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Rochester State Hospital

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Black and white photograph of women reading in library, Rochester State Hospital, c.1930.

Women reading in library, Rochester State Hospital, c.1930.

Rochester State Hospital opened on January 1, 1879, as Minnesota’s second hospital for the insane. It served as part of Minnesota’s state hospital system until 1982, when changing trends in treatment for the mentally ill and lack of funding led to its closure.

Rochester State Hospital began as the Minnesota Inebriate Asylum. In 1873, the state legislature passed a law that imposed a ten-dollar annual tax on liquor dealers to fund the building of an asylum for sufferers of alcoholism, then commonly called inebriates. The state purchased 160 acres of land in Rochester in 1876, and construction of the asylum began in 1877.

Liquor dealers strongly opposed the tax and successfully lobbied against it, arguing that there was a more urgent need for another hospital for the insane. In 1878, the legislature repealed the tax and abolished the inebriate asylum. In its place, they established the Second Minnesota Hospital for the Insane to ease overcrowding at St. Peter, then the state’s only institution for the mentally ill. A portion of the new hospital was dedicated to treating chronic inebriates.

The hospital opened on January 1, 1879, with one hundred male patients transferred from St. Peter. It was built according to the Kirkbride plan, a design created by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride that set aside open stretches of land for farming, exercise, and occupational therapy. The original structure featured a central administration building with wings for patient wards stretching out behind it on either side. The first building was completed in 1880 but was expanded throughout the 1880s. In 1893, the institution changed its name to the Rochester State Hospital.

Treatment of mental illness at the hospital before the 1920s mainly involved keeping patients occupied with work and recreation, and restraining violent patients. Many patients worked on the hospital’s five-hundred-acre farm. Though physical punishment was not prescribed as a treatment, the hospital came under scrutiny in 1889 when patient Taylor Combs died at the hands of two attendants. Following this scandal, Dr. A. F. Kilbourne replaced the hospital’s first superintendent, Dr. J. E. Bowers.

Kilbourne, who served at Rochester until his death in 1935, was a firm believer in therapeutic occupation and amusement for patients as the most valuable forms of treatment. He tried to improve Rochester’s program so that it offered patients more light exposure and more interesting work. After his takeover in 1889, the hospital developed one of the first nurses’ training programs in the country. The first class graduated in 1892.

Treatment methods evolved throughout the hospital’s history. In the late 1940s, insulin and electroshock treatments were common. In the 1950s, lobotomies were used on some patients, and drug use became more extensive. The hospital’s campus continued to change as well. After World War II, there was an influx of geriatric patients. With the old Kirkbride building unable to accommodate them, a major construction program began in 1948. By 1964, newer buildings served most of the patients and the Kirkbride structures were torn down. In 1965, the City of Rochester purchased 212 acres of the hospital’s farm land and turned it into Quarry Hill Park.

By the 1960s, the hospital was known for its surgical unit. It served as a center for many other state institutions, and by 1971 was the only remaining surgical unit in the state hospital system. In the same year, it became the surgical center for the Department of Public Welfare.

In the late 1970s, as the economy declined, the treatment of mental illness moved from state institutions to community-based facilities. In 1981, the Minnesota Legislature ordered Rochester to close as a cost-saving measure, triggering a state-wide controversy. Hospital staff and community members expressed concern that the closure would traumatize patients and damage the local economy. Unlike other state hospitals, which received patients through court orders, Rochester admitted a majority of its patients voluntarily. Patient advocates feared that closing the hospital would hurt those who sought help willingly. Despite these objections, the hospital closed in June 1982.

The Federal Medical Center, a prison for inmates with medical problems, was built on the hospital’s grounds in 1984. The prison used some of the detached hospital buildings but demolished others to allow for new construction.

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Editor’s note: This article has been repurposed from an overview of Rochester State Hospital’s administrative history written by State Archives staff.

“Closing of RSH Creating Problems for Community.” Rochester Post Bulletin, January 1, 1982.

Hansel, Jeff. “Was Closing the Rochester State Hospital a Good Idea?” Rochester Post Bulletin, March 22, 2013.
http://www.postbulletin.com/news/local/was-closing-the-rochester-state-hospital-a-good-idea/article_81bc7b63-7ed6-5863-9900-73648d8a909f.html

McCracken, Ken. “ABC Workers Worried by Closing of State Hospital.” Rochester Post Bulletin, December 31.

——— . “Minnesota’s State Hospitals Said In Danger Of Taking Step Into Past.” Rochester Post Bulletin, December 31, 1981.

——— . “RHS Patient Load May Cause Anxious Time at St. Peter.” Rochester Post Bulletin, December 31, 1981.

——— . “Rochester State Hospital’s Closing Running on Schedule.” Rochester Post Bulletin, December 31, 1981.

"New Methods of Treating Insane at Rochester." St. Paul Globe, February 23, 1902.

Medical Director Subject Files, 1967–1982
Rochester State Hospital
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gr00064.xml
Description: Reports, correspondence, memos, circulars, newsletters, and miscellaneous materials of medical director Francis A. Tyce and assistant medical director Glen M. Duncan.

Minnesota State Planning Agency. “Minnesota’s State Hospitals.” January 31, 1985.
http://mn.gov/mnddc/learning/document/GT033.PDF

Minnesota Department of Public Welfare. “The Future of Minnesota’s State Hospital System.” November 1982.
http://mn.gov/mnddc/past/pdf/80s/82/82-mn-dpw-mn-hosp-future1.pdf

——— . Minnesota's Mental Health Program in Perspective: A Comprehensive Summary. 1965.
http://mn.gov/mnddc/past/pdf/60s/65/65-DPW-MHP.pdf

Kilbourne, Arthur. "Minnesota in the Development of the Care of the Insane." American Journal of Psychiatry 84 (1929): 1077–1083.

Murphy, Patricia. The Public Buildings of the State of Minnesota: An Architectural Heritage. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1986.

Rochester State Hospital: 1879–1951, Rochester, Minnesota. [MN]: N.p., 1951.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of women reading in library, Rochester State Hospital, c.1930.
Black and white photograph of women reading in library, Rochester State Hospital, c.1930.
Black and white photograph of the kitchen, Rochester State Hospital, March 18, 1905.
Black and white photograph of the kitchen, Rochester State Hospital, March 18, 1905.
Black and white photograph of a Rochester State Hospital exhibit at the State Fair, c.1915.
Black and white photograph of a Rochester State Hospital exhibit at the State Fair, c.1915.
Black and white photograph of the interior, Rochester State Hospital, 1918.
Black and white photograph of the interior, Rochester State Hospital, 1918.
Black and white photograph of personnel, Rochester State Hospital, 1925.
Black and white photograph of personnel, Rochester State Hospital, 1925.
Black and white photograph of the Administration Building of the Rochester State Hospital, c.1930.
Black and white photograph of the Administration Building of the Rochester State Hospital, c.1930.
Black and white photograph of farm buildings, Rochester State Hospital, c.1940.
Black and white photograph of farm buildings, Rochester State Hospital, c.1940.
Black and white photograph of the Occupational therapy cottage, Rochester State Hospital, c.1940.
Black and white photograph of the Occupational therapy cottage, Rochester State Hospital, c.1940.
Black and white photograph of a library, at Rochester State Hospital, 1951.
Black and white photograph of a library, at Rochester State Hospital, 1951.
Black and white photograph of student nurses putting on a musical program for patients at Rochester State Hospital, 1958.
Black and white photograph of student nurses putting on a musical program for patients at Rochester State Hospital, 1958.

Turning Point

In 1878, the Minnesota State Legislature repeals the annual tax on liquor dealers meant to fund an Inebriate Asylum and establishes in its place the Second Minnesota Hospital for the Insane (later renamed Rochester State Hospital).

Chronology

1873

The Minnesota Legislature passes a law establishing an annual tax on liquor dealers to fund the building of an asylum for inebriates.

1877

Construction of the facility begins.

1878

Facing opposition from liquor dealers and overcrowding at St. Peter’ s Hospital, the legislature repeals the tax and establishes the Second Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in place of the inebriate asylum.

1879

The Second Minnesota Hospital for the Insane opens on January 1.

1880

Construction of the original hospital building, according to the Kirkbride plan, is completed.

1889

Controversy is sparked when hospital patient Taylor Combs is killed by two attendants. Dr. A. F. Kilbourne replaces Dr. J. E. Bowers as superintendent.

1892

The first class graduates from the hospital’s school of nursing.

1893

The institution’s name changes from the Second Minnesota Hospital for the Insane to the Rochester State Hospital.

1948

A major construction program begins following an influx of geriatric patients after World War II.

1964

The original Kirkbride structure is demolished. The country’s first accredited school for nurse anesthetists is established.

1965

The state sells 212 acres of the hospital’s farmland to the City of Rochester. The land becomes Quarry Hill Park.

1971

Rochester State Hospital, home of the only remaining surgical unit in the state hospital system, becomes the surgical center for the Department of Public Welfare.

1981

The legislature orders the closing of Rochester State Hospital due to a lack of funds and a shift towards a more community-based mental health care system.

1982

The hospital officially closes its doors in June.

1984

One third of the hospital land is sold to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and turned into the Federal Medical Center. The remaining two thirds are sold to Olmsted County.