Augusta State Hospital

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Augusta State Hospital
Augusta State Hospital
Established 1830
Construction Began 1835
Opened 1840
Closed 2004
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Corridor Plan/Pre-1854 Plans
Architect(s) John D. Lord (main building)
Location Augusta, ME
Architecture Style Greek Revival & Italianate
Peak Patient Population 1,837
Alternate Names
  • Maine Insane Hospital
  • Augusta Mental Health Institute


Mrs. Catherine Winslow, the first woman employed at the Maine Insane Hospital, was appointed matron when the asylum opened in 1840. The asylum was the product of a collaborative effort between the state and two private citizens, Reuel Williams of Augusta (married to Sarah Cony) and Benjamin Brown of Vassalborough. While early mental health institutions may fall far short of present-day standards for treatment for mental illness, the establishment of such places in the early nineteenth century was based, in part, on reforming care for the mentally ill.

Prior to mental health hospitals, the mentally ill were the responsibility of their families, and if their families could not cope, they were either put in poor houses, put out on the streets, or locked away in jail. Mental health reformer Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), a native of Hampden, Maine, worked closely with the second superintendent of the Augusta asylum, Issac Ray (appointed in 1841). The building was state-of-the-art when constructed. All parts had ventilation, lighting, heating, and water. Men and women had separate wings.

Over its 162 years of service, the hospital has carried a number of names and today it is called the Augusta Mental Health Institute. Many buildings on the campus now serve as state offices. A new hospital,Riverview Psychiatric Center, was opened in 2004 to replace the facility.


1830: Ten years after Maine becomes a state, Gov. Jonathan Hunton calls for care of "numerous cases of lunacy"; survey by Dr. Tobias Purinton of Danville finds 562 mentally ill people in Maine, or about one in every 300 residents.

1834: Legislature appropriates $20,000 to establish state's first insane hospital; Reuel Williams of Augusta, a future U.S. senator, and Benjamin Brown Jr. of Vassalboro each donate $10,000 to the effort; both have mentally ill family members.

1835: State buys 35-acre site for hospital on Kennebec River in Augusta, directly across from the State House; it's modeled after State Lunatic Hospital in Worcester, Mass., and built of Hallowell granite; famed Mainer Dorothea Dix, an early mental health advocate, consults on the project.

1840: Maine Insane Hospital opens in Augusta to serve 120 patients; they come from across Maine, brought by family members and overseers of poorhouses, where some were kept in chains or cages; symptoms include mania, melancholy, masturbation and "faked voices."

1850: Fire guts half of hospital, killing 27 patients and one staff member; new wings, buildings and parcels of land are added through the 1980s, growing the campus to more than 800 acres, including 600 acres of farmland that produced tons of food and employed hundreds of patients.

1901: Eastern Maine Insane Hospital -- today's Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center -- opens in Bangor, immediately taking 145 patients from Maine Insane Hospital; in 1913, both are renamed, becoming Augusta State Hospital and Bangor State Hospital.

1930s: Hydro and radiant-heat therapies are introduced, followed by electroconvulsive and insulin-shock treatments in the 1940s, Thorazine therapy in the 1950s and lithium therapy in the 1960s.

1940s/50s: Patient population peaks at 1,837 and stays 30 percent beyond capacity despite construction of several new buildings; staff introduces group therapy; hospital opens first community mental health center in Lewiston.

1960s: Hospital begins treating substance abuse and addiction; patients become eligible for Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

1970s: Consent decree eliminates unpaid patient labor at what is now Augusta Mental Health Institute; adolescent unit opens; growing emphasis on "deinstitutionalization" and community mental health services; average daily population drops from 1,500 to 350.

1988: Five patients at AMHI die during summer heat wave; mental health advocates bring class-action lawsuit against hospital and state.

1990: Consent decree orders state to address crowding and care problems at AMHI and improve community mental health programs by 1995; lack of funding and controversy lead to continued delays and repeated contempt orders through 2001.

2000: Legislature appropriates $33 million to build new hospital; four years later, 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center opens on hospital grounds and AMHI closes; court lifts active supervision of Riverview in 2011.

Images of Augusta State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Augusta State Hospital


Researchers found 11,647 names of patients who died on the premises. In the early days, hospital staff would simply note in a daily journal that a certain patient had "passed away in the night." Of the estimated 45,000 people who were admitted to AMHI from 1840 to 2004, nearly one-quarter died at the hospital, according to a Maine Cemetery Project report. Some of the 11,647 patients who died at AMHI were returned to their families and buried in hometown cemetery plots. However, the lack of records leaves open the possibility that some were buried in unmarked graves on the hospital campus or in paupers' graves across Maine.