Manteno State Hospital

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Manteno State Hospital
Construction Began 1927
Opened 1929
Closed 1985
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Manteno, IL
Architecture Style Georgian
Peak Patient Population 8,185 in 1954
Alternate Names
  • Manteno Mental Health Center


The Illinois Legislature in 1927, under the administration of Len Small, voted to build a new institution for the mentally ill as Kankakee and Chicago State Hospitals were becoming overcrowded. Appropriations for the land and original buildings for a new "insane" hospital were handled by the State Department of Public Welfare. Having in mind that a large proportion of people committed to asylums came from Cook county, a location was chosen close to Chicago and yet outside of the area of high-priced land. A site was chosen near the village of Manteno. 1,000 acres were acquired in a location near the town. Plans were drawn for construction of an administration building first, followed by 100 patient cottages. The contracts were awarded December 8th, 1928.

The fact that an Illinois Central depot was located in the village of Manteno and a highway was completed near the site had a great deal to do with the location. In his Biennial message of 1929, Governor Len Small announced in his building report that the hospital was under construction. The cost of the administration building and 8 2-story cottages at the time was $1,172,073. Dedication ceremonies were led by the Governor on November 21st, 1929. On the morning of December 27th, 1930, a train arrived in Manteno carrying 100 male patients from Kankakee and Chicago State Hospitals. Fifteen staff members from the hospital were there to greet them.

Dr. Ralph Hinton was the first administrator and many people who lived in Manteno rushed to apply to work at the newly built institution. Manteno State Hospital gave jobs to many people during the Great Depression.

By 1939 Manteno State Hospital had grown to twice the size of Kankakee State Hospital. There were 5,385 patients on the census for that year. In the late spring a typhoid epidemic swept through the hospital causing 60 deaths and over 400 seriously ill. Despite the news of the epidemic, the patient population continued to grow. Dr. Hinton introduced a concept used by Kankakee State Hospital. He used the idea of hospital farmland and having the inmates farm as part of their on-going therapy. The idea was used throughout the US at other hospitals with success.

By 1940 the hospital was one of the largest of its kind in the country. Also in that year, Dr. Walter Baer was named the new superintendent and continued to oversee the growth in the number of patients and crops from farming. He also introduced recreation and entertainment (the recreation building was later named for him, Hinton Hall). This included concerts and dances composed of patients, staff and members of the community.


The years during WW 2 were difficult for staffing and the budget. The ratio of staff to patient were among the worst in the hospital's history. By 1949 the patient population reached 6,926 while the institution was built to accommodate only 5,000. Treatments continued to be occupational and activity oriented. Intensive treatment was carried out on about 2,000 patients a year, this included shock therapy and lobotomies. The farm cultivated over 900 acres through the late '40s.

In the 1950s Manteno State Hospital was at it's height. The patient population reached 8,185 in 1954, the 4th largest in the nation. Most new patient admissions were now brought in by a state run bus instead of railroad. It made the trip from Cook County Psychopathic hospital to Elgin, Kankakee and Manteno. It was painted Robins Egg blue, earning it the nickname "Bluebird".

New admissions went directly to the Diagnostic building, aka the Singer building. Here they would go through a process of showering, new clothes treatment for vermin if needed. They would then spend days or sometimes weeks there for a psychological assessment before being transferred to either one of the cottages or the farm colony for those with less needs or concerns.

Over the next 3 decades the hospital changed greatly. Patient population declined rapidly and new therapies were introduced. Most of the 1960s Manteno State Hospital found itself in many scandals and investigations. Some found to be true, others false. In 1983 it was suggested that the hospital be closed due to budgetary reasons and in 1985 it closed it's doors for good. The north half of the campus was turned over to the VA Administration for housing veterans, and remains in use by them today. The southern half remained vacant for sometime before being bought by private groups, most by Diversatech. This included building homes and demolishing many of the 1-story cottages.

Images of Manteno State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Manteno State Hospital


Now known as the State of Illinois Veterans Home Cemetery, it originally opened as the Manteno State Hospital Cemetery & was used up until the early 1970s for patients. The cemetery is divided by religion, mostly Catholic or Protestant. It is still used by the VA for burial of veterans.


Manteno Project