Yankton State Hospital

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Yankton State Hospital

Postcard photograph of the administration.
Construction Began 1879 (original), 1881 (Kirkbride)
Opened 1880 (Original), 1882 (Kirkbride)
Current Status Active
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Location Yankton, SD
Alternate Names
  • Dakota Hospital for the Insane
  • South Dakota Human Services Center


The completion of the railway into Yankton in 1873 gave added impetus to immigration and by 1878 the effect of the gold rush was reflected in the number of Dakota patients at St. Peter Hospital, totaling 22. Governor William A. Howard was advised in June by Minnesota that no more patients could be accepted after July 1 because of crowded conditions at that hospital and all Dakota patients would have to be removed by October 1, 1878.

The Governor contacted Iowa hospitals without success, then traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, and found that institution overcrowded but by completing some unfinished rooms, accommodations were arranged for five patients until the following February. Another contract with Minnesota resulted in an extension until February 1, 1879, for removal of the patients from St. Peter.

Governor Howard searched for a building to be used for a hospital in nearby towns of Vermillion, Elk Point and Canton with no success. In Yankton, he found two large wooden buildings--one belonging to the city and one to the Territory that were built to house German-Russian? immigrants. The Governor secured the buildings and arranged to have them rebuilt on school lands north of Yankton at personal expense, a total of $2,286.85. The thirteenth session of the Dakota Territory Legislature met on January 14, 1879, and in the Governor’s message he advised the lawmakers of his action and the necessary laws were passed.

During the first six months there were five employees; and, 31 patients were cared for, five being discharged, fully recovered. The appropriation for the first two years was inadequate and citizens generally did not realize that patients needed much more than food and clothing so future legislatures were inclined to reduce recommended allowances for their care, treatment and support.

In 1880, Governor Howard was reimbursed for his personal contribution. At that time, there were 50 patients causing overcrowding and the hospital was understaffed. The population of Yankton was over 3,400, a remarkable increase from the less than 50 in 1859. In 1899, a devastating fire took the lives of seventeen women patients. The catastrophe prompted the state legislature to appropriate much-needed funds to the institution. Laws were enacted requiring fireproof buildings, defining fireproof structures, prescribing smallest area of floor space per patient and describing the minimum per capita amount of air in apartments where patients were kept.

In 1918, the name of the hospital was officially changed from Dakota Hospital for the Insane to the Yankton State Hospital. This was done because of complaints that the original name had a derogatory connotation and other types of patients such as alcoholics and epileptics were also housed there.

The patient population in the mid 1920’s was more diversified than in earlier years. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the institution went through, as did the rest of the nation, a very difficult period. The situation at Yankton was almost impossible to handle; an increasing rate of admissions combined with a decreasing budget. Ironically, money was somehow found to build a nine-hole golf course at the institution during 1930-1931. Overcrowding was a serious problem in the mid and late 1930’s. With the advent of therapeutic treatments, however, incoming patients were released within a few months, thus helping to ease the overcrowding problem.

World War II disrupted the flow of progress. The Selective Service Act, then in effect, forced the hiring of youth too young for the draft or people too old for military service. In addition, wages at the institution were poor and with so many men gone to war, hospital employees left to take up better-paying jobs.

The 1950’s brought increased understanding of mental illness and relatives of patients were more willing to accept them, rather than wanting to hide them in Yankton. Medical work at Yankton in the early 1950’s became more varied and systematized than ever before. Changing attitudes toward the mentally ill contributed greatly to improving conditions at the hospital. Various forms of physical force, such as the use of strait-jackets, were discontinued. The development of antipsychotic medications also brought about a significant reduction in the hospital census.

The 1960’s saw a significant enlargement of the medical staff. The staff was also of better quality than at any previous time. The need was also seen at this time for a geriatric department. The intensive treatment program established in the early 1960’s showed results as the decade wore on, for the population at the hospital continuously decreased year after year.

From 1968-1973, a great deal of activity took place. Construction was started on a new central dietary building as well as a new recreational facility. In addition, Ordway, Herried, Mellette and Kyle Buildings were renovated. On July 1, 1974, the name of the facility was changed from Yankton State Hospital to the South Dakota Human Services Center. The change was enacted by session of the Legislature to more clearly reflect the services offered. The year 1979 marked HSC’s 100th anniversary. Centennial events were held in conjunction with the event.

The 1980’s saw further development in services and programs available to HSC patients. In 1989-1990 changes took place at HSC following reorganization of the state Board which previously coordinated the Center’s work. In 1988, voters abolished the Board of Charities and Corrections, which was created under the South Dakota Constitution to handle the state’s inmates and patients in need of various services. In place of the Board, two new cabinet-level departments were created which separated the responsibilities for inmates from those of patients. The Department of Human Services, one of the two newly-created Departments became the governing authority for HSC.

In 1991, Governor George S. Mickelson directed that a study of the existing HSC campus be conducted. This study found it would be more costly to upgrade existing buildings than construct new ones specifically designed for patient treatment. Governor Mickelson advanced bills proposing design and construction of a new psychiatric facility which passed by an overwhelming majority of the 1992 Legislature.

Dedication and Ground Breaking Ceremonies were held on April 28, 1994. Recognizing the efforts of Governor Mickelson, the new facility was dedicated "George S. Mickelson Center for the Neurosciences." The new facility was completed in the fall of 1996 and was occupied in October of that year. The Human Services Center is a state-of-the-art treatment center providing inpatient psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment services to South Dakota’s residents.[1]

Images of Yankton State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Yankton State Hospital



The cemetery on the grounds is still maintained by the facility & contains over 1,000 former patient burials. The majority of the graves are marked only with the person's Patient Record Number on a small, concrete pillar. The few exceptions are a handful of graves where the family has replaced the concrete marker with a conventional headstone showing name, dates, etc. List of burials including grave #