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This is the Blog of Fenton J. Beaver: Blogger, Historian and Oregon Rodent Laureate, Bringing you tid-bits of Beaver state history on an ocassional basis.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Oregon State Mental Hospital

The Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem is a despicable, dismal place. On the outside it is a horrifying beast of a building, the paint is peeling, the roof is in disrepair, it’s 121 years old and looks every day of it. On the inside it is even more atrocious, many of the rooms are inhabitable, the ones that are still used have seen unimaginable misery and and the very worst of human behavior. Salemites grow up with stories of what happens inside, from sexual abuse to murder. The buildings appearance does little to discredit the rumors and, sadly, most of the stories are true

Its demolition is long over do, no amount of remodeling can salvage what years of public indifference have reduced to wreckage. It’s time to start over and build anew and our senate president, Peter Courtney is attempting to push the Governor and legislature’s hand to do just that. Unfortunately, the revelation that something must be done has come at the last possible moment (lawsuits are surely on the way) and in the middle of a state budget crisis.

The Oregon Insane Asylum, as it was known when it was created in 1883, wasn’t always so decrepit. When it was first built and for many years after, it was actually quite stately looking. It was the culmination of 21 years of work to consolidate Oregon’s “insane and idiotic person”(the wonderfully PC terminology of the period). It all started with Governor Addison C. Gibbs recommending to the legislature that such an act take place. Before his suggestion, dealing with the mentally ill was the realm of county governments.

Prior to the construction of the building just east of downtown Salem, the state began contracting with Dr. J.C. Hawthorne and his clinic in Portland; this was the first Asylum run with state monies. He was given the position of Superintendent of the Insane in 1865. Governor Gibbs in his state of the state address had this to say about Dr. Hawthorne’s work:

Herewith, I transmit a report from Dr. Hawthorne upon the condition of the Asylum. It affords me pleasure to be able to state that the institution continues to be well managed, and that the proprietors are faithfully performing the conditions of their contract. The Asylum is a credit to the State and the proprietors.

It’s been at least 80 years since the State Mental Hospital was anything near Governor Gibbs' descriptions. How sad that we’ve some how regressed with time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at the image of it when it was first built, I'd like to see the place in a state of disrepair. When did it close down as a Mental Hospital, and why did it?

10:10 AM  
Blogger Fenton the Beaver said...

It's still very much in use, that's the frightening part. It is dilapadated adn damn near condemable but it still houses patients.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Mental Health Portland said...


8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's sad that people like to spread rumors about a place whose mission is "people helping people".

There are portions of the hospital that are condemned. Which means it's standing, but no one is living there. It's storage mostly. The buildings that are open and functioning, are very much well kept up for being 122 years old. Kudos to the maintanence of the hospital thus far. The part of the long building that sits on the south side of Center street that is condemned should be torn down, but it's not hurting anyone. It is an eyesore, granted, but atleast the parts that are used look nice.

I've been in the hospital and am amazed at the wards and the rooms of the patients. The floors are clean and shiney, the rooms are all painted nicely, it's bright. The windows don't have "bars" on them, it's not like a jail (except for the top floor of one of the maximum wards, those have bars that can't be changed out). There are woven mesh type grates on the windows which are very un-bar like and you can see just fine out the windows.

Suprisingly, many many of the patients would rather be there than the alternitave. Being of jail sentences or living under a bridge. They are fed, clothed and have warm places to sleep out of harm from the weather. Better yet, they aren't charged for the medical help they get to help them deal and conquer their disease.

Being mentally ill, is a disease, no one asks for it, no one sets it as a goal in life, no one likes it. But, they can learn how to deal with it, accept it and even recover from it. Without the state hospital, where would these people go??

The biggest building was actually built in 1955 and has full heating and airconditioning, elevators, and solariums on each ward. That's so there is a nice quiet place for patients to grow plants and watch the sunsets and sunrises.

It's not a horrible place, it's quite amazing actually.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it is such a nice place for the mental ill to be ..then why all of the abuse and neglect..why do our little children end up pregnent...there suposed to be in there to be taken care of not abused...i work in a in a center were we take care of people who have been abused i say shut the abuse house down

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it is such a nice place for the mental ill to be ..then why all of the abuse and neglect..why do our little children end up pregnent...there suposed to be in there to be taken care of not abused...i work in a in a center were we take care of people who have been abused i say shut the abuse house down

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