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Oregon State Hospital
(formerly the State Insane Asylum)
As early as 1862 Governor Addison Gibbs recommended to the Oregon Legislature the establishment in Salem of an asylum to provide for the care and medical treatment of "insane and idiotic persons".

Prior to the passage of any act dealing with the insane, each county had dealt with such unfortunate citizens on an individual basis. A document in the Oregon Archives offers an instance of this bid procedure: dated August 6, 1845, William P. Dougherty of Oregon City awarded a contract for "Boarding, clothing, and keeping" Eli Smith, "a lunatic," to Andrew Hembrie for $1.00 per day. Hembrie was under $600 bond to fulfill the contract. Similar contracts could be found in each of the counties, usually under "Pauper Accounts."

By 1862, Dr. J. C. Hawthorne had opened his Portland Institute for the Insane. Marion County, along with most of the counties then in existence, contracted with Dr. Hawthorne to care for their citizens "of unsound mind." At county expense, these unfortunates were shipped to Portland.

Funds were allocated in the Fall of 1880 for the Oregon State Insane Asylum; the site selected was north of the state prison on a slight rise just east of Salem, its present location. Ground breaking took place in May 1881 with much of the labor force and brick building material coming from the penitentiary.

Completed in the summer of 1883, the main building of the hospital ("J" building) is a familiar sight to anyone traveling on Center Street east of downtown Salem. The street leading to the hospital was originally designated Asylum Avenue. To oversee the operations at the facility, Dr. Horace Carpenter, a local physician, was hired as first Superintendent of the new facility and a staff was engaged to serve the 412 patients the hospital could accommodate. In the Morning Oregonian appeared an account of the transfer of 261 male patients from Portland's Hawthorne Asylum to their new home in Salem. The reporter characterized these patients as "representing almost every known stage or degree of insanity, idiocy, imbecility or helplessness". (Actually, records indicate that 268 patients made the trip to Salem that day.) On October 24th, 1883, 102 female patients were transferred to Salem, including three girls, ages six to nine.

For three decades the facility operated as the Oregon State Insane Asylum. In 1913 the name change to Oregon State Hospital occurred. In this year also a crematory was put into use on the hospital grounds and all burials in the Asylum Cemetery were disinterred and cremated. Following the enactment of S. B. 109, deaths at "any eleemosynary, penal, or corrective institution of the State of Oregon located at or near to the city of Salem," if unclaimed by a friend or relatives, would be subject to cremation. Their ashes now rest in the Memorial Circle on the western limits of the hospital grounds, "In Memory of Those Who Have Passed Away at the Oregon State Hospital." The incinerator, called "Steiner's Chimney," (for then-superintendent Dr. Lee Steiner who had it built in 1910) can still be seen, though now the structure enclosing it houses the power plant.

An extension of the hospital’s north wing ("Cascade Hall" or "J" building) in 1899 and the addition of seven separate buildings, including the familiar 1912 "Dome Building" where the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed, in succeeding years reflect the growing realization that the mental health of Oregonians is a continuing concern.

Researched and written by Sue Bell.

Bell, Susan N. The Asylum Cemetery 1883-1913. Salem: Willamette Valley Genealogy Society, 1991.

"Echoes of Oregon," State of Oregon Government and Territorial Records, Document 1122.

Governor Addison Gibbs' Message to the Legislature - 1862, p. 49.

Marion County Commissioners Court Journals, various volumes in Oregon Archives.

Morning Oregonian 24 Oct. 1883, pp. 1 & 4.Oregon Statesman Illustrated Annual, 3 Jan. 1900, p. 29.

Oregon State Insane Asylum Admissions, Volume G, Oregon Archives.

Senate Bill 109, Oregon Laws. 25 Feb. 1913.


Additional Links
Dr. J.C. Hawthorne
Dr. J. C. Hawthorne, Portland Superintendent of the Insane, 1865-81
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Dr. Horace Carpenter
Dr. Horace Carpenter, first Oregon State Hospital Superintendent, 1883.
[ View Image ]
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