Osawatomie State Hospital

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Osawatomie State Hospital
Osawatomie State Hospital
Established 1863
Opened 1866
Demolished 2002 (main building)
Current Status Active
Building Style Kirkbride Plan (demolished)
Location Osawatomie, KS
Alternate Names
  • Kansas Insane Asylum
  • Rainbow Mental Health Facility (Current)


Transcribed from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.

Osawatomie State Hospital The first territorial legislature in 1855 passed an act providing for the appointment of guardians for persons of unsound mind, and in 1859 the provisions of the law were extended to include habitual drunkards. Guardians of such persons were required to assume the management of any estate owned by the ward, and to report to the proper judicial authorities at stated times. The first step toward the erection of an asylum for the insane of Kansas was the passage of the act of March 2, 1863, naming William Chestnut of Miami county, I. Hiner of Anderson county, and James Hanway of Franklin county as commissioners "to determine the location of the State Insane Asylum of the State of Kansas." The commissioners were somewhat restricted in the selection of a site, the act confining them to "some point within the township of Osawatomie township, in the county of Miami." It was further provided that a tract of land, not less than 160 acres, should constitute the site of the proposed institution, and that title to this land should be secured by donation. No appropriation was made for the erection of buildings until after the location was selected and approved.

On Oct. 17, 1863, the commissioners reported as follows: "We, the undersigned appointed commissioners to locate the state insane asylum, met at Osawatomie, Kan., on the 7th day of October, A. D., 1863, and selected the southeast quarter of section 2, township 18, range 22, for the reason that this was the only eligible site where a proper title could be obtained with the means at command of the township, and other material advantages for the establishment of such an institution."

The tract of land selected by the commissioners is situated about a mile north of the city of Osawatomie, on the opposite side of the Marais des Cygnes river. It was donated by the people of Osawatomie township and some years later an additional 160 acres were purchased by the state, giving the hospital a full half section of land. The work of the commissioners was approved, and on Feb. 14, 1865, an act was passed providing for the appointment of three trustees by the governor, only one of whom could be a resident of Miami county. The first building was erected in 1860. It was a small two-story frame structure and cost about $500. Toward the latter part of the year the institution was opened for the reception of patients, with Dr. C. O. Gause as superintendent and Mrs. Gause as matron.

Opening & Early Years[edit]

In 1868, the Kansas legislature appropriated funds for a permanent treatment structure to replace all of the existing structures on the asylum grounds. State architect J.G. Haskell presented plans drawn according to the recommended design by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride of Pennsylvania. The center of the building had twin turrets for administrative offices with extended wings offset right and left for patients. The wings were placed so that fresh air could reach them from both sides. As the 1868 Kirkbride plan for new buildings progressed over the next 18 years, the need for additional patient space presented a continual problem for the asylum.

The years 1892 and 1895 saw the addition of two detached buildings, the Knapp and Adair buildings. The Knapp building, named for former superintendent Abram H. Knapp, was completed in 1892 and housed 300 "chronic" or "incurable" male patients (the Knapp building was closed in the 1960’s). Abram H. Knapp served as superintendent from 1873-1877 and again from 1878-1892. His tenure as superintendent was considered stormy and tempestuous. Knapp was a controversial figure from the start, two months after he assumed authority as superintendent, a number of asylum employees protested against the "new and more rigid form of administration" by marching off in what was considered a "mutiny."

In 1895 the Adair building was added to accommodate 300 of the "chronic" or "incurable" female patients. This new building was named for Reverend Samuel L. Adair, a key figure in the asylum's early establishment (original 1895 Adair building was closed in 1963 and a new Adair complex of multiple buildings was opened in 1963). In 1868 when the state of Kansas decided to establish a permanent structure, Samuel Adair and his son Charles contributed or sold nearly 50 acres of land to help the state establish the asylum. Reverend Samuel L. Adair was a congregational minister who established the first church in the town of Osawatomie. He also served as Secretary on the asylum's board of trustees and was chaplain at the asylum.

20th Century[edit]

By 1900 the asylum had expanded from its original 170 acres in 1866-1868 to 720 acres. Additional buildings included the main administration building which held offices, a chapel, dormitories for employees, east and went wings for patients, shops, a boiler house, electric light and power plant, ice house, bakery, laundry, barns, green houses, and a reservoir for water supply.

In 1910 the property held by the hospital was valued at $1,000,000. The farm has been increased to 720 acres; a main building includes the administration offices, the chapel, which seats 600 people, dormitories for a large number of the employees, and quarters for about 450 patients; the Knapp and Adair buildings, similar in design and equipment, each accommodate 300 chronic cases, the former being set apart for men and the latter for women; and there are shops, boiler house, electric light and power plant, ice house, bakery, laundry, barns, green houses, a reservoir for a water supply, etc. In 1901 a new infirmary was erected at a cost of $50,000, and since then the institution has been supplied with a tuberculosis pavilion. The original building of 1866 was removed to the rear of the east wing of the main building, where it is now used as a residence for the head farmer and is known as "The Lodge." There is also an amusement hall.

Additional buildings were added over the years and by the turn of the century it included dormitories for employees, shops, an electric power plant, ice house, bakery, laundry, barns, greenhouses and a reservoir. In 1912, it could serve more than 1,000 patients. My the mid 20th Century, newspapers began to run report on the deplorable conditions of of state run hospitals which included neglect, brutality, overcrowded facilities, and the use of restraints. Soon, the Governor and the legislature acted and reform began that included new facilities and training programs for staff.

A “rehabilitation center,” which included a swimming pool, well-equipped auditorium, and a modern gymnasium were completed in 1963. In 1971 the original Kirkbride building east and west wings were demolished, the administration building was razed in 2002, but several other historic buildings continue to stand. On the outskirts of the property sits a sad little cemetery, where no names are contained on the tombstones -- only numbers. The hospital is much smaller today, serving only 176 patients.[1]

Images of Osawatomie State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Osawatomie State Hospital


The Osawatomie State Hospital Burial Grounds are located north the hospital. It is a small cemetery consisting of 346 markers identifying people, mostly patients, who had no families that would claim them. A list of cemetery burials from the Miami County Historical Museum in Paola.


  • Reform at Osawatomie State Hospital; treatment of the mentally ill, 1866-1970 by Lowell Gish