Elgin State Hospital

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Elgin State Hospital
Established 1869
Construction Began 1870
Opened 1872
Demolished 1994 (Kirkbride)
Current Status Active
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Stephen Vaughn Shipman
Location Elgin, IL
Architecture Style Italianate
Peak Patient Population 7,700 in 1955
Alternate Names
  • Northern Illinois Hospital for the Insane
  • Illinois Hospital for the Insane
  • South Elgin State Hospital
  • Elgin Mental Health Center


The original name of the Elgin Mental Health Facility (its current name) was The Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane. The doors opened in 1872, however, construction of additional buildings continued until 1874. A rumor circulated for year, and still exists that the State of Illinois approached the City of Elgin with plans to construct a mental institution and a college and offered Elgin one or the other. As the rumor goes, Elgin took the mental institution, De Kalb took Northern Illinois University. As Elgin Historian and celebrated Elgin History author, Bill Briska points out the rumor, "...is totally false" He goes on to state that, "The state hospital was founded in 1869 and the college in 1892. (there are) No connection between the events".

The man-made lake was added in 1886. It was 400 by 500 feet in area and was designed to create a tranquil atmosphere for the patients and employees, as well as provide extra water for fire protection. In 1949, the census was 6, 025. In 1955, the average daily census was 7,644, its peak number of patients. Through the years, the hospital was often involved with notable research in medical and behavioral advances and served as a training ground for many physicians and other disciplines as mental health services were coming of age. In the early 1950's, with the advent of major pharmacological treatment alternatives, the move to deinstitutionalize mental health services began and, by 1965, the hospital’s average daily bed census dropped to 5.

The annex to the Kirkbride built in 1891 and was designed to increase the hospital's capacity by some 300 patients. Within a short time, it would become the home of over 1,000 additional patients. It was closed in 1960 and razed in 1972 with the Kirkbride being torn down in 1994. In 1929, the Illinois State Psychopathic Institute relocated to the grounds of Elgin State.

In 1975 the name was changed to Elgin Mental Health Center. Elgin’s average daily census dropped to 3,319 by Fiscal Year 1970. Throughout the 1970's, with the rapidly changing scientific, social, civil rights and political forces of the community mental health movement, the inpatient population was reduced further. Today only a handful of the older buildings have survived, mostly the "E" shaped cottages built in the 1930s.

The Kirkbride/Center Building

The Center Building was first advertised for construction bids in early 1870. The north wing was constructed first with occupancy in 1872. Construction on the center section and south wing was commenced soon after with a completion date of July 30, 1874. The December 28, 1869 report of the Medical Superintendent at the Northern Illinois Hospital states that Stephen Vaughan Shipman was selected from a field of nine architects interviewed by Drs. McFarland and Patterson. Later, in the third biennial Report in 1874, it was said of Col. S. V. Shipman that “...we believe this plan combines good taste, convenience, comfort and health, with economy.” The report goes on to say that “...we have found Col. Shipman a gentleman of ability, strict integrity and loyalty to the state, and a complete and competent master of his profession in designing and constructing insane asylums – his plan proving to be all we anticipated when it was adapted.” Before moving to Chicago, he designed the Central State Hospital for the insane, the old Dane County Courthouse and the American Exchange Bank in Madison. He also designed the Northern State Hospital for the Insane in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Bids were due from general contractors on April 16, 1870 for construction of the north wing of the Center Building. A bid of $124,000 from the W. F. Bushnell & Co. of Mendota was uncomfortably close to the $125,000 appropriated by the state legislature. The trustees of the Northern Illinois Hospital brought the situation to the attention of Illinois Governor John M. Palmer who gave the approval to proceed. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 severely hampered progress on the north wings. Its flames consumed the stock of John David & Company, subcontractor for the hospital heating plant. Reordering the equipment delayed admission of the first patients until April 3, 1872. Lack of heat did not postpone formal opening and inspection of the building, however, and the ceremony took place on an icy February 2, 1872.

Dr. Edwin A. Kilbourne, Superintendent of the new Northern Illinois Hospital, quickly set about convincing the legislature to appropriate funds for completion of the center and south wings of the building. He reported that the north wings could accommodate 182 patients, rather than the expected 150. Citing economy of scale, he argued that he could not begin classifying patients into proper treatment groups with less than half of his facility completed. Appropriations for completing the hospital building were approved, and bids were received for the center section and south wings on June 16, 1873. Two days later, a $206,000 contract for construction was awarded to Fish Stephens and Sorenson of Madison, Wisconsin. The contractor broke ground on July 1, 1873 and completed the massive building by July 30, 1874 – a period of just 13 months. The Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane, north, south and center sections, was finally complete at a total cost of $330,000. The legislature, however, while appropriating money for remaining construction, neglected to provide funds for the care of the additional residents. The newly-completed sections stood vacant until April 1, 1875. The dome over the central section held iron tanks which supplied water to the toilet and bathrooms of the entire Center Building.[1]

Another linear Kirkbride building, called the Annex, was added in 1891. The Annex was the last building of the congregate type to be constructed on the grounds. Future buildings for patients were to be separate cottages, designed to house 100 each. The Annex was demolished in the 1970's.

Images of Elgin State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Elgin State Hospital


The mental health center opened Hillside Cemetery in 1933 to provide the facility's unclaimed dead a final resting place. Bodies were buried in simple wooden caskets often paid for by the state. When no family members showed up for burial, center staff often served as pallbearers or helped lower the caskets into the ground. No one has been buried in Hillside since the mid-1980s. The cemetery contains the graves of almost 1,000 patients. List of burials



The History of Elgin Mental Health Center: Evolution of a State Hospital, by William Briska