Film Photography, Preservation

A quick visit to Central State

I’ve written about Central State before — it was Indiana’s first residential hospital for the mentally ill, and by all accounts it was just as awful as you’ve ever heard such places were. Today, new housing is being built on its grounds, which should begin the gentrification of Indianapolis’s Near Westside.

A cluster of original Central State buildings remains on the site’s western edge. Some of them have been renovated and put to good use, and some stand still dilapidated. I visited recently with my Pentax IQZoom 170SL and made some photos on Fujicolor 200.

Central State
Carpentry hall
I wonder
Painted brick
Path to the abandoned building
1899
Dilapidated

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16 thoughts on “A quick visit to Central State

  1. I am coming around to the view that places like Central State were indeed bad, but could they have been worse than the current alternative, which has been a return to the kind of begging that dates back to the middle ages? I don’t think there are any good answers, but maybe there are answers less bad than what we have now.

    That area could certainly use the development.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      You said it J.P.! The disenfranchisement of the functionally disabled by the Reagan administration has never been reversed; literally defunding and turning people out onto the streets! Societies are judged in history by the way they treat their functionally disabled and their animals, and we are a failure. Certainly another case of the end of the “American Century”.

      I look at pictures like these and think all those buildings must be reclaimable, but I talked with a developer once who said it would be far cheaper to tear them down and keep the facades, and build out behind them, than actually try and reverse decades of alterations in the insides. Interesting, and something I see on the streets in old neighborhoods in Chicago all the time: i.e. scaffolds up protecting the facades of buildings whiile the backs are being torn off!

      • I think the throttling of long term inpatient mental health treatment has been embraced by politicians of both parties. “Deinstitutionalization” was a big interest of the Kennedy family and it was under Evan Bayh that Central State was closed.

        My daughter’s first job as a recreational therapist was at LaRue Carter Hospital, which was the only remaining residential mental facility left in Indianapolis. It was closed just a couple of years ago and patients were sent to Logansport. It amazes me that a capital city in the geographic center of the state has no long-term residential mental health care.

  2. Interesting place. Can you get inside? I know people who wouldn’t ask and would just enter such a place to get their photographs but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.

    • Some of the buildings are occupied and i might be able to get inside them if I had business. I’m not one for “urban exploration” — I don’t knowingly trespass. But even if I did that, some of these buildings seem like they’re in unsafe condition.

  3. Formerly known as the New Jersey State Village for Epileptics, The North Princeton Developmental Center was a medical facility within my township, Montgomery Township, New Jersey. The facility was home to a variety of mental health institutions throughout the years. The 246-acre property was once a bustling place, built to self-sustain up to 2,000 people in tiny homes and apartments but had been abandoned and had fallen into horrible disrepair. The dilapidated facility garnered much notoriety across the state over the past decades due to its “ghost town” appearance and mention in the popular book and periodical, “Weird N.J.

    The Village School, one of the elementary schools, was located on the eastern end of Skillman Village. The township purchased the property from the state to demolish or renovate the existing structures and replace them with a large town centre, which would include health care facilities, shops, housing for senior citizens, and parks. But soon after purchase, the township realised just how dire the situation was. The buildings were filled with asbestos, raw sewage, and leftover heating oil.

    Montgomery Township decided to sue the State of New Jersey, citing the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the State Environmental Rights Act. They won.

    The township then sold 247 acres of the plot to Somerset County, which paid for cleanup of the site, including demolition of all the homes, removal of sewage. It took a few years, but in 2012, the property was re-opened as a county park, Skillman Park.

    Today, Skillman Park is a multi-use park that the Somerset County Parks Department maintains. Somerset County put in new roads, trails, a dog park, and picnic tables. I think it’s the best use of tax money I have ever witnessed.

    And now, I realise how long winded this comment is and should have been a blog post on my own blog. 🤣

  4. In 1978 I toured the Muscatatuk State facility for the developmentally disabled when it was fully occupied and open for business as part of my RN education at ISU. The buildings were spread over a large campus, were getting time worn but were clean and well maintained. It housed hundreds of residents, from infants to adults who had a full range of disabilities, physical and mental. Some propelled themselves around using mechanic’s creepers and quite a few were bed bound, unable to communicate.
    https://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php/Muscatatuck_State_Developmental_Center

    • I worked for the Northern Indiana State Developmental Center for the summer in 1988 and found it to be clean and well maintained, and its residents reasonably well cared for. There wasn’t enough direct-care staff to meet federal staffing minimums, simply because there wasn’t budget for it, but the staff they did have all seemed to do a good job under difficult circumstances.

  5. There’s just something about that “institutional” architecture that creeps me out. Back when I lived in Connecticut, I was near two of them: Fairfield Hills Hospital in Newtown, the mental hospital that closed, and Southbury Training School for adults with intellectual disabilities. That one is still open, but it looks like it’s slowly going away, as they haven’t admitted anyone new in decades. There was a system of tunnels at Fairfield Hills that urban explorers loved to check out.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        There’s been a lot published on the poor architecture of government housing projects actually contributing to the problems of the people housed in them!

        • Not only that. The huge construction program of public housing in the late-1940s through the 1980s was an immense housing-industrial complex. Who really benefited? Builders, perhaps? Local officials who received some “favors?” Suburban developers who reused the lots where poor people formerly lived? Disgraceful.

    • The alternate viewpoint: in the examples that Jim showed, I am admiring the beautiful brickwork and limestone lintels. And look at the arched window that could be in a cathedral. Above are smaller arches formed in the brick. Magnificent, what craftsmanship. Just like we practice now in the crappy excuses that we use for institutional buildings……….

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