Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum

Day 1738

     In the first decades of the 1800s there was a movement in several states to reform prisons, create public schools, and establish state-run hospitals for the mentally ill. In 1837, the Georgia State Legislature responded to a call from Governor Wilson Lumpkin, by passing a bill calling for the creation of a “State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum.” Located in Milledgeville, then the state capital, the facility opened in 1842.

     Of course, I couldn’t resist seeking it out.

     The facilities was once the largest mental hospital on Earth. Today, it is slowly rotting away.

     In December 1842, the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot and Epileptic Asylum opened its doors to patients afflicted with all manner of mental ailments. It was considered a state-of-the-art facility at the time, eschewing ropes and chains in favor of holistic care and work programs designed to help rehabilitate the patients. This model met with great success, particularly under the leadership of Dr. Thomas A. Green, who served at the hospital from 1845 to 1879. 

     However, as frequently happened in such 19th-century mental institutions, things took a dark turn as the years went on. The population of the hospital had ballooned while the capacity of the buildings had stayed the same.

      The site gained national recognition during the 1950s as the largest mental institution in the world, with over 12,000 patients, 6,000 employees, and more than 8,000 acres of land.    

     The gentle practices that the hospital had once pioneered fell by the wayside as staff struggled to cope with the massive population. The patient population grew steadily throughout the twentieth century. The increase in numbers meant a concurrent decrease in the quality of care. By the 1960s, there were over 12,000 patients living at Central State Hospital, with only one medical staffer per 100 individuals. 

    As conditions deteriorated, patients began dying. A 1959 exposé revealed that none of the 48 doctors patrolling the wards were actually psychiatrists. Mothers across the South threatened to send misbehaving children to Milledgeville. It was soon discovered that more than 25,000 patients were buried in unmarked graves throughout the hospital grounds. This was a result of families not being able to afford to bring their loved ones bodies home. 

     The main hospital eventually shut down in 2010. The property is closed to the public and constant security patrols ensure that no one goes close to the buildings. In fact, I was stopped 3 times by security while taking these photographs, saying either I or my parked truck were on private property.

      Today, Central State Hospital serves only 200 patients and has downsized to roughly 2,000 acres of land, adjacent to these abandoned buildings. .