Lapeer State Home
|Lapeer State Home|
|Building Style||Cottage Plan|
|Location||Lapeer County, MI|
|Peak Patient Population||4,600 in 1955|
In August 1893, Gov. John T. Rich, an Elba Township native, named a committee to decide the location of a state home for the feeble minded. Lapeer was in the running along with Saginaw, Bay City, Charlotte and Greenville. Lapeer was selected, partly because of the creek running through the property. It was thought the creek would be handy for sewage disposal, but a neighbor didn’t like that idea and the city ended up having to extend a sewer line to the property. The Michigan Home for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic opened in June 1895, and there were more than 1,000 applications for employment prior to its opening. Later that year, in November, there were 91 male and 40 female inmates.
In 1910, a smallpox epidemic broke out at the asylum, and a company of the Flint National Guard camped out on the grounds that fall and winter to keep the disease contained to the asylum grounds. Many victims of the smallpox epidemic were buried in the now-forlorn cemetery at the southern edge of the grounds.
By 1919, there were 1,560 patients, and patient load peaked at more than 4,600 in the middle of the century. The home was the largest in the state and one of the largest in the entire country, and it was the largest employer in Lapeer County. Treatment options for the “feeble-minded” were changing by then, and the number of residents began its final decrease. By 1976 there were fewer than 1,500 patients but a record 1,386 employees.
The facility had a number of different names during its operation: The Michigan Home for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, the Michigan Home and Training School, the Lapeer State Home and Training School and, finally, the Oakdale Regional Center for Developmental Disabilities. Many who remember it now either refer to it as simply “the State Home” or “Oakdale.”
In February of 1990, it was announced that the state home would close in October of that year. The last three residents left the center at the end of September. In 1992, 400 acres that was once Oakdale was sold to the City of Lapeer for $1, and between 1992 and 1996, most of the buildings were demolished, and what was once a grand institution that was home to many and a living for many others became a memory.
Demolition at the old Oakdale facility was a huge project. Many of the buildings were old and in disrepair. In the final appraisal, two buildings were saved: building #45, which had been a nursery and built in 1958, and Building #71, which had been the administration building. A grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint for $180,000 brought building #45 up to school safety codes. Building #71 which was a newer building, received a $1.3 million transformation into Chatfield School, the county's first charter school. According to the Neighbors newsletter, total demolition of Oakdale for $550,000 returned the property to a clean site ready for development. A grant for that amount was funded by the state's "Clean Michigan” program. The property now belongs to Mott Community College.
Main Image Gallery: Lapeer State Home
Investigation by a relative of Fred Aslin, a former resident of Lapeer State Home, revealed that he and 2,336 other people were sterilized at the Lapeer State Home as a result of state policy. In the 12 years of Aslin’s stay at Lapeer, half a dozen medical doctors repeatedly passed on the diagnosis made by Doctors James F. Darby and William Charlton Edminson from St. Ignace that classified Aslin as a “feeble-minded moron.” In 1944, at the age of 18, Fred Aslin had been sterilized against his will, without having the procedure explained to him. Aslin’s story made national news when he filed a lawsuit in 2000. But the case was dismissed because the relevant statute of limitations had expired.
A cemetery contains an unknown number of remains on the former hospital property. Graves are marked with a small brick with a name and number. They can be found in the Oak dale park nearby.
"Oakdale: The Lapeer State Home" Images of America, Laura Fromwiller and Jan Gillis.
"A Wind Is Rising: Michigan Home for the Retarded" was a nineteen minute video filmed by local Flint Michigan station WJRT in 1962 and was a winner of a Peabody Award. The film discuses the institution, what it did, and its need for more resources.