Pontiac State Hospital

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Pontiac State Hospital
Established 1873
Construction Began 1874
Opened 1878
Closed 1997
Demolished 2000
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Original building: Elijah E. Myers

Additional wings: Charles Anderson

Other: Robert O. Derrick, Smith, Hinchman and Grylls
Location Pontiac, MI
Architecture Style Gothic, Late Victorian
Peak Patient Population 3,100 in 1955
Alternate Names
  • Eastern Michigan Asylum
  • Eastern Asylum for the Insane
  • Clinton Valley Center


To supplement the rapidly overcrowding asylum at Kalamazoo, the Michigan state legislature established the new Eastern Asylum for the Insane in 1873 (renamed to the Eastern Michigan Asylum before it even opened), to be located in an eastern part of the state near the growing population center of Detroit, where many of Kalamazoo's patients where coming from. Members for a locating board were selected, and after considering potential sites at Detroit, which did not meet all of the requirements of the propositions, and at Holly, which had the advantage of railway lines running both North/South and East/West. But Holly was felt by the board to being too close in proximity to Flint, the location of the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, since it was a policy of the state to distribute its institutions. the Board selected the site at Pontiac known as the "Woodward farm" in June, 1874. This site had the advantages of good soil for farming, a raised elevation that insured pleasant views, fresh air, and good drainage, wells would be able to supply ample fresh water, and it was adjacent to a primary railway line.

Dr. E.H. VanDeusen, Medical Superintendent of the Kalamazoo asylum, supplied the ground plans for the new asylum building, and architect Elijah E. Myers, of Detroit (who was also the architect for the new State Capital building in Lansing), prepared the elevation and working drawings. On December 16th, 1874, the Board of Trustees approved the plans and bids for the construction of the new asylum were called for.

The center building serves to divide the sexes. The longitudinal divisions are the wards proper, consisting of a central corridor with rooms on each side, each room occupied by a single patient, and belonging to him exclusively. These rooms vary in size from nine by twelve feet, to eleven feet eight inches by twelve feet eight inches, the larger size predominating, and the clear space between floor and ceiling is in every case thirteen feet.

The corridors are used as day-rooms, while the large bay-window in the centre of each main corridor affords the opportunity for the inmates in common to enjoy the sunshine and to look without. The large rooms in the front of the transverse division can either be used as day-rooms or parlors, or as associated dormitories for a special class of patients.


In the four main transverse divisions are grouped the dining-rooms, bath-rooms, clothes-rooms, lavatories, water-closets, and shafts, and it will be seen that each ward has a group of these auxiliary rooms readily accessible. The long, narrow wards render it possible to admit light and sunshine into each patient's room, while the transverse divisions perfect the classification by dividing the wards, and serve to break the view, so that patients in the different wards cannot shout across and annoy each other.

Each story of the centre building and wings is a counterpart of the one shown. A basement, nine feet clear space, is excavated beneath the entire main building. The divisions in the basement corresponding to the corridors and passages in the first story are made tight, and afford continuous air-passages for the supply and distribution of fresh air. From these basement corridors a great number of flues start, and lead within the walls to the corridors of each story. Constant and regulated ventilation is secured by means of a large fan, situated in the shop building, and driven by steam-power. The air from the fan-room is forced by the fan through large underground air-ducts or tunnels, six feet by eight feet, into the basement, and thence a constant stream passes up each flue, and is distributed to every portion of the building.

In addition to these supply-flues, each single room has a separate and distinct ventilating flue of it's own for the exit of vitiated air, leading within the brick walls directly to the attic, and the larger rooms have two or more such flues. The air forced into the corridors finds no egress except up these flues to the attics, and out through the large ventilators placed on the roof.

Steam will be used for heating, --mainly, indirect radiation. Beneath the chapel is a large pipe-duct, designed to conduct steam- and water-pipes from the boilers and pumps at the shops forward to the main building. These steam-pipes on reaching the centre building branch right and left, and extend within the air-passages through the basement to the extreme divisions. In the basement, at the base of the supply-flues, radiators or coils of pipe are placed, each connected with the steam-main. The air in its passage to the flue is forced to contact with the hot surface of the iron, and is warmed. In addition to this indirect radiation, a system of summer pipes, to be used in chilly or damp weather, when the main apparatus is not in operation, will extend through the building, connected with direct radiators at various points. Within the pipe-shafts, accessible at all times, will be the pipes for distributing hot and cold water, and the waste- and soil-pipes leading from the bath-rooms, lavatories, and water-closets to the sewers.

The sweepings on the various wards will be passed through an opening in the base-board into a dust-shaft, and will fall directly to the basement. Soiled clothes will be similarly dropped to the basement through shafts provided for the purpose, whence they will be taken to the laundry. There are also drying-shafts for drying dish-clothes and towels, and for thoroughly ventilating the sinks connected with each dining-room. Other shafts are divided at each story by means of lattice or open floor. Inside of some are placed boots and shoes, or brooms; in others pails, mops, etc. A current of air driven up through these shafts removes at once all obnoxious scents from the building.

A car track, for the distribution of food, leads from the general kitchen both North and South through the basement. Connecting with each dining-room on each floor is a dumb-waiter, which raises the food from the car in the basement to the dining-rooms where needed. Thus, one kitchen will supply sixteen dining-rooms within the wards, besides preparing food for the domestics and shop help.

A four inch brick arch forms the ceiling of each inmate's room, and of the corridors. This arched ceiling receives the plastering, and serves both as a deafening and as a protection in case of fire. The floor-joists are above the arches, but not in contact. In rooms too large to be arched, and in the centre building, the same end is attained by laying two sets of joist, but disconnected, the upper set carrying the floor, the lower set the ceiling and the mortar deafening.

Iron sash will be used throughout the wards, but they are made the same in form as wood sash, and are painted white to make the resemblance more perfect.

Exterior walls rest on concrete two feet deep, and from three feet two inches to four feet six inches wide; the interior walls rest on one foot two inches of concrete. With few exceptions all walls are carried up to the roof, which they support. The frame-work for the roof can therefore be made comparatively light. The roof covering is slate, except the tin deck-roof of the centre building.

In stone ornamentation the main building is rich, and the great variety in the forms of the stone-work is a noticeable feature. Cornices of wood; ventilators of galvanized iron. A central tower, a tower at each end, peaks ascending from bay projections in front, and from ventilators on the roof, break the monotonous lines necessary in so extensive a building, and give a pleasing effect.

The Eastern Michigan Asylum Historic District is comprised of forty-four randomly located structures. Many of the buildings are extensions of the original main building, which, as a result, has grown into a vast, spiderlike megastructure. The rambling, three and one-half story, main building built in 1875 to 1878 originally consisted of a center building containing offices and staff quarters with two identical wings, one for men and one for women. Large extensions were added to each of the patients' wings in several stages between 1882 and 1895 to match the original building. These buildings, designed by Elijah E. Myers, are picturesque structures in the High Victorian style made of red brick with elaborate steeply pitched, hipped, patterned slate roofs with multiple towers and pinnacles. Shallow buttresses accent the exterior design, reinforcing the vertical massing of the towers and bay windows. Cornices are made of wood and metal and the roof ventilators are of galvanized iron. Further, hipped-roofed, brick additions were made to the 1880s wings in 1906 and 1914. In 1938 extensive additions of Tudor design were made in front of the original building connected to the older structure by a narrow passage. In addition to the main building complex, architecturally significant buildings in the complex include the Sawyer and Vinton buildings, which were constructed in 1917 and 1893 respectively, and the Italian Renaissance style chapel built in 1907 designed by Smith, Hinchman and Grylls of Detroit.

Time Line[edit]

  • August 1st, 1878, the Eastern Michigan Asylum opened, receiving 121 men and 100 women from the asylum at Kalamazoo. Total expenditures for the new asylum, including the cost of locating, and cost of land was $448,401.36. By September 30th, 1878, 306 patients had been received.
  • 1882, two new wings were added,one extending from the South end, and one from the North end of the main asylum building in symmetry, each connected to the original building by a tower, with an appropriation of $75,000. Charles Anderson of Pontiac provided the plans, and the design corresponded with the "Kirkbride Plan" and architectural details of the original building. The new wings would accommodate 75 patients of each sex.
  • 1885 two hospital/infirmary buildings, one for each sex, were authorized by the legislature and were completed within the year. They each had capacity for 75-80 patients, and were located behind the first transverse divisions of the South(male) wing, and the North(female) wing of the main asylum building. Also in 1885, James Decker Munson, Assistant Medical Superintendent under Henry M. Hurd at the Eastern Michigan Asylum in Pontiac, resigned to accept superintendency of the new Northern Michigan Asylum, in Traverse City, which opened for the reception of patients in November of that year. Forty-five patients were transfered to Traverse City from Pontiac, and approximately 250 from the Michigan Asylum at Kalamazoo.
  • An ice famine during the winter of 1889/90 led to the first of two large ice houses built for the storage of ice.
  • 1890, a training school for attendants was established. The first of it's kind in Michigan, and eighth in the country.
  • 1891, 50 acres known as the "Hickey" and "Mawhinney" parcels were added to the asylum grounds. Also, during this year, a slaughter house was built for the asylum farm.
  • Beginning in 1891, the asylum herd of cattle received special attention, and thoroughbreds and registered Holstein Friesian stock replaced grade animals, resulting in an increased supply of milk, and the creation of a herd of cattle that became famous among cattle breeders country wide.
  • December 25th, 1891, a fire broke out and destroyed the interior of the center administration building, as well as some of the adjoining halls. By the Autumn of 1892, the damage had been repaired at a cost of $75,000.
  • 1894, the Baldwin and Vinton cottages were occupied.
  • The farm was increased by 80 acres in 1895 with the addition of the "Seeley" tract.
  • A new electric light and power plant was built in 1898, and the new laundry building was completed.
  • 1899, the Stevens and Kinney cottages were occupied, providing for 100 patients of each sex.
  • 1907, the legislature provided for the erection of a new chapel and assembly hall , the original chapel building behind the center administration building to be converted into a congregate dining room, and the ward dining rooms converted into dormitories. In March, 1909, the central dining room opened with provision for 600 patients, with both sexes eating together in the same room.
  • 1910, a modern dairy barn was added to the asylum farm.
  • 1911, the Eastern Michigan Asylum was renamed as the Pontiac State Hospital, as part of an act to rename the insane asylums as state hospitals, preceded by the name of the city/town in which they were located.
  • During the 1930's, a modern surgical center and receiving hospital was built, connecting to the front of the center building of the original main building. New wings were also built branching off from the front of the second transverse divisions of both of the North and South wings of the original main building. Later, the fourth floor of the original center building was removed and replaced with a flat rubber roof, and the top of the original entrance tower was also removed flush with the new roof.
  • Population at the Pontiac State Hospital by 1923 had reached 1,577 patients, in 1929 the total was 1,688. In 1932, there were 1,753, and in 1937 there were 1,818 patients. By 1955, approximately 3,100 patients were residing at the Pontiac State Hospital.
  • The facility was closed in 1997 by the State of Michigan and demolished in 2000. After the demolition, all that would be left was a small building containing the water supply. A park sits where the Kirkbride and other buildings sat. The only part not demolished was the remote section of the campus dedicated to children with mental illnesses.

Images of Pontiac State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Pontiac State Hospital


Asylum: Pontiac's Grand Monument from the Gilded Age, by Bruce J. Annett, Jr.


  • This video is from 1999 just before the demolition.
  • This video was compiled by northvilletunnels.