The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (which is also known as the “Armand Auclerc Weston State Hospital”) was built under the standards of the Kirkbride Plan. In the 1850s the Virginia General Assembly authorized the hospital. 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.
Operated by the West Virginia government and built by architect Richard Snowden Andrews, it took 23 years (from 1858 to 1881) to construct the massive Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival style asylum. Those who worked on building the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum consisted of convict laborers (according to the local newspaper in late November, there were “seven convict negroes as workers”). In the later portion of the construction, skilled stonemasons from Germany and Ireland were utilized.
Construction came to a screeching halt in 1861 with the outbreak of the Civil War. 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 it was a female housekeeper in October, 1864. Construction continued even while the patients lived there. The 200-foot tall central clock tower was completed in 1871.
Separate rooms were built to segregate African-American patients from white patients were completed in 1873. It was decided that the asylum should become self-sufficient with a farm, dairy, waterworks, and a cemetery on its grounds. These grounds eventually reached to 666 acres in area.
The hospital was officially completed by 1881, and, in 1902, a gas well was drilled on the property. In 1913, the name changed to “Weston State Hospital”. Originally, the hospital was intended to hold only 250 in solitude, but it 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 all of the facility in comparison to one of its wings, which was in comparison rather luxurious. The wing was rebuilt by Works Progress Administration funds after a 1935 fire broke out after a patient started it.
By the 1980s, the patient population greatly decreased since the treatment and definition of mental illness had greatly changed. The patients that couldn’t be controlled were terrifyingly penned up in cages. In 1986, Governor Arch Moore announced a plan to build a new mental hospital elsewhere, and convert Weston into a prison. The new facility, the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital, was built in the same town, and the old hospital closed in May, 1994, leaving it vacant.
In 1999, all four floors on the inside of the building were damaged by police officers playing paintball inside of the abandoned asylum. Many people have tried to turn the old hospital into a Civil War museum, a hotel, and a golf course complex, but nothing has ever gone 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 – a military history museum, a toy museum, and a mental health museum – went in on the first floor of the building, but were all closed due to violation of fire code. on August 29th, 2007, an auction was held by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and the bidding started at $500,000. In the end, asbestos demolition contractor Joe Jordan from Morgantown was the winner, paying a total of $1.5 million.
He began to give the asylum maintenance to restore it. A Fall Fest was held in October of the same year. The hospital’s name was reverted back to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (many find the name to be politically incorrect), and now it offers daytime tours, haunted hospital tours, haunted hay-rides, treasure hunting, family hay-rides, arts and crafts, and local music. All proceeds go to restoring the hospital. It is one of the most haunted places in the United States, haunted by the patients that were mistreated.
In Popular Culture
- 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.