Time Standing Still: Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

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I woke up at 6:00am one Saturday morning this summer. I don’t usually do that but I was about to set on an adventure, one I’ve been looking forward to for a few years now.

For those of you who don’t know, I have an affinity for abandoned buildings, especially those of the medical use. Not many old, historical hospitals, sanatoriums, asylums, or clinics still stand. If they do, they have an aura of death and decay about them. After all, most people go to these types of place when they’re sick, and not everyone comes back out.

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Nestled in the heart of West Virginia lies the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, though it wasn’t always called that. Construction began in 1838 on the Weston State Hospital. What you see in the above picture wasn’t there in the beginning of construction, but in the later parts. The left wing was the first to be built. As the Civil War came and heated up, soldiers were housed and the asylum became a temporary military hospital for the wounded. Construction expanded due to the overcrowding problem in the left wing. Thus the rest of the institution was created.

There are other buildings throughout the campus, including a surgical center and mortuary.

The asylum was designed to house about 1-2 patients per room, about 250 patients total throughout the whole building. With the asylum being the only one of its kind in the region, with state-of-the-art treatments, the original 250 person capacity was maxed out to several thousand. The once 1-2 patients per room vision soon became patients sleeping on the floor in the hallway due to lack of space.

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The asylum is in an interesting condition. Even though the building received help from historic preservationists, most of the structure has been left untouched, with peeling wallpaper and rusting bathroom sinks. Random stains and marks on the walls and floors remind us of who once walked these halls, and whose hands grazed the door frames and window sills.

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I look out the window of the second floor men’s wing. The well-manicured lawn houses the running of feet from a child’s birthday party right on the premises. Why any child would want a party on the grounds of a historic scene for the mentally ill, I’ll never know.

Fun fact time.

The auditorium once hosted a high school prom…yes, a prom. Nothing says lets remember the good times like people from the geriatric wing next door crashing the party. Also, there is a whiteboard on the second floor that still has writing on it from 1993, the year the asylum closed down due to lack of funding. On that board were times for group therapy and which doctor was in that particular day.

Time really did stand still at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. The peeling wallpaper and creaking floors remind us why these places ever existed, and why they all eventually shut down.

 

Sincerely yours,

Madeline

St. Malo, France

I had the pleasure of visiting this quaint little town in the Brittany region of France this past April. The beaches were cool and breezy, the sand white and chilly, and the sky warm with sun beams. The town itself is surrounded by centuries old walls that once protected it from harm.

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IMG_4267I enjoyed the beach the most. The water was calm and the tide was low that day.

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Fortresses are still seen out in the distance close to shore, deteriorating as time passes.

The history of St. Malo is not as beautiful as the beaches I stepped foot on. It is unfortunately located close to Omaha Beach in Normandy. During the attacks in Northern France during WWII, St. Malo fell victim to numerous bombings — leaving it the 6th most destroyed cities in France between 1940 and 1945.

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I will never forget my visit to St. Malo, which is officially my favorite place in the world, replacing Berlin — which is an excellent city. I believe St. Malo should be on everyone’s bucket list.

All photos taken by Madeline Feierstein in April 2014.

From Closed Shutters to Our Nation’s Security

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“On January 8, 2009, the National Capital Planning Comission (NCPC) approved the Final Master Plan for the DHS Headquarters Consolidation.”

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St. Elizabeth’s Hospital was a former government hospital for the insane eastablished in 1855. It was the first government-run center of its kind in America.

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It is now being transformed into the new location for the Department of Homeland Security. Its strange location in SE Washington made me a little curious. But when I saw this view, I knew it was a prime spot:

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The DC Preservation League offers tours on a regular basis. Visit their website to learn more: http://www.dcpreservation.org

Links:

http://www.stelizabethsdevelopment.com/master-plan.html

http://dc.about.com/od/realestate/a/St-Elizabeths-Hospital-Redevelopment-Washington-DC.htm

John Rutledge House Inn

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Located on 116 Broad Street in the historic district of Charleston, SC stands the John Rutledge House Inn.

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It was built in 1763 for John Rutledge, a South Carolina governor and a signer of the Constitution.

 

 

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George Washington was supposed to stay at the inn but decided not to impose and stayed elsewhere in Charleston. He did, though, have tea in the ballroom — where I also enjoyed afternoon snacks and beverages.

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It was declared a historic landmark in 1979.

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Architecture as an Art Form

Art.

What the hell is it?

I sure don’t know. But, what I do know is that art comes in many forms. Photos can describe scenes past in a moment. Paintings can illustrate emotions and elements of a situation. Buildings, now buildings can symbolize events that left a mark. More often than not, buildings exemplify historic events that cover the area surrounding them. Imagine London, England during WWII. Bombs were dropped from planes onto the city and buildings were left in ruins. One of the those buildings was saved and was converted into a museum or memorial for that tragic bombing.

Architecture can shape a society and make you appreciate its style, form, texture, and flair. We take it for granted, but when we walk into a pristine building, our moods shift to a most trusting and comfortable mindset. Old, decrepit buildings makes us feel shifty and even unsafe at times.

Art is beauty. Beauty is art. Architecture is art. Architecture is beauty.

Health Impacts of Abandoned Buildings

I’ve wandered into what looked like lung cancer-covered walls. The sketchy white and black substance growing in between the cracks of the abandoned and desolate bathrooms of the forgotten insane asylums still linger there — even 40 years after their discovery. It amazes me to think that people could just leave buildings there, expect someone to do something about them, have no one come to their rescue, and then complain that they are a health hazard.

Let’s rewind.

If that person had not just said “Ok, let’s leave this decrepit building in someone else’s hands, but I don’t want any part of deciding who that will be.” then we wouldn’t have this problem. Buildings are not just animals you can leave by a shelter and wait for someone to bring them inside. Buildings are all alone in the world. No one’s going to come one day, see this asylum or mansion on top of the hill, and say, “Well, gee, I better go make sure there’s no mold or asbestos festering in those walls.” While, yes, it goes against my moral standpoint of saving buildings, it is important to remember why, in fact, people knock down buildings in the first place.

Most, if not all, the time, environmental experts and toxicologists will evaluate a building based on its impacts on society and the habitat surrounding it, and will come to a conclusion that it is not savable.

There’s an element here that is contradictory.

I, too, would like to stop teens and the homeless from visiting and housing themselves in these horrid conditions. However, if we bring attention to the health hazards, more often than not, the building will be immediately torn down.

It’s just not fair. We need to save the buildings, not erase them. But, the preservation world experiences ongoing battles. The most we, as citizens, can do is write letters or sign petitions. Go to events that would benefit a historical society, then talk to those who you have given money to and ask for their support.

I have gotten emails responding to my requests, all of them said that they would love to help but the issue is just too big for them to help take care of. We need to make the issue not seem like it’s unsolvable.

This generation seeks to find an easier way to go about things — why not do it with buildings?

Contemplating History and It’s Future in Schools

We all have been through the never-ending cycle of history classes from the moment we entered middle school. Our teachers tell us first about the classical era, like the Greek and Roman empires. Simple, right? Then we approach more difficult and less understandable concepts like the Dark Ages and Crusades. In our minds, we could not fathom how and why people would go to such lengths for their cause, when, in this day and age, we really just Tweet or post our petitions and ideas in hopes someone, somewhere will see our potential.

History never ends. Everyday history is made, in small and large forms. My head has been spinning about the idea that history in schools will be cut short, because of the constant history-making that we humans do. Imagine, we spend 3 years learning about the BCE and the remainder of high school in the CE. I have never heard of any current events classes where all you cover are current wars, disputes, inventions, and fascinating people.

A good example of something that I believe will alter the course of how our children and grandchildren will be taught history is the crisis in Ukraine. Because of the magnitude of this event, it might need a whole semester or quarter of our successors schooling just to cover it. No more will they spend time on what happened 3,000 years ago because the new current events will overtake the history system. There won’t be enough time to cover all the history we learned, plus the emerging stories that occur everyday.

It’s not a negative future, per se. I feel as though the classical and medieval eras could be taught through art history class, or even in a comparative religions or mythology elective. What is important, really? Will we not be better people if we don’t learn about the dispute between Athens and Sparta?

Watch for the shift that may occur in the way people are taught history. You may find that most of the arts and crafts projects you did like reconstructing the Parthenon will be obsolete in 50 years.