Abilene State School

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Abilene State School
Established 1899
Construction Began 1900
Opened 1904
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Abilene, TX
Alternate Names
  • State Epileptic Colony
  • Abilene State Hospital
  • Abilene State Supported Living Center (Current)


1897...Governor Joseph D. Sayer appointed a commission to select a location for an epileptic colony. The plan was to build something large enough to house 500 people, which made it the largest colony in the world.

Abilene residents were hoping that such a colony would boost the economy, but some thought that because of poor water supply, Abilene wouldn't be considered.

1899...The Texas State Legislature approved the decision. Abilene was chosen as the site for the “State Epileptic Colony”. The last institution for the mentally ill established in Texas before the turn of the century represented a conceptual advance in that it separated individuals with seizures from patients with mental illness.

Citizens donated $3200 to purchase 640 acres, three miles southeast of Abilene and the land was given to the state for the colony. The site was chosen due to close access to the railroad, which made it easy to receive building materials and patients. The acreage was used to raise animals and crops for food and for homes and administrative offices. The colony cost $200,000 to build. The original institution was an administration building, power plant, women's hospital, men's hospital, four resident cottages and the superintendent's residence. Two weeks before the school opened, the water tower fell and left the colony without water. A temporary tower was erected, but supplied only enough water for 1/3 of the patients. It was not replaced with a standpipe until six years later.

1904...Opened as the State Epileptic Colony in March 26th, 1904

The only institution of its kind in the United States, the State Epileptic Colony opened its doors March 26th, 1904. It immediately filled to capacity with transfers from the three state asylums. Dr. John Preston, the colony's first superintendent, admitted 104 patients that day. Treatment was a combination of proper diet, hygiene, regular habits, and exercise. The state provided free treatment for indigent patients. Others paid five dollars a week for board, medication and treatment. By August, the institution was filled to capacity with 201 patients.

1925...The state of Texas saw the need to include care for those who suffered from mental illness. To reflect the nature of its care the name of the colony was changed to the Abilene State Hospital. The hospital continued to serve as an asylum for epileptics. It was the only such institution in the south and southwest.

1943...The campus grew from six buildings in 1904 to sixty-three in 1943 including; officer's quarters, physician's cottages, two hospitals, twenty eight wards (homes) and barns. The number of patients grew from 300 in 1909 to 1,324 in 1943. As the population grew, providing patient care became difficult. Trained personnel were almost impossible to find. There were not enough attendants to care for the patients because of a lack of funds to pay decent wages. Pleas were repeatedly sent to the legislature for appropriations for salary raises, equipment and new buildings.

1957...Abilene State Hospital became Abilene State School and was converted to a residential home for people with developmental disabilities. (Photo circa mid-50s)

1963...The school discontinued livestock operations.

1964...Fifteen single-story units replaced the original structures.

Today...The school is inside the city limits, utilizing only 223 acres, surrounded by residential areas, a lake and a city park.

Approximately 500 persons live in 24 residential units. Each unit houses from 15 to 28 residents. There are usually two to four people in each bedroom. Eight of the homes are designed with individual bedrooms. All homes have family-style dining with some meals prepared in the resident kitchens. This provides learning opportunities in food preparation, nutrition, cleaning and other life skills.

Employing approximately 1,200 people, funded with state and federal dollars, the facility is ranked as the city's fourth largest employer.[1]