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Mental Asylum Filled With History

Mental Asylum Filled With History

By Colby Eliades

The fast approaching Black History Month is a time to honor and remember important African Americans from the past and present. Every day people pass by monumental and very historic buildings that are surrounded by African American history, but fail to notice these historic monuments; one of these being Central State Hospital.

Central State Hospital, located in Dinwiddie County, has been around since December of 1869 when it was first used strictly as a mental hospital for African Americans who needed special mental help and was called Central Lunatic Asylum. Later, in 1882, a family farm was purchased in Dinwiddie County just outside the city of Petersburg, and a total of 373 patients were the first to reside at the current hospital location.

By 1892 the total number of patients had doubled and a almost a century later, Central State had somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000 patients by the end of 1950.

One of the reasons for this large number of patients was the establishment of a Maximum Security Forensic Unit, as well as the creation of a geriatric treatment center, which was closed down in 1985. Eventually, the number of patients decreased to the number it is today.

“The general philosophy of how to take care of the mentally ill changed, and a lot of it can be treated on an out-patient basis. So, instead of being a dumping ground for society’s outcasts, now there is a purpose to hopefully restore them to competency so they can function in society,” Head of Security for Central State Pete Lehman said.

Until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, Central State was strictly used for African American Mentally Retarded, Geriatric and Criminally Insane patients. In 1967, Central State opened to all no matter what their race, sex, etc.

One of the oldest buildings, Eastview, was built in two parts; the first built in 1928, the second completed in 1936. Another old building was built in the 1920s and was used to house patients who had tuberculosis.

“Back in 2000, when they were making the movie Hannibal, they took some of the scenery from Eastview and used it as a backdrop for the Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore,” Lehman said.

There are some patients at Central State who are extremely dangerous and who are not allowed to leave their buildings. Haiyang Zhu, the 25-year-old doctoral student from Virginia Tech that decapitated a young woman, was admitted to Central State last year for evaluations.

“Way back when we had Lorena Bobbitt here,” Lehman said.

Bobbitt was famous for cutting off the male reproductive part of her former husband John Wayne Bobbitt and throwing it into a field.

While Central State may seem creepy to some, it is filled with history that dates all the way back to before the Civil War.

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    tim mackinDec 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    i use to work part time at central state. the history of the place is awsome. i was able to get ahold of many documents regarding the history of this pl. on saturday morns when the weather was nice i would take the clients on a little tour of the pl. they luved it. there was alot of saddness there during the early yrs. there were people that grew up there and died there. there were many people there that were sterilized. it was that way the drs thought would control mental illness. that was in the 40 s an 50s an i beleve in the 60 s also. there is also one bldg there they called naked city. i need not explain why it was called that.if you every go there vist the grave yr there. many of the headstones from the early yrs only have a number. its very sad to think these people were prob just the forgotten

  • L

    Lucas BaileyMar 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    It is always cool to learn about local historical sites. Virginia is a place rich in history, and, like the article mentioned, many people never notice it. This article was very interesting and informative and does a good job of presenting the information.

  • J

    Jessica TaylorMar 10, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I found this article very interesting. Most of my family lives in Dinwiddie so I am out there alot and I know exactly where this place is, but I never knew the history associated with it. I have always been kind of interested in it though because every time we pass it I ask my mom about it.

  • D

    Diana O.Mar 9, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Colby you did an awesome job on the article. I had no idea Central State used to be strictly an African American institution. I do not see this article as a positive thing to remember but it is a part of history so might as well be informed about it.

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    Tessa AllenMar 4, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    The history in Virginia never fails to astound me, how a building we see every day can house the stories of thousands of people from centuries ago is simply amazing.

  • M

    Malikah WilliamsMar 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I never would have thought that this much history was behind this building. This article does a great job presenting some very interesting pieces of information.

  • R

    Rachel ArnoldMar 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I absolutely loved this article. I’m a history buff plus I’m interested in psychology so this definitely ranks as a favorite for me. I had no idea Central State used to be strictly an African American institution, so that was pretty interesting to me. The photos were also great. All around awesome article!

  • J

    Joseph PervallMar 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    It is interesting to learn about old historic buildings and sites around the area. I never even knew the asylum existed. It is even more interesting to learn about the patients that have been in Central Park. I had no idea that the VT guy was admitted.

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    Alex MartinezMar 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I has no idea that Lorena Bobbitt used to be in there; what a small world. However, as far as the history of the asylum, I am not sure that it is something to be remembered in a good way. Historically, it might have been a torture facility where men were shocked, lobotomized, and otherwise experimented on.

  • R

    Rachel WaymackMar 4, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Wow, i had no idea we had such a historic place so close by. It’s also cool that scenery in a well-known movie was gotten from here. I also really like the pictures, they do a good job of capturing the atmosphere of the place.

  • J

    Josh KentMar 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I found this article very interesting. I’m amazed at the amount of history that can be found so close to Prince George. I think someday after Central State and Eastview are no longer functional vuildings, the site would make for a very interesting museum, so taht people can learn more about everything that has happened there.

  • J

    Josh KentMar 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Interesting article. I never knew that you could find such interesting things here around Price George. I knew there was alot of history, with Petersberg battlefield and all but I never knew about much else.

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    Raya GirardMar 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    This was a great article because it made me think about the forgotten history and stories that are hidden in an asylum. Wow, it would be fascinating to research the lives of the people who ended up in that asylum. There might be stories similar to Beloved!

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    Olivia TritschlerFeb 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I REALLY liked this! It gave a good amount of information without being too long. It is also local so that makes it so more cool! The pictures were pretty creepy to look at when I was trying to find ones to put on here! Like the chair or the bathroom, they really do have a horror film like quality to them. Good job!