Delaware State Hospital

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Delaware State Hospital
Delaware State Hospital
Established 1889
Opened 1891
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Wilmington, DE
Alternate Names
  • Insane Department and Hospital
  • Delaware Insane Asylum
  • Delaware Psychiatric Center


In the late 1800’s, the New Castle County Trustees of the Poor had erected a facility to house the insane persons of the county, but in 1889 the Legislature felt it would be better to operate the New Castle facility for the benefit of the citizens of the whole state. Thus, for the sum of $75,000, the property was transferred from the custody of the Trustees of the Poor to the custody of a newly created State Board of Trustees of the Insane. In 1891, the Insane Department and Hospital became the Delaware State Hospital at Farnhurst.

Around the turn of the century, pleas to the Legislature for additional buildings went unheeded, so, in 1904, the Trustees took funds from the general hospital fund and erected a new Tuberculosis Building. The Legislature was less than pleased at having their authority usurped and severely chastised the Trustees with new legislation in 1905. The Trustees were flatly prohibited from erecting any new buildings whatsoever, and moreover, any funds received by the Trustees from other than State sources were to be placed in a special emergency fund which was to be used only when appropriated funds were exhausted.

During the early part of this century, there also had been increasing concern over the cohabitation of the criminally insane with patients having less severe psychological problems. This dangerous situation arose due to the desire of the New Castle County Workhouse administration to place their criminally insane prisoners in an institution better suited to handle their special problems. However, the admission of these prisoners to the State Hospital created a difficult situation there as well, by jeopardizing the safety of the other patients. Thus, in 1947, the Trustees were permitted to create a Department of the Criminally Insane to segregate these inmates and address more specifically their individual needs.

In 1964, again to promote more efficient operations, the State Board of Trustees of the Delaware State Hospital was administratively reorganized to become the Board of Trustees for a newly created Department of Mental Health. With the new reorganization, the Trustees now became responsible for the operations of the Governor Bacon Health Center; the Hospital for the Mentally Retarded at Stockley; the Day Care Center at Dover; and the Mental Hygiene Clinic at Fernhook, in addition to the State Hospital.

Images of Delaware State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Delaware State Hospital


The cemetery lies at the back of the campus. Individual graves are marked with small numbered stones - there is only one grave marked with a private stone showing a name. There are 778 numbered stones arranged in concentric circles originally, then opening out into a spiral. The cemetery includes many people who were patients at the hospital and died there, but also includes three hospital employees as well as the stillborn child of a patient. The cemetery includes two known Civil War veterans: John Cheffins (employee) #104 and Arnold Morris #199, as well as one veteran of the Spanish-American War, William Adkins #427. Burials date from 1891 to 1983, when the cemetery was closed. In 2015 and 2016, a committee of concerned "Friends of the spiral Cemetery" cleaned up and beautified the cemetery, added a memorial with names and grave numbers, a historical marker, and some landscaping, with a dedication ceremony held on May 9, 2016. (As of 2014, the cemetery records have been public and available online at thanks to the tireless efforts of Tedd Cocker.) The committee that worked to restore the Spiral Cemetery has now turned it's attention to the New Castle County Hospital/Almhouse Cemetery on the Herman Holloway campus.


  • Remembering Farnhurst: Stories from the Delaware State Hospital, 1894-1920 by Katherine A. Dettwyler