Clark County Insane Asylum

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Clark County Insane Asylum
Established 1917
Opened 1922
Current Status Active
Building Style Single Building
Architect(s) Claude & Starch
Location Owen, WI
Alternate Names
  • Clark County Asylum
  • Clark County Hospital
  • Clark County Health Care Center
  • Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center


The Clark County Board appointed a committee in 1917 for the purpose of exploring the feasibility of constructing a county asylum. Members of the committee were the Messrs. Rush, Wilding, Brooks, Royer, and Weaver. Mr. Royer was selected chairman. The committee's report at a special meeting of the County Board on April 15, 1918, was read by Mr. Wilding and was favorable to the construction.

Mr. Braebner and Mr. M. J. Tappins, members of the State Board of Control, addressed the Board in regard to asylum conditions in the State, and the need for a facility in this area. In the fall session, it was resolved to accept the option of the State. Material and labor conditions at this time were affected by World War i. The Board decided to begin construction when these conditions returned to normal. The Asylum Committee visited the Chippewa County Asylum, among others, in October of 1918. They found them to meet their expectations, as these institutions were filled to capacity and making a financial profit.

On April 17, 1919, the Board resolved that it accept the proposal of the State Board of Control and build an asylum building to be commenced in 1920. Judge 0. W. Schoengarth addressed the Board in regard to the number of insane and feebleminded patients in Clark County and the number committed to institutions each year.

The Chairman of the County Board appointed the following to serve on the Committee on Options for a site for the county asylum: Supervisors Royer, Jacques, Brooks, Young and Verkuilen. Their responsibility was to procure options, including price, on a parcel of land not less than 640 acres, suitable for the erection of a county asylum and for agricultural purposes. In August of 1919, the Committee met on the proposed sites; two near Neillsville, Wisconsin; two near Bright, Wisconsin; and two near Owen, Wisconsin. They asked the State Board of Control to look at the sites to see if they were acceptable.

The State Board of Control examined the six proposed sites. The Bright farm sites were found undesirable from the standpoint of elevation, fertility and drainage. The other four sites were acceptable. The examiner pointed out that Taylor, Price, Ashland, Rusk, Sawyer and Washburn Counties are north and northwest of Clark County and that these counties did not have an asylum. The Owen site had direct rail connections, which would provide convenient transportation for patients from these counties. After a careful study of all sites, it was unanimously agreed by the Committee to recommend to the County Board that the location be either, or both, of the sites near Owen.

There was a slight conflict between the northern and southern parts of the County concerning the site of the asylum. The southern part of the County conceded, rationalizing that a northern site was a more desirable location to serve patients north of Clark County and the surrounding area.

On December 10, 1919, the Building Committee traveled to Madison to confer with the State Board as to the kind of asylum desirable for Clark County. They also inquired about the employment of a competent architect. The compensation for architects was found to be 5% of the construction costs (3% for plans and 2% for overseeing). After inquiring about the experience and reputation of various architects, the Committee selected the firm of Claude and Stark of Madison. The State Board also suggested the hiring of an experienced insane asylum superintendent to assist in directing the preparation of plans, construction of buildings and preparing the asylum farm for occupancy. It was important that the farm be in proper productive condition by the time the buildings were completed so that it could meet the needs of the asylum and have on hand the needed provisions for the first year.

Mr. M. H. Duncan, for many years the Superintendent of the Marathon County Asylum, was highly recommended. The Committee, on this advice, went to Wausau to inspect the Asylum and entered into an agreement with Mr. Duncan. In a special session of the County Board held on December 18, 1919, it was agreed upon to purchase the recommended sites and issue bonds in the amount of $100,000. A tax was levied on all the assessed taxable property in the County to provide for payment of the principal and interest on the bonds. 415 acres were purchased from Mr. C. A. Johnson for $45,600, and 650 acres were purchased from Mr. Niran Withee for $58,000. This resulted in a total of 1,065 acres of land purchased at a cost of $103,600. The County Board vote on the above action was 32 for and 12 against. On January 2, 1920, the transaction was completed. The Committee made arrangements for a sidetrack from the Minneapolis-St. Paul & Saulte Ste. Marie Railroad Company and began clearing the right of way.

Mr. M. H. Duncan took charge as Superintendent on March 1, 1920. Mrs. Duncan became Matron. Mr. Duncan brought with him twelve patients from Wausau to help with the work. Farm implements and machinery were purchased from Mr. Niran Withee. It was agreed that just the foundation and the basement of the main building be constructed during 1920. The recommendation was made that $100,000 be raised for this construction. The above authorization was granted by the County Board on June 2, 1920.

The operations of the Institution began with the original twelve patients transferred from thewitheehousetothe main building. Seventy more patients were admitted by the end of July. Gradually the population increased, including fifty-five patients, who were transferred from the Northern Wisconsin Colony and Training School, Chippewa Falls, on January 4, 1933. The total population in April of 1936 was 316.

The Institution was originally established under a protective and custodial concept of providing humane care and kind treatment to mentally retarded and chronically mentally ill patients. This is emphasized by the inscription on the cornerstone, which reads, "Dedicated to the Cause of Humanity". One of its main purposes was to receive by transfer patients from the larger state hospitals who required long-term care. The Clark County Asylum was regarded as a home for individuals with little hope of returning to "open society", and did a good job in caring for custodial patients on a long-term basis.

In 1929, the name of the Institution was changed from the Clark County Asylum to the Clark County Hospital. During the early 1930's, additional wells were dug, as the original supply of water was not sufficient to provide for the needs of the institution. Hardwood logs were cut, hauled and sold to the John S. Owen Lumber Company of Owen. Wisconsin. Other logs of basswood and hemlock were sawed into lumber for repair work on institutional buildings. New fences were built and the old ones repaired.

In April of 1936, Myron G. Duncan succeeded his late father as Superintendent and Mrs. M. H. Duncan continued to act as the Matron. In an effort to increase the production of the farm, land was rented in 1936 from the Lohde and Miller Farms. Six acres of ground surrounding the main building was plotted into lawn. The clearing of additional farm land continued. Electric lines to the barns were repaired.

During 1946 - 47, a new machine shed was erected and an X-ray machine purchased. Lifting of price controls and rationing gradually increased the cost of operations. Fortunately, this was offset in part by an increase in income from farm operations. In 1948, a slaughter house was erected and many needed repairs and improvements were made to outlying buildings. A new hog house and a laboratory for the State Soil Conservation Project were erected in 1952. The following year, a new water supply was developed. A fire alarm and inter-communication system were installed. The installation of new roofs on the main building was also completed.

Contracts were awarded for an addition to the main building, consisting of a deepfreeze unit, new refrigeration, meat processing room, modern dairy unit, bakery, employees' dining room and complete modernization of the kitchen. This was completed and in use during 1954. Cafeteria style of serving patients was instituted, making possible the serving of hot food to patients at all times.

By 1956 all of the women's wards had been equipped with new dayroom furniture. A new mangle was installed in the laundry. The addition of a modern grain storage and mixing plant increased the efficiency of the farm operation. In the early part of 1957, the men's wards were equipped with new dayroom furniture, which provided a greater degree of comfort for the patients and improved the appearance of the Institution. The Hospital was fortunate in being named a beneficiary of a portion of the Max Papenfuss Estate. A portion of the money was used to purchase new tables and chairs for the patients' dining room and for ventilation and acoustics for the auditorium. Every effort was made to use the legacy for purposes which would add to the enjoyment and well-being of the patients, as this was the intent of the donor. A plaque was placed in the Institution in commemoration of the gift.

A beauty shop was added in 1958. The front entrance and porch of the main building were remodeled. This improved the appearance of the building and at the same time added two visiting rooms for patients, friends and relatives.

Contracts for new boilers, piping and ventilation were awarded in December, 1959. This project, along with a new system for filtration of the river water, was completed in early 1960. The driveways were blacktopped and new electric entrance panels and lines were installed in the boiler room and main building. Six electric stoves were installed in the kitchen and bakery and a new electric oven was added to the kitchen equipment. The new stoves and oven were made possible from the balance of the money left to the Institution from the Max Papenfuss Estate. During 1960, the part-time services of a social worker were acquired. Release plans were developed for select patients. Increased involvement with relatives of patients was now possible.

In 1961 - 62, roofs were installed on the west wing of the main building and on the power house. Plans were approved for a Superintendent's residence and construction was started. The former private quarters of the Superintendent were converted to a sewing room, medical center, dentist office and storage rooms. The moving of these services from ward areas reduced overcrowding and resulted in improved patient care. A bulk tank was installed at the main dairy barn. The barn and dairy plant were certified as Grade A by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. A new well was drilled and water system installed at the west farm; also, a milk house was built, and a can cooler added.

During 1963, the part-time services of a psychiatric consultant were acquired, which provided for the development of psychiatric-patient evaluation and therapy. The Knights of Columbus from the surrounding area presented the Hospital with an altar, confessional booth and lectern. The altar and lectern were used for services in the Hospital auditorium. A new chapel, which represented several months of cooperative planning between the Clark County Hospital staff and clergymen of all denominations, was dedicated in July, 1965. The chapel has a seating capacity of 130 people.

An occupational therapy unit, consisting of 2400 square feet of floor space, was constructed during 1965. The existing auditorium adjoins and is easily accessible to the therapy unit for larger groups taking part in recreation. A sewage treatment project was also completed during the year.

The part-time services of a trained social worker provided consultation and supervision to staff, as well as services to patients and their families. On July 1, 1967, counseling and diagnostic services were made available to residents of Clark County through the Wood County Mental Health Services, Marshfield, Wisconsin. By a contractual agreement between Clark County and the Wood County Mental Health Services, consultation became available by special appointment at the Clark County Hospital.

The services of two additional agencies providing evaluation and/or training in social and vocational experiences for long-term retarded patients were utilized: Marshfield Rehabilitation Workshop and Development Evaluation Center, Central Wisconsin Colony and Training School. The number of patients on various programs administered by county departments of social services rose markedly. The Hospital began to develop a working relationship with the Clark County Department of Social Services, as well as with other like agencies in other counties.

The enclosing of the twelve porches and remodeling of former employee quarters provided for an additional 75 beds. This was not done to serve more patients, but to release overcrowding and, therefore, more adequately serve the existing population. The former employee quarters became an intensive treatment 15-bed unit, where newly admitted patients in acute distress were assigned for intensive treatment and early recovery.

In October of 1968, In-Service Training classes were initiated for all ward personnel. Every ward employee was scheduled to attend classes for one hour a week. Patient care procedures were taught with visual aids printed material and lectures. Resource personnel were involved. Follow-up observation on the wards was also accomplished by the instructor. Nursing care plans were recorded for each patient so that care could be provided in a more uniform and consistent manner.

Pharmaceutical services were initiated. The drug room was completely remodeled, which included the installation of enclosed drug cabinets and modern work counter. A pharmacist was added to the staff of the Hospital two days per week. The old system of patient medication was replaced by an improved and much safer system of individual medication.

By 1970, the psychiatric hospital and nursing home had a full complement of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. The efficiency of providing nursing care increased considerably with the utilization of nursing stations on each patient care unit. The P.M.I. (public medical institution) unit was now in full operation and began to show effective results. Nursing personnel assumed a supervisory role over staff involved in direct patient contact.

Activity therapy secured its first full-time Registered Occupational Therapist and the program of the Activity Therapy Department was structured to include as many patients as possible. Group recreation was offered for nearly all patients. Specialized activities were provided for regressed and non-ambulatory patients, as well as for those who were better integrated, or who had special interests. All activities were designed as an integral part of the patients s treatment. Written records of patient progress were maintained and scheduled conferences were held to program patients and review objectives.

The psychiatrist's role as a consultant to the Hospital expanded. In general, he functioned in support and collaboration with the hospital staff in carrying out its mission of affording a good program for individuals with emotional problems requiring hospitalization. Decisions were made pertaining to admission, treatment and discharge of patients. This was facilitated with interviews with each new admission by correlating social, legal, and historic data to establish a diagnostic category. Frequent interviews were held with authorities, family members and/or agency personnel. All staff was involved and assisted in working out a therapeutic program and discharge plan. Medication and varied therapeutic approaches were recommended and supervised which included individual, group, and family therapy. Rehabilitative and eventual discharge plans were reviewed. Post discharge sessions were held with the patient and interested persons. Educational programs were carried out through interviews with aides and nursing personnel.

Patients were discharged with an optimistic attitude because of the Hospital's contact and utilization of sheltered workshops and half-way houses in Marshfield and Eau Claire, as well as affiliation with the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. The Clark County contract with the Wood County Mental Health Services provided a follow-up program for patients who were discharged from the Hospital. [1]

The hospital is now currently open and running as a nursing home and rehabilitation facility that specializes in Alzheimer's and behavioral patients.