Tacoma State Hospital

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Tacoma State Hospital
Tacoma State Hospital
Established 1869
Construction Began 1870
Opened 1871
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Lakewood, Washington
Alternate Names
  • Western State Hospital
  • Fort Steilacoom Asylum
  • Tacoma State Insane Asylum
  • Insane Asylum of Washington Territory

Western State Hospital is a psychiatric hospital located in Lakewood, Washington, which is a suburb of Tacoma. Administered by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), it is the largest mental facility west of the Mississippi River, with 806 beds, and the second oldest state-owned enterprise, after the University of Washington. One of two currently active, state-owned adult psychiatric hospitals, the other being Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake. The hospital currently treats patients using psychiatric medications, mental health counseling, group therapy, drug and alcohol education, psychiatric rehabilitation and behavior modification therapies. It provides evaluation and inpatient treatment for individuals with serious or long-term mental illness that have been referred to the hospital through the Regional Support Network system and serves the needs of Western Washington for people who have been committed as a result of criminal proceedings.[1]


In accordance with an act of the Territorial Legislature, entitled "An Act to Authorize the Purchase of the Government Buildings at Fort Steilacoom for an Insane Asylum," approved December 2. 1869, a Board of Commissioners, consisting of the Governor, Territorial Secretary and Territorial Auditor, purchased the buildings from the federal government on the 15th of January, 1870, for the sum of $850. Section 4 of this act provided that the buildings should be turned over to the commissioners for the care and custody of insane and idiotic persons, to be prepared and used by them as an insane asylum, at the expiration of the contract with Huntington & Sons on July 15, 1871.

In the meantime a contract was made by the territorial authorities with Hill Harmon, of Olympia, to clothe and to keep the insane for a period of five years, dating from August 19, 1871, at 91 cents per diem. After the necessary alterations of the buildings to adapt them to the purpose intended had been made 21 patients were transferred from Monticello on August 19, 1871, and Fort Steilacoom was formally opened as an insane asylum. Dr. Stacy Hemenway was appointed by the commissioners as resident physician.

From a report of the contractor to the Governor of Washington Territory, dated September 30, 1871, it was learned that the asylum building was 152 feet long and 54 feet wide, and was divided into two wards, one for males and one for females. The male ward was 96 feet long and 44 feet wide, containing a central hall and 20 rooms, 10 on each side. Under the same roof was a bathroom supplied with hot and cold water, a water closet and wardrobe. The central hall was 96 feet long and 14 feet wide, having one large window at each end and two skylights. On each side of this hall were 10 rooms, each 18 feet in length by 9 feet in width. These rooms, together with the central hall, accommodated about 40 patients.

The female ward was 56 feet long and 44 feet wide, with a central hall and 10 rooms, five on each side. Attached to it was a bathroom similar to that on the male ward. The central hall was 56 feet long and 14 feet wide, having five rooms on each side, 18 feet in length by 9 feet in width. These rooms, together with the central hall, accommodated about 20 patients.

All windows in the building were secured by iron rods. On the north side was a porch 128 feet long and 10 feet wide, enclosed by lattice-work. At the east end of the building was an airing court, containing about two-thirds of an acre and enclosed by a board fence 14 feet high. The building was heated by two large box stoves, with sheet-iron drums attached, one in the male ward and one in the female ward. The building containing the kitchen and dining room was 60 feet long and 32 feet wide, and was joined to the central building, forming a south wing. There were separate dining rooms for male and female patients, respectively, and a small room for the superintendent and employees. The water supply was obtained from a spring 2000 feet distant from the asylum, being forced by a ram to a brick tank with a capacity of 6000 gallons. The total number of patients on October 1, 1871, was 23.

According to the terms of his contract the contractor was required simply to clothe and keep the insane, and the physician was supposed to have full supervision and control over the medical, moral and sanitary management of the establishment. This dual system soon led to trouble during Dr. Hemenway's term of service, and his successor, Dr. H. C. Willison, was compelled to resign in turn by reason of the deplorable conditions he found prevailing, and which, under the terms of his contract, he was powerless to remedy. He was succeeded by Dr. Ballard, of Oregon.

Conditions finally became such that the members of the Medical Society of Washington Territory undertook, in 1875, to remedy affairs and appointed an investigating committee to look into the charges of ill treatment and report their findings. The committee's report was published in pamphlet form in Olympia in 1875.

Dr. Ballard was succeeded as superintendent by Dr. F. S. Sparling, who served until June 1, 1877, when he was succeeded by Dr. Rufus Willard. From Dr. Willard's report, dated October 1, 1877, it seems that the old system of awarding the contract for the keeping of the insane of the territory had at last been done away with, and that the medical superintendent was in complete charge of the institution, with territorial appropriations for its maintenance. At that time there were 93 patients under treatment.

The report for 1883 of Dr. John W. Waughop, superintendent, shows 129 patients in the asylum, at a per capita cost per week of $4-34. Various improvements are noted, among them being an assembly room and chapel, 30 feet by 40 feet; a turbine wheel and two force pumps to increase the water supply; new drainage; a number of trees planted, and a flower garden for the female ward. The farm consisted of 600 acres, and the institution was supplied with milk by its own herd of cows. A number of hogs and chickens were raised each year. Patients assisted in the farm and garden work, in the wards, laundry, kitchen, bakery, carpenter shop, tin shop, blacksmith's shop, etc.

On April 1, 1897, Dr. F. L. Goddard was appointed superintendent, succeeding Dr. J. W. Waughop. In 1900 the number of patients had risen to 694, and the hospital had become, by successive additions, a large and progressive institution. The old buildings had been replaced by brick buildings of an up-to-date character, with the necessary appurtenances of a modern hospital for the insane. An additional wing, with accommodations for about 100 male patients, was erected, and occupied on March 1, 1900, at a cost of $40,000. A new ice machine was installed, and the boiler plant and bathing apparatus remodeled.

In March, 1902, Dr. F. L. Goddard was succeeded as superintendent by Dr. C. M. Parks. He in turn was succeeded in 1904 by Dr. A. H. McLeish. In 1904 the Legislature appropriated $101,000 for two separate ward buildings, with a capacity of 140 patients each. They are of brick, fireproof, well ventilated and sanitary in every respect. In 1905 the board purchased 93 acres of land adjoining the hospital grounds on the west to be used as additional pasture land.

In 1907 Dr. A. P. Calhoun was superintendent in place of Dr. A. H. McLeish. In 1913 the average daily population was 1440 patients, and the cost of their maintenance was 45 cents per day per capita. The state appropriation for the ensuing biennial period amounted to $577,690.

The hospital has a complete hydrotherapeutic plant and separate cottages for tubercular patients. Patients are employed as much as possible and amusements are many and varied, such as baseball, dancing, amateur theatricals, band music, walks, drives and indoor games. The main buildings are on the congregate plan, with extended wings: are built of brick, and are pleasing in appearance.[2]

In 2009 the patient population was 809.[3]

Images of Tacoma State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Tacoma State Hospital


The cemetery contains 3,200 people, all patients of Western State Hospital between 1876 and 1953. Grave Concerns Association is a group handling the on-going restoration process since 2000.
Searchable database of burials

Links & Additional Information[edit]