Trans-Allegheny is an interesting location, as its construction began in 1858 but was halted due to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. In 1863, West Virginia officially became a state, construction began again, and the asylum admitted its first 9 female patients in 1864.
Construction on the asylum continued until 1881 following the Kirkbride Plan, making Trans-Allegheny the first of two Kirkbride Asylums in West Virginia. However, setting them apart is that the main hospital building at Trans-Allegheny is the 2nd largest hand cut stone structure in the world, next only to the Kremlin in Russia.
Originally built to house 250 patients within the 242,000 sq/ft building, overcrowding soon became a major problem that would continue throughout the years. In the 1950s, the patient population reached its peak at 2400 patients. In addition to the main Kirkbride hospital building, the Trans-Allegheny campus also has a separate tuberculosis building, medical center, women’s auxiliary building, and geriatrics building.
INTERESTING FACT: The infamous clock tower only has 3 faces. This was so the patients working outside behind the asylum couldn’t see what time it was and how much time had passed.
Following the Kirkbride Plan, the hospital superintendent once lived in the central administration section of the hospital with their family. Nurses also lived onsite. At one point, Nurses were housed on the 4th floor, until that area was converted for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. It’s important to think about the mental state of the staff – not only working at the asylum but living there as well.
In 1913, the name changed to Weston State Hospital, and remained the name of the facility until its closure in 1994. When the property was purchased by a private owner in 2007, the name was changed back to the original Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
Dr. Walter Freeman did travel to Trans-Allegheny to perform his infamous trans-orbital lobotomies. Freeman performed 228 trans-orbital lobotomies during a two-week period in 1952 in West Virginia, through a state-sponsored lobotomy project dubbed "Operation Ice Pick" by newspapers. West Virginia was the very first state to allow mass lobotomies at its mental institutions; its per capita rate of lobotomies was the highest in the nation.