Friday, September 18, 2009

Central State Hospital, Milledgeville, GA

View of a hallway and into a bathroom in the Walker Building, Central State Hospital.

Central State Hospital, formerly known as the Georgia Lunatic Asylum, the State Asylum for the Insane, and the Georgia State Sanitarium, is the oldest and largest psychiatric facility in the state. Located on a sprawling 1,750 acre campus in Milledgeville, GA, which was at the time the state capitol, the Asylum admitted its first patient in 1842. Patient population exploded rapidly, and by the 1870s overcrowding was an issue; new buildings and additions to existing buildings were rapidly constructed to deal with the ballooning need for beds. This trend continued through the 1960s, when Central briefly contended with New York's Pilgrim for the title of largest psychiatric facility in the world.

In 1884, the Walker Building was constructed for the reception of white male convalescent patients. Unlike the state-run public health facilities in the North, segregation was common in Southern asylums; at Milledgeville, the practice continued until at least the 1940s. The extent of segregation from state to state varied wildly, as did the degree of difference in quality of treatment. At some asylums and sanitoriums, white patients received treatment in airy dayrooms of sturdy buildings, whilst black patients were crowded into poorly insulated tents. Central State Hospital was somewhat more forward in its thinking; the first building for "coloured" patients was erected in 1866, albeit far from central Powell administration building. This evolved into a distinct campus of buildings for black patients. Somewhat more stark and institutional than the more ornate buildings for white patients, the remaining structures constructed for African Americans have now been repurposed as a prison.

The more ornate Walker Building, on the other hand, was abandoned around 1974, and over thirty years of disuse have not been kind to it. The heat and humidity of central Georgia have taken their toll; much of the third floor lacks a ceiling, and the walls are a tapestry of peeling paint, algae, mold, and disintegrating plaster. Foliage has grown over large portions of the building, and invaded the interior spaces. Insects and small mammals have made their homes here, as has a large coyote. Yet through all this, some aspects of grandeur remain in this venerable building, used for almost a century.

The roof gone, vines have begun to overtake this third-floor bathroom.

Third floor hallway, the roof long rotted away.

A typical patient room, with a viewing window to allow orderlies to look in on patients.

A curtain still hangs in a dark patient bedroom.

The lack of a roof creates interesting interplays of light at various times of day.

Although in somewhat better condition than the top floor, water damage and humidity have wrecked havoc on the floors below as well.

Among the few artifacts left in the building, this cabinet still contains the last patients' toothbrushes, each labeled with a surname.

Plaster has collapsed into a sink in a tiny corner bathroom.

In the violent ward hallway at the Southern end of the building, the doors were outfitted with spinning platforms that could be used to provide food to patients without opening the door.

A closeup of one such platform. A deadbolt separate from the one locking the door would keep the platform from rotating when not in use.

As the sun sets, the reflection of light off the red brick building colors the walls facing the courtyards.

A typical scene as the sun hangs low over the Walker building.

A large corner room near sundown.

Foliage is overtaking the building; here, an intact window provides a climbing point for vines which are beginning to slip into the building through the cracks.