Lincoln State School

From Asylum Projects
Jump to: navigation, search
Lincoln State School
Construction Began 1875
Opened 1877
Closed 2002
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Lincoln, IL
Peak Patient Population 5,200 in 1962
Alternate Names
  • Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children
  • Lincoln State School and Colony
  • Lincoln Developmental Center


In 1865 the General Assembly instructed the directors of the Illinois Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb to establish an Experimental School for the Instruction and Training of Idiots and Feeble-Minded Children in the State of Illinois. The school was temporarily located in Jacksonville and after a five-year trial period the General Assembly incorporated it as the Illinois Institution for the Education of Feeble-Minded Children.

As one of the state's permanent charitable institutions, it was to provide care, support, training, and education for mentally deficient children. A three-member board of trustees, appointed by the Governor, exercised general supervision and selected a superintendent to operate the institution. They also were subject to the investigative authority of the Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities. Appropriations for the acquisition of land and the construction of buildings were made in 1875 but the institution's permanent quarters in Lincoln were not occupied until 1878. In 1877 the institution's name became the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children.

The institution had its own hospital and shops in which inmates manufactured brushes, mattresses, and shoes. Inmates also worked on a nearby farm owned and operated by the institution.

In 1909 the Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities and the boards of trustees of all state charitable institutions were abolished and executive and administrative control was transferred to the newly created Board of Administration. Under the new board the institution became Lincoln State School and Colony.

To sustain the school, in 1929 the Illinois Department of Public Welfare built a residential farm colony for men about two miles away from the main campus. The state purchased 725 acres of land, and there it built ten ward buildings, a kitchen,a dining room, and a powerhouse. The new colony provided housing for 620 men without severe disabilities who then worked the farmland along with supervisor employees.

With the passage of the Civil Administrative Code in 1917 the Department of Public Welfare assumed all responsibility for the school and retained control until the creation of the Department of Mental Health in 1961. The school's name which had been shortened to Lincoln State School in 1953 was again altered to Lincoln Developmental Center in 1975.

In the 1970s activists advocated for the closure of large institutions, arguing that people with mental retardation should be cared for in the community. Spurred on by this movement—and by lawsuits, rising costs, and changing notions of the rights of people with mental retardation—many states sought alternatives to state schools in the 1970s. In Illinois, state schools came to the forefront of public attention with the appearance of a shocking series of articles about the living conditions at the Lincoln and Dixon state schoolsAfter years of investigations into neglect and abuse of patients, the facility closed on August 31, 2002. The farm annex has been converted into a prison and the original campus remains vacant.

Images of Lincoln State School[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Lincoln State School


There is a cemetery for the former patients, however it is now part of a prison and difficult to obtain permission to visit. There are several hundred graves marked with flat stones and a number or a name.

  • VL-We were granted tower & Ground permission to photograph the Developmental Center Cemetery. There are over 1800 graves in 3 large blocks that we have digital photos of. My photos of this Cemetery can be seen by going to Find A Grave and searching for Developmental Center Cemetery. Since no one is allowed to be on the cemetery grounds, there is not one single flower on any of the graves and all the stones are pretty much the same. Some stones from 1878 to the early 1900's only have names engraved clearly on a square piece of concrete, never possessing birth or death dates. The graves are also in order by death date.
  • JG - you are allowed to visit the cemetery if you are visiting a family member buried there. While the above is partially true in that it appears visitors are not common, the cemetery is outside the prison fence and we have flowers at my Uncle’s grave. You have to call ahead during regular business hours to have permission from the Warden, then check in at the visitor center for the men’s prison to ensure the guard towers have communication. I was able to find the exact location by speaking with someone at the Illinois State Archives before we first visited. I add this information I hopes it may give guidance to another family searching for a loved-one.


  • God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24, by David Bakke WorldCat(see links above)
  • A Brief History of the Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children Located at Lincoln, Ill., 1865-1893 [1] presented by the Illinois Board of World's Fair Commissioners in Brief history of the charitable institutions of the state of Illinois, pages 209-216.
  • Lincoln Developmental Center, Named the Lincoln State School (& Colony) in the Route 66 Era[2] Report 27, by Leigh Henson.


Song titled John Doe No. 24