HISTORIC PHOTOS: Photos from the old days at the Madison State Hospital show patients working

at several of the jobs required to keep a large institution going. The pictures are among a number of artifacts

on display at the new Madison State Hospital Gatehouse Museum, which was prepared by the Jefferson

County Historical Society


Thursday, August 30, 2001

MSH museum offers insight into history of mental health care.

By Wayne Engle, Courier Staff Writer

Nearly a century of history at the Madison State Hospital is being encapsulated in the new Jefferson County Historical Society Gatehouse Museum.

Old straitjackets, a wood stove, a strange-looking device known as a “colonic irrigator,” a human brain preserved in formaldehyde, many old hospital photographs, and a number of other items will be on display in the museum, scheduled to open to the public Saturday.

The gatehouse is a familiar sight to anyone who has driven by the south entrance to the state hospital, just at the top of the Hanging Rock Hill. Look across the short bridge over the tracks of the Madison Railroad cuts, and you will see the gatehouse directly ahead.

Institution dates to 1910

On Feb. 21, 1905, the Indiana legislature passed a bill to construct a mental institution in southeastern Indiana. A commission named for the purpose chose Madison as the site of the institution. It was built mostly on land purchased from Henry and Ford Hitz at $100 per acre, atop the hills overlooking the Ohio River.

The first patients were accepted at the new Southeastern Indiana Hospital for the Insane on Aug. 23, 1910. The approximately 600 patients were transported here from Central State Hospital in Indianapolis by train. Guards who stood watch over them carried shotguns loaded with rock salt.

There were 200 two-story buildings with 20 to 70 beds each to house the patients, with the buildings being placed in a symmetrical pattern with administration and service buildings in between. Men’s buildings were on one side of the grounds, women’s buildings on the other.

Heretofore, mental patients had been “warehoused” in huge buildings. But the new, enlightened view of “moral treatment” current in the early 20th century was that disturbed minds could be restored to sanity in a beautiful, peaceful and accepting environment such as the new state hospital offered, with its breathtaking view of the Ohio River Valley.

The breaking up of the patients’ housing into smaller buildings, known as the “cottage plan,” also was aimed at more humane treatment of the mentally ill and at trying to restore them to sanity.

“Cragmont” and research

The name of the new institution was changed to Madison State Hospital in 1927. But from its earliest days, the institution came to be known locally as “Cragmont,” a nickname that died out only in recent years.

Studies on mental disorders of nationwide significance were done at MSH over the years, according to Gerry Michl of the Jefferson County Historical Society, which has been in charge of preparing the museum.

“For instance, they studied Huntington’s chorea, which is a degenerative neurologic disease that is hereditary,” Michl said. She said there has been a more frequent occurrence of the disorder in this community than is true nationally.

Brains of long-deceased patients, which were studied after the patients’ deaths as part of the research into the disease, are preserved at the museum.

Other studies were done of criminal sexual psychopaths, and of the results of the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Involved in the various studies were such physicians as Dr. George Zirkle, Dr. Peter King and Dr. Ott B. McAtee, who was the superintendent for many years.

Patients worked in early days

“When the first patients arrived, the landscape (at the hospital) was very bleak. There were no roads,” Michl said. “Expectations of men’s and women’s work were very separate, and very clear.”

While the structures were already in place when the first patients arrived, the patients themselves kept the institution going, Michl said. “There were huge farming operations here. It was very self-sufficient,” she said. They also built the roads at MSH, Michl said.

As recently as the 1950s, patients could be seen working under supervision in the gardens at the state hospital. A number of the photos on display in the new museum show work crews made up of patients in the old days.

But in the 1960s, the legislature decided that such unpaid work constituted indentured servitude — that patients either had to start receiving pay in money, or not be required to work anymore. It was decided that it was cheaper to do away with the farming operations and buy food for the patients on the market.

Among the buildings that pre-date the establishment of the state hospital, the gatehouse is one of the very few that have survived. The stone portion in front dates to the 1840s; the rear part, to 1926.

The original owner of the gatehouse was John Hoffman. His son, Matt, was a bricklayer who helped construct the tunnels that still connect the various buildings on the hospital grounds.

Reindollar’s idea

The museum was the brainchild of Vern Reindollar, the assistant superintendent for administration at MSH.

“Vern Reindollar and (former superintendent) Jerry Thaden talked about preserving some of the history” of the state hospital, Michl said. “While Vern was a member of the board of the historical society he suggested going through (State Rep.) Markt Lytle to get (the gatehouse) and three acres for a museum.”

Lytle obtained $50,000 in “Fund Indiana” monies for the museum, which was used to renovate the building and to add a parking lot and walkway.

Plans called for work to start on the museum in January 2000. But late that month, a tragic fire at Reindollar’s home resulted in the death of his wife, Dorothy “Dotti” Inglis Reindollar, and the loss of their house.

“Also there was a change of administration at the hospital,” said Michl. “So Vern was unable to give his full attention to this.”

Museum finally ready

Finally this January work began in full force, and by this month the museum was virtually complete.

“We set a deadline for Sept. 1 — it looks like we’re going to make it,” Michl said. The historical society board put her in charge of the project. “Since May 10 I’ve been here just about every day for several hours,” she said.

All the artifacts came from the state hospital. “There’s nooks and crannies over there, and I’m sure there’ll be more stuff added,” Michl said.

The museum will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; then each Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with other times being available by appointment, Michl said.

She advised visitors to be sure to use the north entrance to the hospital, and follow the signs, which will lead them to the parking lot. Then follow the walkway to the museum.

Oral histories

John Cutshall, community services director, is compiling an oral history of the Madison State Hospital for the museum. He is also operator of the TV studios at MSH, and just finished 30 years of employment there.

“I’m doing both video and audio tapes,” Cutshall said. “One person didn’t want to have her picture taken, so we did audio. We did Mr. Thaden on video, sitting out in front of the administration building. He talked almost an hour.”

Cutshall said he has worked mostly with past employees who are now retired. These include Helen Spry, director of nursing; Lucille Maxey, who was an attendant and attendant supervisor; and Dr. Robert Snodgrass, who came to MSH one summer in the early 1950s, then came back several years later. He was a medical student when he first arrived.

“I did Val Camenisch, a rehabilitation therapist; and Zelpha Giltner, an attendant, who is now 91 years old. And I’ve done Nancy Fisher, who worked here for 50 years,” said Cutshall. “Vern Reindollar will probably be my next one.”


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