This past weekend I went back to Ohio yet again to visit my friend Bree, who is a grad student at Ohio University. She lives at The Summit, a newer apartment complex built on top of a treacherous hill south of campus, just next door to what is now known as The Ridges — a gigantic, mostly abandoned asylum overlooking the Hocking River. So because we’re both really into scary stuff and neither of us had ever been, we decided to drive up the hill and take a look. It was by far the creepiest thing I have ever seen in real life.
Photo from the Kirkbride Buildings blog
Tony pulled up some literature about the asylum on his iPhone while we walked around, and learning about the complex while we snooped around the dilapidated buildings made it even creepier. A lot of this information is from Wikipedia and a questionable website called Forgotten Ohio that looks like it was built in 1999, so it may not be the most accurate assortment of facts, but I wanted to share a few tidbits that we learned and pictures that I took.
Originally called the Athens Lunatic Asylum, the enormous main building of the complex began construction in 1868, a year when similar facilities were being built all over the country, largely due to the fact that many Civil War veterans were suffering from the then-unknown condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The hospital took six years to build and officially opened for business in 1874. There were over 500 patient rooms in the main building, the design of which was inspired by the work of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. The building had two large wings to segregate the residences of male and female patients — the more violent patients were put in the farthest ends of the wings, away from the main entrance at the center of the building.
Like PTSD, there were other ailments that were not understood at the time and were therefore considered causes of insanity and reasons for admittance to the asylum. Epilepsy, menopause, and alcohol addiction were a few of the more common ones over the years. The hospital’s first annual report in 1876 stated that the leading cause of insanity among male patients was masturbation, and for female patients the main causes were “puerperal condition,” “change of life,” and “menstrual derangements.” Ain’t that some shit?
There are hundreds of windows on the main building, and every single one is fitted with iron bars. A lot of the windowpanes were broken, which made the bars seem even more ominous. (Aren’t those curtains creepy as fuck?)
At its peak occupancy in the 1950s, the hospital complex housed 1,800 patients in 78 buildings scattered across 1,000+ acres. One nurse was sometimes responsible for as many as fifty patients. The complex was used for its original purpose for over 100 years — its last patients lived there until 1993, when the facility moved to a new building across town and changed names yet again to the Southeast Psychiatric Hospital.
Most of the gigantic main building is abandoned and in disrepair. It’s so obvious that this fence was pushed over. Tony speculated that it was probably by some frat guys forcing their pledges to go inside for initiation or something. The thought of anyone sneaking into this building terrifies me.
Ohio University now owns all the buildings in the complex, which was renamed The Ridges when it was purchased by the State of Ohio in 1988. The front part of the main building is now the Kennedy Art Museum, and various buildings in the complex are used by the university for classrooms and offices.
For many years the gigantic asylum was nearly self-sufficient, with numerous farms built around the main hospital with livestock, gardens, a dairy, and an orchard. The patients were put to work on the farms for the obvious reason that their labor was free, but also because the work was thought to be therapeutic. In its early years, the campus even had its own carriage house and a physical plant to provide steam heat.
The asylum practiced all the then-common and now-insane treatments for mental illness, including lobotomies, electroshock therapy, water treatment (where patients were dunked in freezing water for extended periods of time or restrained and wrapped in sheets that had been soaked in ice water), bleeding, and even kicking patients in the head in an attempt to “shock out” the illness. Needless to say, a lot of its patients died presumably unpleasant deaths.
There are close to 2000 people buried in the three cemeteries at The Ridges. I think we only saw the main cemetery which is weird, mainly because it’s on a steep fucking hill that really doesn’t seem like an ideal location for erosion and stuff.
Most of the grave markers are so worn away that you can’t read the engravings, and a large number of the headstones don’t even have names — just numbers. There are a lot of Civil War veterans buried in the main cemetery — their graves were marked with little American flags by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, whose Athens chapter has taken over the maintenance of the cemeteries.
The creepiest part of the whole complex was the tubercular ward, also known as “Cottage B.” It’s at the top of the hill, secluded from the rest of the facility and completely abandoned now due to the asbestos that lines the building’s walls. Ironic, right, that patients with tuberculosis were locked away in a building filled with cancer-causing chemicals?
The building is covered with lots of stupid graffiti, which makes it feel even more depressing. Jessica, why are you spraypainting about who you “heart” in purple on the wall of the abandoned TB ward of an insane asylum? You must be a freaky girl. Other awesome OU kids have spraypainted things like “COME PLAY WITH ME GHOSTS” and “CLASS OF 2012.” Cool, guys.
The windows that aren’t bricked up are covered with scary-looking iron grate. We weren’t sure if this was to keep the patients in or to keep the townspeople out now that the building is closed. It’s a shame that it’s filled with lead and asbestos, because this would make the best haunted house EVER.
We didn’t see any ghosts while we were there, but this place still gave me the creeps. Definitely worth visiting, though, if you’re into creepy stuff, too.