Meerenberg was established in 1849 in response to new legislation regarding the care for the mentally insane. The asylum was first planned to house some 300 patients, but this number was quickly exceeded.
In ca. 1800 the attitudes toward mental illness started to change. The mentally ill were slowly starting to be considered as patients who suffered from an illness and potentially may be cured. This lead to a decree by King William I in 1818 referred to as the "Human Decree" (in Dutch: "Menschlievend Besluit") calling on institutions to focus on treating and healing mentally ill patients.
The changes in the Willem Arntsz House in Utrecht were the most far reaching. Due to the leadership of dr. J.L.C. Schroeder van der Kolk men and women were housed and treated separately and distinctions were made between those with short term afflictions and those who would require long term care.
In 1841 a new law came into effect regulating the admission and treatment of patients. The province of North Holland decided to create a new Institution for the mentally ill and the choice was made to establish Meerenberg in the dunes on the coast.
In 1843 the existing Country estate called Meer en Berg was bought and an architect was hired to redesign the existing buildings and the surrounding park to make it suitable for the treatment of the mentally insane.