Indiana Medical History Museum

Early History: 1840’s-1900’s

Two and a half miles west of downtown sits the site of Central State Hospital, Indiana’s first hospital for the mentally ill. The term “hospital” rather than “asylum” signaled the institution’s intent to cure patients rather than serving as long-term guardians. The state purchased the 160 acres of land, known as the Mount Jackson farm, for $4,000 from the Bolton family in 1845. The original five-story brick building opened for patients in 1848. Early on, the hospital was a political battleground; superintendent appointments changed with each new governor, causing unstable leadership. However, by 1870, the hospital cared for 792 patients. Rhoda M. Coffin, a popular Quaker social reformer and women’s rights advocate from Richmond, Indiana, urged superintendent Dr. William Fletcher to hire a female doctor for the hospital in 1884: Dr. Sarah Stockton. One of the more progressive superintendents, Dr. Fletcher also famously burned all of the patient restraints in a large bonfire in 1883. Issues with overcrowding began as early as 1908, because courts referred too many lawbreakers to the institution even when they suffered no mental illnesses. These space needs led to four other hospitals being established within the state. This changed the building’s name from “Indiana Hospital for the Insane” to “Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane,” later shortened to Central State Hospital.

The Old Pathology Building: 1895-1969

The Old Pathology Building, now the Indiana Medical History Museum, remains one of the few structures left on the historic site, along with the laundry building, men’s dining hall, power plant, and administration building. Constructed for psychiatric study and discovery, the Old Pathology Building exhibited the most modern building design and décor for the period, and came equipped with the best technology available. The superintendent at the time, Dr. George F. Edenharter, advocated for the construction of the pathology laboratory in 1895, which was completed in 1896. The Old Pathology Building exhibited the most modern building design and décor for the period. Containing bacteriological and chemical research laboratories, a 150-seat teaching amphitheater, and the hospital’s morgue/autopsy room, it was one of the paramount medical facilities of its day and the first associated with a mental hospital. The facility was designed to study the causes and treatments for mental illness. Lectures on topics like nervous system development, classifying insanity, manic-depressive psychosis, brain and spinal cord circulation, and spinal system diseases transpired in the amphitheater for local medical students and hospital staff members alike. Students from nearby medical colleges could observe autopsies in the evening—a growing necessity in medical teaching. The building was used continuously for education purposes until 1955. A non-profit organization was founded in 1969 to save the Old Pathology Building from demolition; the museum opened the following year.

Closing: 1990’s

During a national phase of deinstitutionalization, Governor Bayh initiated closing the hospital due to patient abuse allegations, necessary yet expensive facilities upgrades, and the idea that community-based care was more effective than institutional care for the mentally ill. By May of 1993, the 273 patients remaining moved to other institutions or were released.

Medical History Museum: Present

Today, the building is the oldest pathology facility still standing in the nation, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Through their exhibits, the museum focuses on interpreting the building and educating visitors on the evolution of the science of medicine during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Their collection includes scientific and medical artifacts, many of which are original to the building. The museum’s nineteen rooms function as exhibits and include various laboratories, an amphitheater, and an autopsy room, which maintain their original appearance and equipment.

Images

Indiana Medical History Museum (Pathology Building)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Pathology Building)

The Old Pathology Building, now the Indiana Medical History Museum, is the oldest freestanding pathology laboratory in the country, located at 3045 W. Vermont St. It contains bacteriology, histology, and clinical chemistry laboratories, as well as a teaching amphitheater, anatomical museum, and an autopsy room. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the building was designed by Adolph Scherrer and constructed by the John A. Schumacher Company. | Source: Image courtesy of Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Creator: Kurt Lee Nettleton View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Amphitheater)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Amphitheater)

The teaching amphitheater of the Old Pathology Building was used for lectures in psychology, neurology, and pathology for medical students and Central State Hospital staff. The amphitheater chairs are original to the building. An autopsy table originally stood in the front where the table sits; it was removed in 1932. Three skylights assisted the building™s gas/electric combination lights, one of which is situated directly above this table. | Source: Image Courtesy of Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Creator: Kurt Lee Nettleton View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Amphitheater)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Amphitheater)

Alternate view of the Amphitheater/Lecture Hall | Source: Courtesy of Indiana DNR View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Chemistry Lab)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Chemistry Lab)

The Clinical Chemistry laboratory in the Old Pathology Building used body fluids, like spinal fluid, blood, and urine, to diagnosis diseases like syphilis, meningitis, tabes, and paresis. Syphilis, a bacterial infection, was one of the leading causing of mental illness during the time before the discovery of penicillin. This lab boasts a hand-cranked two-vial centrifuge and original plumbing fixtures. Image courtesy of Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Source: Image courtesy of Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Creator: Kurt Lee Nettleton. View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Autopsy Room)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Autopsy Room)

The morgue in the Old Pathology Building contains the only autopsy table left in the collection. The morgue functioned as the autopsy room as well. Performing autopsies on deceased patients at Central State Hospital was necessary research; the pathologists believed an autopsy would allow them to discover physical causes for mental illnesses. Including a funeral parlor in a pathology building was common at the time, because families accepting a free funeral would consent to an autopsy. | Source: Image courtesy of Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Creator: Kurt Lee Nettleton View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Aerial Shot)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Aerial Shot)

Aerial shot depicts less than half of the hospital grounds. The largest building in the center was the women™s ward, Seven Steeples. Behind the southern side of Seven Steeples is the Pathology Building. The Progressive Era changed asylum architecture and planning: Dr. Thomas Kirkbride designed hospitals that were calming and afforded more fresh air and light to the patients™ rooms, as seen by the staggered wing formation. | Source: Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Seven Steeples)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Seven Steeples)

Seven Steeples was considered the height of the institutional architecture at the campus. It was demolished in 1974 due to the massive mechanical system upgrades and renovations required. The building actually had 8 steeples but was called “Seven Steeples” because the building was so massive one could only see 7 steeples at the most from anywhere on the grounds. | Source: Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Beauty Shop)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Beauty Shop)

The amusement hall, built in 1899, included an auditorium, bowling alleys, and a beauty shop. It was demolished in 1990 even though it was eligible for the Indiana State Register of Historic Sites and Structures. | Source: Image courtesy of Indiana Medical History Museum View File Details Page

Indiana Medical History Museum (Therapy)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Therapy)

The hospital drew ideas from physician Dr. Philippe Pinel™s Moral Treatment, an idea used to benefit patients with mental illnesses when little was known about diagnosis, causes, or treatment of mental disorders. Developed in France, ideas like having a structured schedule, planned activities like sewing, basketmaking or gardening, and events organized by the patients or community groups were believed to help patients. By the 1930™s the hospital had a residency-training program in psychiatry. | Source: Image courtesy of Indiana Medical History Museum View File Details Page

Street Address:

3045 W Vermont St, Indianapolis, IN 46222 [map]

Official Website:

http://www.imhm.org/

Cite this Page:

Jordan B. Ryan, Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, “Indiana Medical History Museum,” Discover Indiana, accessed September 21, 2018, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/21.
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