Hastings State Hospital Nebraska
|Hastings Regional Center|
|Building Style||Cottage Plan|
|Architect(s)||Charles C Rittenhouse|
With the population of the state increasing, the need for another hospital became evident, and in 1887, the legislature appropriated $75,000 for a "state asylum for the incurably insane" to be located at Hastings if the city would donate 160 acres of land for the purpose. The citizens of Hastings purchased 160 acres one mile west of the city limits. The land area was eventually increased to 630 acres. Patients were first received at the hospital on August 1, 1889 when forty four were transferred from Lincoln. Melvin Meals was assigned Number One and remained a patient until his death in 1895. Through 1916, 4,115 patients had been received. In December, 1916 there were 1,152 inmates, 405 women and 747 men.
Charles C Rittenhouse, Hastings architect, drew the plans for the building which was a three story brick with a tall central tower. In 1891 the north and south wings were added to the original building and in 1902 the North Annex was erected. In 1904 an amusement hall was built where dances and entertainments were held for patients. During this period the farm cottage and two greenhouses were built. In 1914 a large dairy barn was built and a herd of Holstein cows milked each day. A medical surgical building was erected in 1926, and in 1938 a psychiatric hospital was built. In 1957 the All Faiths Chapel was built with funds from thousands of donors.
Politics were the essential requisite for the job of superintendent in the early days of the institution. Dr. M. W. Stone, the first superintendent, came from Wahoo in May, 1889.
Originally the institution received inmates from the hospitals at Lincoln and Norfolk who were believed to be incurable, and the name of the Hastings hospital was "Hospital for the Incurably Insane." The legislature changed the name to "Asylum for the Chronic Insane" in 1895. In 1905 the name was changed to "Nebraska State Hospital" and in 1915 to "Ingleside Hospital for the Insane" , and in 1921 to "Hastings State Hospital" and in 1971 to its current name, "Hastings Regional Center."
In the 1800s patients were admitted to the asylums for many of the same reasons that bring people into psychiatric care today. The same mental illnesses existed then as now, the same stressors existed then as now, poverty, hunger, exhaustion, domestic troubles, disappointment in love, medical ailments, overwork, intemperance, substance abuse. But at that time physicians also thought that such things as masturbation triggered psychiatric disturbances and it was listed as a trigger and religious excitement was listed as a trigger when generally it was a symptom instead.
Early care of the patients was primarily custodial. Patients were trained to make beds, sweep floors, wash and polish furniture and to care for their own clothes. Winter and summer, patients retired at 8:00 p.m. The inmates were primarily cared for by ward attendants who lived on the wards. They were on duty 22 hours a day with only one half day off per week. Room and board were part of their salary and they had to be single. There were four supervisors, two male and two female. There were no graduate nurses, no technicians, and no physicians other than the assistant superintendent. There was an official steward and bookkeeper, a farmer, a gardener, and an engineer and his assistant.
Patients did most of the work on the farm and in the dairy. Hastings newspapers listed the amount of fall harvest and in 1929 reported the animal population as 125 turkeys, 3000 chickens, 400 ducks, 400 hogs, 300 pigs, and a dairy herd. The main objective of the farm was that the hospital be able to feed itself. In 1905 a post office named Ingleside was established on the grounds. The hospital superintendents were postmasters until 1913 when Percy Jones became the first civil service postmaster. The post office closed in 1972. From 1905 until 1972 the institution was commonly called Ingleside, the name of the post office.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a tuberculosis ward was located at the hospital. The early 1920s saw the first attempt at treatment of the mentally ill. Electro-shock treatment, which produced convulsions in the patient was begun. In the 1930s and 1940s, fever therapy, hydro-therapy and insulin shock therapy were begun. In the 1920s a dentist was hired. Prior to that inmates dental problems were simply ignored. Early in the 1950s the biggest beak-through in treatment came with the discovery of psychiatric drugs, which included tranquilizers. From that time on it was possible to unlock wards and start a program of rehabilitation of the inmate. Such services as occupational therapy, industrial therapy, recreational therapy, religious therapy, vocational therapy, psycho-therapy, reality therapy, transactional analysis and behavior modification were added.
In July, 1963 the Hastings State Hospital was re-organized into two Unit Hospitals, psychiatric and alcoholic. The south end of the campus was converted into a minimum security prison in 1987. The first inmates were admitted in June 1987, starting with 11 inmates from the Lincoln Community Corrections Center who worked as construction crew for the interior renovations. Fencing and razor wire was added to transform the building for use as the Hastings Correctional Center. After renovations were complete, the prison had a capacity of 160 inmates, but was often below capacity. A 17-foot-high tower was added to the prison in 1988 to provide added security after several prisoners escaped in the facility’s early days. The prison was slated to close in 2002 due to budget cuts proposed by then-Gov. Mike Johanns. In that same time frame, the state ended key programming at the Hastings Regional Center as it revamped the mental health system to emphasize more community-based services.
The federal government took over the former Hastings Correctional Center facility in 2002 for use as a detention center by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but it wasn’t used enough to justify its continued use, and the building was closed for good in 2005. In 2016 the legislature approved the building of a new facility and 2 living units. Starting in April, 2020 demolition began on 6 vacant buildings. The structure, known as Building 25 on the HRC map, is one of several that have been demolished recently or are slated for demolition on the mostly idle campus. A new Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center for females is planned to open on the campus this year.
The cemetery has been in use since the institution opened, but no record of burials prior to 1909 exists. Numbers were used to mark the graves, there are no markers which contain names. About 1,000 people are buried in the cemetery. The last burial occurred in 1956.
- Hastings State Hospital Cemetery Records Index from 1908-1959 (Note: This PDF was compiled by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Please direct questions about the index to them.)
Evans, J. (1998). Hastings regional center: A 100 year history (undergraduate senior thesis). Hastings College History Department.
Renschler, C. (2014). Hastings regional center. http://www.adamshistory.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35&catid=2&Itemid=42
Main Image Gallery: Hastings State Hospital Nebraska