Cherokee State Hospital

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Cherokee State Hospital
Cherokee State Hospital
Postcard image of the main building.
Construction Began 1884
Opened 1902
Current Status Active/Preserved
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Henry F. Liebbe
Location Cherokee, Iowa
Architecture Style Queen Anne Revival
Peak Patient Population 1,725 in 1945
Alternate Names
  • Cherokee State Hospital for the Insane
  • Cherokee Mental Health Center
  • Cherokee Mental Health Institute
  • Iowa Lunatic Asylum
  • Cherokee Lunatic Asylum


The Cherokee State Hospital is a psychiatric hospital located in Cherokee Iowa. It is currently the fourth and last institution to be built in Iowa. It is still in operation with a special treatment program for drug addicts and alcoholics. It is preserved to look like it did when it first opened. This hospital was the last of the four state mental hospitals to be built in Iowa and the only one where the main building, a connected complex in Kirkbride plan, was fully completed before the hospital was opened to patients. The architects were an Iowa firm, Josselyn and Taylor, and the overall form and massing of component portions of the building suggests a French chateau, while the small-scale decorative motifs are those of the Queen Anne Revival Style. The functional arrangements reflect a moderately conservative approach for the times in the care of mental illness.

From the "BOARD OF CONTROL OF STATE INSTITUTIONS, From Iowa Official Register 1909-1910" pages 262-269 Superintendent-M. NELSON VOLDENG, M.D. First Assistant Physician-BENJAMIN R. McALLASTER, M.D. Second Assistant Physician-T.L. LONG, M.D. Third Assistant Physician-HARRY D. EARL, M.D. Woman Physician-LENA A. BEECH, M.D. Steward-A.J. RAE Matron-ELLA McNIVEN

The allowance for support is $15 per capita until population exceeds 600, then $14 per capita per month until population exceeds 750, when it is reduced to $13 per capita per month. When the population exceeds 900 the per capita per month allowance is to be $12. The excess over $12 per capita per month is paid from the state treasury.

The hospital population increased annually with a peak of 1,729 patients reached in December 1945. To accommodate this number, beds were placed in every hospital hall. Then, a statewide campaign was begun to send patients back to their own counties whenever possible The discovery of psychotropic drugs in the 1950s for mental health treatment and the establishment of community-based services mental health centers in the 1960s saw the high census numbers in Cherokee decline. By 2000 the average daily census for the facility approximates less than 50 with lengths of stays shortened to an average of 25 days.

Known as the "Cherokee Mental Health Institute" in 2017, the former mental hospital is now one of eleven programs operated under the oversight of the Iowa Department of Human Services at the “Cherokee Regional Resources Center” that is now reduced in size to a 208-acre campus. Public mental health needs of 41 counties for adults and 56 counties for adolescents in the western half of the state are served in various buildings while the South Wing provides housing for individuals in the “Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders (CCUSO) that provides a secure, long-term, and highly-structured setting to treat sexually violent predators who have served their prison terms, but who, in a separate civil trial, have been found likely to commit further violent sexual offenses.” Most of the South Wing is currently home to CCUSO offenders, the criminally-insane and violent patients; it is surrounded by prison-grade fencing.


This institution was the place where Dr. Walter Freeman, "The Lobotomist" had killed a patient when he stepped back for a photo.[1]

Images of Cherokee State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Cherokee State Hospital