Locations: Weston, West Virginia, USA
Operation Time: 1864 – 1994
Type: Kirkbride Plan
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (also called the Armand Auclerc Weston State Hospital) was built under the Kirkbride plan. In the 1850s, the Virginia General Assembly authorized a hospital called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. In order to build such an asylum, they consulted Thomas Story Kirkbride, the man behind the Kirkbride Plan as well as the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.
It was operated by the West Virginia government and built by architect Richard Snowden Andrews (from Baltimore) in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles, and it took 23 years (from 1858 to 1881) to construct such a massive asylum. Those who worked on the construction first consisted of prison laborers (a local newspaper posted in late November that there were “seven convict negroes” that were the workers). The later workers were skilled stonemasons from Germany and Ireland.
However, the construction was interrupted by the Civil War in 1861. The government of Virginia demanded that the unused construction funds be returned and put to its defense. Despite this, the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry stole the money from a bank and delivered it to Wheeling, where it would be put towards founding the Reorganized Government of Virginia (part of the Union). The Reorganized Government received enough money to resume construction in 1862. The hospital was later renamed “the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane”. The first patient admitted into the hospital was a female housekeeper in October, 1864.
Construction continued while the patients lived there. The 200-foot tall central clock tower was completed in 1871. Separate rooms for African-Americans were completed in 1873. It was decided that the asylum should be self-sufficient with a farm, dairy, waterworks, and cemetery on its grounds. These grounds eventually reached 666 acres in area. The hospital was completed officially in 1881, and, in 1902, a gas well was drilled on its grounds. In 1913, the name changed to Weston State Hospital.
Originally, the hospital was intended to hold only 250 people in solitude, but held 717 by 1880; 1,661 by 1938; over 1,800 in 1949; and soaring over 2,400 in the 1950s. It was noted in 1938 by a survey committee consisting of North American medical organizations that the hospital contained “epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts, and non-educable mental defectives”. In 1949, many reports in The Charleston Gazette stated that the asylum had poor sanitation, lighting, heating, gas, and furniture in most of the facility, while one of the wings was in comparison rather luxurious. This wing was rebuilt by Works Progress Administration funds after a 1935 fire that a patient had started.
The patient population greatly reduced in the 1980s since treatment of mental illnesses had greatly changed. The patients couldn’t be controlled were terrifyingly penned up in cages. Governor Arch Moore, in 1986, announced a plan for a new mental hospital somewhere else, and converting Weston into a prison. The new facility, the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital, was built in the same town, and the old hospital was closed in May, 1994, leaving it vacant.
In 1999, all four floors on the inside of the building were damaged because police officers played paintball inside of the abandoned asylum. Many people tried to turn the old hospital into a Civil War Museum, a hotel, and a golf course complex – none of which went through. The Weston Hospital Revitalization Committee, a non-profit organization, was formed in 2000 in attempts to help preserve the building.
In 2004, three tiny museums went in the first floor of the building. The military history museum, toy museum, and mental health museum were all closed due to violation of fire code. On August 29th, 2007, an auction held by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources started the bidding on the hospital at $500,000. In the end, asbestos demolition contractor Joe Jordan from Morgantown was the winner, paying $1.5 million. He began to give the asylum maintenance to restore it. A Fall Fest was held in October of 2007. Other events at Trans-Allegheny (the name was reverted after its purchase) include guided daytime tours, haunted hospital tours, haunted hay-rides, treasure hunting, family hay-rides, arts and crafts, and local music. All of the events go towards restoring Trans-Allegheny.
- In 2008, Joe Jordan called TAPS to do an investigation of the grounds. The investigation was featured on Ghost Hunters episode “Haunted Asylum” (4.09).
- On October 30th, 2009, Travel Channel had a seven-hour live broadcast of Ghost Adventures from the asylum. Viewers were able to text message, monitor, and review evidence via webcams on the Travel Channel website during the live special. Viewers were not disappointed, as lots of activity occurred.