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Eastern State Hospital

Location Class:
Built: 1911 | Abandoned: 2008
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David LindeJohnny FletcherEmily Cowan

In 1909 plans for the Eastern Hospital for the Insane were adopted by Oklahoma State Legislature. A 160-acre tract of land given to the State by the City of Vinita for the facility and $200,000 were appropriated for construction from the public building fund. Shortly after HB 361 was passed appropriating $300,000 more to the massive project that was underway in Vinita. Construction on the first two buildings were completed in 1911 which were designated as male and female wards. By 1916 a bakery, a hen house, an administration building/medical hospital, the third ward for both genders, a powerhouse, and a laundry house.

Dr. Felix M. Adams was appointed August 12, 1912, by Governor Lee Croce as the hospital superintendent with a four-year term. He had such passion for his job and the hospital that his term lasted until his death in December 1955. The first patients arrived at the facility on January 28, 1913, when around three hundred patients were transferred from the Oklahoma Sanatorium, later Central State Hospital in Norman. Once the third dormitory was completed in 1914 a few hundred more patients were brought in. The hospital opened with two doctors, one being Superintendent Dr. Felix M. Adams and the other Dr. Edwin Williams, a physician from Philadelphia who only worked at the hospital for two years. Dr. Powell L. Hays joined the staff as an intern in 1915. At Eastern Hospital for the Insane he studied and researched, seeking ways of improving the treatment of mental illness and related diseases. His work was nationally known and was eventually recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. He was promoted to Assistant Superintendent taking over as Superintendent when Dr. Adams passed until 1961.

“Hospital patients cooped up.” Provided by George Tapscott July 27, 1946

As mental hospitals became more and more popular Eastern Hospital for the Insane added more buildings including a barn, greenhouse, a fire station, sewage plant, a canning plant, central dining room, kitchen, a maximum restraint building for men, and an employees’ dormitory named Adams Hall in honor of the late Superintendent. In 1947, the facility was renamed Eastern State Hospital, it wasn’t shortly after that that ESH reached its peak population with 2,600 patients in 1954. It was also around this time that states became increasingly more aware of the reform needed in mental health treatment and increased funding to allow for more intensive, specialized treatment.

The farm was an important economic factor providing a lot of the food served to the patients and staff. Swine, poultry, and dairy operations were raised on the grounds and provided meat and milk, while the greenhouse and garden produced fresh fruits and vegetables that were also canned for later use. The farm was not only taken care of by staff but was also used as a therapy tool for patients, who oftentimes worked right alongside them. ESH’s 350 Holstein dairy cows were considered one of the best in the state, producing 690 gallons of milk per day.

The staff consisted of 590 employees during this decade, with fifteen medical doctors, five registered nurses, a surgeon from Vinita and Dr. W.C. Reed who was the full-time dentist. In 1956 the first Department of Nursing was established, with Dorothy Hall as the director. When this program was established ESH had five professional nurses responsible for 72 ward units with some help from a few hundred other non-professional confidants. For comparison, by the end of February 1984, the nursing department had 460 employees including sixty-four registered nurses and fifty-eight licensed practical nurses.

“Peaceful scene of patients sunning and funning greeted house probers Thursday at Eastern State Hospital, Vinita.” Provided by Unknown

Outpatient services began in the 1960s because inpatient services were becoming too expensive for insurance companies to cover. As the patient population declined the funding for the state hospitals did as well. One by one programs started to close and buildings were no longer in use. The dairy was closed in 1968 and other farming operations were gradually phased out in the early 1970s. Upon Dr. Robert O’Toole’s hiring as the Superintendent from October 1979 until February 1983, ESH was designated as the treatment center for all inmates of the Department of Corrections. This required inmates that were in need of mental health services, screenings and the hospital to be handled here. Building 12 was completely renovated for use as a maximum security facility for those inmates in 1983.

In 1999-2000 it was announced that plans to shut down the hospital were underway. Patients, staff, and the citizens of Vinita were all shocked as the plans came swiftly. Closing ESH so quickly was scrutinized by many claiming it to be a very bad move for the patients and their treatments and moving so quickly to shut down the hospital would cause more harm than good.

“From day one, Jerry Regier has been out front, pushing to close Eastern State as quickly as possible, whether or not the community centers were ready to handle all the patients. Now that the transition has gotten off track and generated some negatives headlines, he’s trying to cover himself by pointing the finger of blame at everyone else. Instead of accepting personal responsibility for a mess he helped make, he’s ducking and dodging,” said Senator Rick Littlefield, whose Senate district includes Eastern State.Patients were moved out of the facility and into smaller community mental health centers. Senator Littlefield called Regier again attempting to speed up the process to close ESH. Regier was aiming to have the facility fully closed by January 1, 2000, even though state law stipulated that it not take place until 2001. Shortly after it announced its closure the Oklahoma Department of Corrections took over a portion of the land and occupied some of the buildings while the rest have sat deserted and vacant for years. The last and final patients were finally moved out of the facility in 2008 and the grounds have remained empty.

This property is monitored 24/7 by the nearby prison, those trespassing will be prosecuted.

Article by AOK Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Gallery Below

[accordions] [accordion title=”Bibliography” load=”hide”][Photograph 2012.201.B0266.0302], photograph, February 6, 1953; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc346889/: accessed May 17, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

[Photograph 2012.201.B0266.0307], photograph, November 4, 1937; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc369172/: accessed May 17, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

Tapscott, George. [Photograph 2012.201.B0266.0312]photographJuly 27, 1946; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc350304/accessed May 18, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

[Photograph 2012.201.B0275.0544]photographDate Unknown; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc438578/accessed May 18, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

“18 Nov 1909, 1 – The Vinita Leader at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/583362163/?terms=eastern%20hospital&match=1.

“25 Aug 1910, 5 – The Weatherford News at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/587335233/?terms=eastern%20state%20hospital&match=1.

“6 Apr 1911, 2 – The Vinita Leader at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/583391802/?terms=eastern%20state%20hospital&match=1.

“Dr Powell Lambert Hays.” Find A Grave – Millions of Cemetery Records, www.findagrave.com/memorial/113179374/powell-lambert-hays.

“Image 9 of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Vinita, Craig County, Oklahoma.” The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/resource/g4024vm.g4024vm_g072851916/?sp=9&r=0.394,0.785,0.444,0.343,0.

“Regier Shifts Blame on Eastern State Transition, Senator Urges Him to Take.” Oklahoma Senate, oksenate.gov/press-releases/regier-shifts-blame-eastern-state-transition-senator-urges-him-take.

“Vinta State Hospital.” Asylum Projects, www.asylumprojects.org/index.php/Vinta_State_Hospital.

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