Eastern State Hospital

168
City/Town:
Location Class:
Year Built: 1911 | Year 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




Bibliography
[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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Jennifer Blevins
Jennifer Blevins
7 years ago

ESH provided my family a living for 30 years. My dad was a psychiatrist there from 1963-1980 when he retired. Dad had real compassion for his patients and worked very hard at trying to get them well with medication and therapy. These were the stories I heard at the dinner table growing up. I also worked at ESH in the Finance Office from 1978-1992. There are a lot of mentally ill people in this world, many who do not have resources to effectively treat their disorder. ESH was their port in the storm. I agree with you that emptying the… Read more »

Angelia Boshuizen
Angelia Boshuizen
10 years ago

My mother, Carolyn Wirth, was court ordered for a 30-day stay at Eastern State Hospital in August 1986 after being diagnosed as Manic Depressive. Visiting her on a regular basis in an effort to get her discharged was an experience I'll never forget. The images are as clear today as they were when I first set foot on the facility's grounds. Looking at the photos on this website is a clear indication of the dismay that took place on a daily basis dispite the faculty's efforts to provide care for the patients. Although I am thankful there was such a… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
Reply to  Angelia Boshuizen
9 years ago

My dad was there, and that's where he died 23 years ago. I never got to know him because I was only 2 years old. The hospital did not keep a good eye on him.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
Reply to  Melissa
9 years ago

Did they bury people on site at Eastern State? Is there a cemetary? I saw a video about a hospital in Danvers where ex patients restored the cemetary at Danvers State Hospital. Its a pretty cool story. http://asylumprojects.org/index.php?title=Main_Pa

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Elizabeth
6 years ago

Yes there is a cemetery down the road to the East. There are only a few tombstones and the rest are only generic markers to the unclaimed. You cannot enter the cemetery.

Nick Seabolt
Nick Seabolt
Reply to  Paul
10 months ago

The tomb stones have been moved I buried several people they are not always the right name above the grave

Alex
Alex
Reply to  Nick Seabolt
5 days ago

No you didn’t

Tiff
Tiff
Reply to  Elizabeth
10 months ago

They have a cemetery on the property

Dawn
Dawn
Reply to  Elizabeth
4 months ago

There is a cemetery on site. However, there was extensive damage and vandalism in 2000.

Alex
Alex
Reply to  Melissa
5 days ago

Probably not…

Alex
Alex
Reply to  Angelia Boshuizen
5 days ago

I live in this town and also work at this place, well the newest one they built about 10 years ago and the people they never let go… Well when the walls were filled with asbestos and the state could not afford to destroy the buildings, they just let all the patients go…

Alexander Powell Hay
Alexander Powell Hay
10 years ago

I am P.L. Hays' great grandson and namesake. I am very pleased to have found this site with the detailed history and information regarding "DOC". There is an interesting story regarding a patient escape and P.L. being shot with a .22 in the chest during the chase. Nobody knows how the patient obtained the pistol but he did.

shawn harlan
shawn harlan
Reply to  Alexander Powell Hay
10 years ago

wow, I would like to hear more about this history, do you know anymore about it?

Witness
Witness
Reply to  Alexander Powell Hay
6 years ago

I remember the incident well however do to protect the families privacy that's all I can tell you

Michelle Blackwell
Michelle Blackwell
10 months ago

My Mom worked there for 26yrs. I worked in them buildings from 1996 untill we moved to the new one in 2008. I am still there today. I loved working in the old buildings. My Mom would tell me storys when I was growing up. I would go on picnics with them when I was a kid. I love working with the clients.

Vinita Resident
Vinita Resident
3 years ago

I've always thought someone should make a movie at Eastern State Hospital. There is so much history there with as long as it was open and with the mentally insane. Also, the poor souls that were probably sent there when they weren't insane at all, but had an illness that doctors in that day and age were not aware of.

Fred
Fred
6 years ago

I've read all the comments but didn't find anyone answering the question: "Where are the records for the Vinita Eastern State Hospital? " and are they accessible today for someone doing genealogy research or trying to find health problems in their family. Please answer to the page and also cc me at: Fred@dittmar.net Thank you.

Sheri
Sheri
Reply to  Fred
1 year ago

I would also like to know if the old records are available. My grandmother was there in the 60s.

Hollie
Hollie
Reply to  Fred
8 months ago

Did you have any luck? I am desperately searching for answers on my Great Grandmother’s mental health also. She was there and died there.

tammy
tammy
4 months ago

does anyone know how to go about getting records from the hospital? my great grandfather was a patient here until his death. i know he became a patient before 1930.

LaVonda Sexton
LaVonda Sexton
10 months ago

My mom worked there for years.

Dominique Coleman
Dominique Coleman
1 year ago

It’s a very cool place, but I really don’t recommend going. A few of my buddies and I went, and the Police rolled up in under 5 minutes. If you try to hide (we didn’t), they’ll bring a dog out. All in all, a very neat place, but it wasn’t worth getting a ticket

kjf61
kjf61
7 years ago

First of all, God bless all of us who visit this site. It makes my heart so heavy… I visited my brother there in the 90's and it seemed to be a good place. (He even met his wife there) Oh no that couldn't be the end of it. My genealogy research has brought me back to this institution not once, twice but THREE times. Like I said, God bless us all and not let us take our lives for granted.

ShadyJ`
ShadyJ`
Reply to  kjf61
7 years ago

My brother was also there in the 90's and I also thought it appeared to be a nicely run place. I wish there was a compromise between the rights of the patient and the administering of obviously needed treatment.
I haven't seen my brother in almost 4 years due to his violent outbursts when off of his medications and I will not be around him due to safety concerns.

Patricia Salkeld
Patricia Salkeld
7 years ago

I am excited also to find this site. For me it is sad because of the loss of treatment for many who now roam the street with no home and no 'family' to care. I am the granddaughter of Dr. Felix Adams and I know your great grand parents well. They were our closest neighbors along Dr. Row. I spent summers with my grandparents beginning when I was 7 or 8 until 13 when my Dado passed. My cousin Sally and my brother Joe were also there and we had a grand time roaming all over the beautiful grounds. I… Read more »

macfurdith
macfurdith
10 years ago

Went to ESH once to twice a week to pick up or drop off Emergency Order of Detention patients. If picking up I would stop at the Admin building, pick up property, then usually go to #8 or #9 building. #12 building was for the criminally insane, which I believe is now where DOC operates at the site. Brings back memories. Bad memories… I hated that part of my job. 🙂

AsylumBunny
AsylumBunny
Reply to  macfurdith
9 years ago

Hi. 🙂 If you're not open to what I'm about to ask, I totally understand… But would you ever want to take part in an interview about your ESH experiences? If so, please contact me at asylum_bunny@yahoo.com

trackback
24 days ago

[…] forming a campus. The capacity of the hospital was 1200 and the first patients were brought in from Eastern State Hospital with those from Pauls Valley and Enid State Schools […]

Chad Thompson
Chad Thompson
1 month ago

Is it still standing

Melba
Melba
2 months ago

My great grandfather was in the hospital and we are trying to find what happened to him. Do you know where we can get records? Thanks

Amanda
Amanda
3 months ago

My grandmother worked here. I’m not sure of the dates. How can I go about find this out. Any information or help please email me at snoangel26@gmail.com I’m trying to learn more of my paternal side of my family. Thank you

Bobby Snowden
Bobby Snowden
4 months ago

I was at the hospital in the 92 at a work center and we were in the population.iworked for maint in the max unit it was unbelievable

Bill Maguire
Bill Maguire
5 months ago

My wife’s great grandmother was there from at least 1920 till 1940, according to census records. Would love to find out why

Robin graham
Robin graham
5 months ago

My father Troy Graham was chief of security there.

Robin graham
Robin graham
5 months ago

My father was Chief of Security for many years
Troy Graham

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