by Wood County and employs about 140 full and part time staff. The original property is now privately owned.