Western State Hospital

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Western State Hospital
Western State Hospital
Established 1825
Construction Began 1826
Opened 1828
Closed 1977
Current Status Preserved(Original)
Building Style Pre-1854 Plans
Location Staunton, VA
Alternate Names
  • Western State Lunatic Asylum


Western State Hospital was founded in January 1825 by an Act of the General Assembly becoming the second mental health facility for the Commonwealth of Virginia. A Court of Directors was commissioned by the Governor to select and purchase "a site near the town of Staunton in Augusta County to the West of the Blue Ridge Mountains and to thereupon construct an appropriate asylum for the receipt of patients."

The original building (which is still standing and registered as a National Historical Landmark) was opened on July 24, 1828, with Mr. Samuel Woodward designated as Keeper, and his wife, Mary Woodward assigned as Matron. A visiting physician, Dr. William Boyes of Staunton, provided care for patients admitted during the early years of the hospital.

The first patient was admitted the morning of July 24, 1828. He was a teacher whose diagnosis was "hard study." A second patient was admitted that afternoon from Goochland County, Virginia, but remained only a few months at the facility before he escaped. The first woman arrived on July 25, and was admitted with a diagnosis of "Religious Excitement."

Shortly after the facility opened, it was filled with patients and the Court of Directors implemented an admissions screening process to limit admissions to only those patients "who were either dangerous to society from their violence, or those who were offensive to its moral sense by their indecency and to those cases of derangement where there is reasonable ground to hope that the afflicted may be restored."

The first director of the hospital, Dr. Francis T. Stribling, was appointed in 1840. He served the hospital until his death in 1874. Dr. Stribling embraced the concept of "Moral Therapy" and was one of the thirteen founders of the American Psychiatric Association. In 1905, a physician who began working at Western State in 1889 as a medical intern was appointed Director of the facility. Dr. Joseph DeJarnette served as Director from 1905 until 1943, 38 years, which represents the longest tenure of any of the sixteen facility directors serving the facility since its opening.

The facility’s name was changed in 1894 from Western Lunatic Asylum to Western State Hospital. The facility continued to increase in size through the 1950’s and 1960’s with the opening of a second site in 1949-1950. The facility’s patient population eventually increased to above 3,000 at two sites.

Western State was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 25, 1969. In the 1970s, the Virginia Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation built a new hospital a few miles to the East and abandoned the historic old site. The property was subsequently transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections and the campus became the Staunton Correctional Center, a medium security prison. The Department of Corrections abandoned the complex in 2003. It is currently in the first stages of redevelopment: condos, hotel/spa and shops.

New Hospital

Beginning with the Commonwealth’s move toward de-institutionalization in the early 1970’s, the population declined substantially until, by the late 1970’s, it stood at approximately 1,350. Further reductions were realized over the last fifteen years as hospital programs were related to sister facilities and the communities. A more restrictive criteria for admissions and improved prescreening programs have also been implemented. Substantial improvements in psychopharmacology and community treatment modalities along with earlier intervention have also contributed to reduced census.

In 1978 the University of Virginia (UVA) expanded its affiliation with the hospital providing for joint faculty appointments and the assignment of psychiatric residents and medical students to the facility for training. This program continued to expand with particular highlights in 1985 with the appointment of Dr. Spradlin as the Facility Director at Western State. In 1990, the hospital received the first National Award from the American Psychiatric Association as the exemplary program in Collaborative Services between a public mental health facility and a university.

Western State Hospital has extensive affiliations with colleges and universities involved in all of the major professional groups including. Various staff at Western State Hospital had joint faculty appointments with a number of institutions of higher education; staff with the Department of Psychiatric Medicine interdigitate with hospital programs for the provision of services and educational supervision.[1]

Images of Western State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Western State Hospital


The two cemeteries are located on the north side of Statler Blvd. They are south of the main campus, which is on the southeast corner of the intersection of US 11 (Greenville Ave) and US 250 (Richmond Ave). It's cemetery contains more than two thousand unmarked headstones. In a few cases, the plot numbers appear and, even less frequently, a name. Other information is provided only on those occasional stones that were purchased by family members.