A Guide to the Records of Central State Hospital, 1874-1961 Central State Hospital, Records of, 1874-1961 41741

A Guide to the Records of Central State Hospital, 1874-1961

A Collection in
the Library of Virginia
Accession Number 41741


Library of Virginia

The Library of Virginia
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© 2008 By The Library of Virginia. All Rights Reserved.

Processed by: Jessie R. Robinson

The Library of Virginia
Accession Number
Records of Central State Hospital, 1874-1961
52.4 cu. ft (115 boxes and 6 unboxed volumes)
Central State Hospital

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

As of September 11, 2019, medical records will be open 125 years after the date of creation or after date closed, whichever is later. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that individually identifiable health information of a decedent be protected for 50 years following the date of death of the individual (45 CFR 164.502(f)).

Protected health information (PHI) as defined under the Privacy Regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes, but is not limited to, personally identifiable information such as names, addresses, and social security numbers. Restricted material may include, but is not limited to: patient applications and admission registers, commitment papers, and furlough records. Please contact Archives Research Services for further information.

Use Restrictions

Confidential or personally identifiable health information (PHI) less than 125 years of age that may be encountered during research will not be recorded, published, publicized, or re-disclosed to any other party for any purpose. Improper use and/or re-disclosure of privacy protected information is a breach of confidentiality which could result in the loss of access to the archival collections housed and maintained by The Library of Virginia, and could result in legal penalties (Code of Virginia, 18.2-186.3).

Preferred Citation

Records of Central State Hospital, 1874-1961. Accession 41741, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Acquisition Information

Transferred by Linda C. Coake, Southside Virginia Training Center, 26317 W. Washington St., Warehouse Building 120, Petersburg, Virginia, 23803, 14 February 2005.

Processing Information

A small group of commitment papers from the Petersburg State Colony (1934-1955) arrived at the Library of Virginia as part of this larger accession of records from Central State Hospital. Since the two institutions are in close proximity to one another, it is assumed that the records were accidently mixed together at some point in the past. The Petersburg State Colony records remain under the same accession number (41741), but are arranged and described separately from the records of Central State Hospital.

Biographical/Historical Information

In 1868, the Freedman's Bureau acquired land known as Howard's Grove, (or Howard Grove), located one half mile east of the city of Richmond, on the Mechanicsville Turnpike, in Henrico County. Through a lease from Mr. Bacon Tait (or Tate), the Bureau renovated several barrack-type structures that had been used as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. The new facility became known as "Howard's Grove Freedman's Hospital."

The hospital was turned over to the state in December 1869 by way of General Order Number 136 issued by Major General Canby, Military Governor of Virginia. Beginning January 1, 1870 all African American patients at Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg, (the only state institution at the time to accept black patients), as well as all jailed black lunatics from across Virginia, were to be removed to Howard's Grove for treatment. The General Assembly passed legislation in June 1870 renaming the facility "Central Lunatic Asylum" and designating it the official "reception and treatment facility for colored persons of unsound mind." This legislation was enacted with the stipulation that the Howard's Grove location was to be temporary.

Many patients arrived at Howard's Grove by way of civil commitments made by local judges at the request of friends and family. Other patients were removed from local jails and criminally committed. The asylum was overseen by a superintendent who answered to the Court of Directors. As with other state institutions, physicians, nurses and matrons were employed to care for patients. The buildings at Howard's Grove during the period of 1870 to 1885 were described as being of plain, if not crude, wood construction. They were divided into sections according to the patient's particular ailment or behavior. Residents were fed in their cells, as no dining facility existed at that time. There was no sewage system, and light was supplied by kerosene lamps and candles.

In order to enlarge the institution and alleviate the poor living conditions, a 300 acre tract of land was purchased in March 1882 by the City of Petersburg and given to the state for the purpose of constructing a permanent mental health facility for African Americans. According to the Acts of Assembly, the new hospital was built on land previously known as Hare's Farm or New Market, on the outskirts of Petersburg, in Prince George County. This information is disputed by William Drewry, a former superintendent and institutional historian who contends that the site chosen was actually the Mayfield farm in Dinwiddie County. The historical marker placed at the site also states that the hospital is located on the grounds of the former Mayfield Plantation.

Construction of the new facility near Petersburg was completed in early spring 1885. Additional tracts of land were purchased and new buildings were constructed regularly thereafter, as the number of patients increased. The new construction later included a special building to house the criminally insane apart from the rest of the hospital population. This section of the campus would later be referred to as the Forensic Mental Health Unit. An early institutional history notes that treatment at Central Lunatic Asylum during the 1890s was humane and emphasized the value of work and the benefits of recreation. However, practices at the facility also included seclusion, mechanical restraints, and the administering of hypnotics.

In 1894, Central Lunatic Asylum was officially renamed Central State Hospital. This piece of legislation also altered the names of the other mental health facilities in Virginia in and atttempt to inspire a more positive image of the institutions, and of mental health treatment in general. It is important to note that another state institution located in Staunton, Virginia went by the name Central Lunatic Asylum between the years of 1861 and 1865. Its name was later changed to Western Lunatic Asylum, and is a separate facility with no connection to the Richmond/Petersburg hospital for African Americans.

Following the trend to separate patients based on illness and behavior, the General Assembly authorized the establishment of a colony for feeble-minded people in March 1938. The act established the colony as a state institution separate from Central State Hospital, though still located on the same grounds. Known as the Petersburg State Colony, the new facility was given land located in Prince George County (later partly in Dinwiddie County as well), and assigned the task of admitting mostly younger patients with the propensity for academic and vocational training and future employment. Through a 1954 Act of Assembly, the Petersburg State Colony was renamed the Petersburg Training School and Hospital. The name was changed again in 1971 to the Southside Virginia Training Center. The facility moved from its original buildings in the early 1960s, but still remains part of the Central State Hospital campus. It continues to specialize in providing services for Virginians with various levels of mental retardation. As a side note, in 1960 the land and structures formally known as the Petersburg Training School and Hospital were transferred to the College of William and Mary for the establishment of a two-year branch campus. In 1961, Richard Bland College opened its doors to students. The original hospital buildings remained, but were converted into classrooms and offices, many of which are still in use.

In later years, the burgeoning patient population at Central State Hospital began to outgrow all the additions and improvements made over the preceding decades. The average resident population in 1948 was nearly 4,00, with overcrowding serving as the hospital's biggest obstacle. By 1950, the ward known as East View reportedly housed more than 300 patients in one large room. In the Criminal Building, conditions were so cramped that patients slept on the floor. As a result of the overcrowding, several new buildings were constructed during the 1950s and 1960s to house patients more comfortably, and in settings more conducive to the treatment of specific illnesses and age groups. During this period the hospital enhanced its services to include substance abuse recovery programs and specialized geriatric treatment.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 radically changed the face of Central State Hospital. This piece of federal legislation forced the Commonwealth of Virginia to desegregate public facilities and provide equal services to all residents. For the first time in its nearly 100 year history, Central State Hospital opened its doors to individuals of every race. By the early 1990s the racial make-up of the institution was split almost evenly between whites and blacks with 49.8% of patients classified as "white," 49.2% classified as "black," and 1% as "other."

Central State Hospital still operates as a state-run institution in the same general location as it did in 1885. Though its clientele, medical practices, and appearance have changed over time, the mission of Central State Hospital remains much the same: "to provide state of the art mental health care and treatment to forensic and civilly committed patients" in central Virginia.

Central State Hospital has fallen under the heading of many different departments since its establishment. Over the years it has been controlled by the Court of Directors (later called the State Hospital Board), the Department of Mental Hygiene and Hospitals, the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, and the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Currently, the hospital falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.

Scope and Content

Contains a variety of records including application and admission registers, commitment papers, construction contracts and building specifications, deeds, furloughs and bonds, insurance records, aerial site plans, minutes of the General Board of Directors, and reports of the Special Boards of the other mental health institutions in Virginia. The majority of the records are commitment papers.

Researchers should note that annual reports for Central State Hospital for the years 1878-1879, 1903-1904, 1907-1909, 1930-1931, and 1943-1944 can be found in the records of Western State Hospital (see Series I., Subseries A. Annual Reports, Other Institutions/Hospitals). Additionally, a booklet titled "Historical Sketch of Central State Hospital and the Care of the Colored Insane of Virginia, 1870-1905" written by Central State superintendent William F. Drewry, M.D. can also be found in the Western State Hospital records (see Series I., Subseries P. Publications).


This collection is arranged into the following series:

Series I. Application and Admission Registers, 1919-1961 Series II. Commitment Papers, 1874-1906 Series III. Construction Records, 1904-1938 Series IV. Deeds and Leases, 1882-1942 Series V. Furloughs and Bonds, 1903-1911 Series VI. Insurance Records, 1924-1958 Series VII. Minutes of the General Board of Directors, 1920-1936 Series VIII. Reports of the Special Boards, 1920-1936

Contents List

Series I. Application and Admission Registers, 1919-1961.
Volumes 1-7.

Registers contain lists of applicants to Central State Hospital on a monthly basis. Entries include the applicant's name, age, place of residence, date the application was received, and the date the person was admitted into the hospital, if he or she was accepted. The registers do not contain much in the way of personal or medical information about patients, except for notes as to whether the patient was in jail or out on bond, feeble-minded or epileptic, suicidal or a criminal. Application and admission registers that are less than 125 years old are closed.

Arranged chronologically.

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Series II. Commitment Papers, 1874-1906.
Boxes 1-107.

Contains commitment papers that were originally folded into standard sized envelopes with patient name, admission date, and register number written on the front. The papers were removed from the envelopes and flat-filed. The commitment papers usually include depositions from doctors, friends and family attesting to the patient's mental state, as well as other legal documents, and sometimes brief correspondence. Beginning around 1902, many of the files also contain a "Report of New Patient" which contains information about the patient upon his/her arrival at the hospital, including height, weight, level of cleanliness, record of clothing or valuables brought, and general notes as to the patient's condition. In some cases, medical records are also included with the commitment papers. At the end of the box and folder list for this series is a small group of rejected applications dated 1905-1907. Commitment papers that are less than 125 years old are closed.

Arranged by year of commitment and then alphabetically within.

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Series III. Construction Records, 1904-1938.
Box 108.

Contains a variety of construction-related documents including building appraisals, bids, as well as contracts and specifications for structures and systems located on the Central State Hospital campus.

Arranged alphabetically by type of document.

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Series IV. Deeds and Leases, 1882-1942.
Box 109.

Contains deeds and land leases for property owned and used by Central State Hospital. Much of the deeded land was bought from private land owners, while other land was deeded by railroad companies, the City of Petersburg, Virginia, and the United States of America. The land leases were made between private land owners and the hospital for the temporary use of certain parcels of property.

Arranged alphabetically by document type (deed or lease), and then alphabetically by the other party's last name.

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Series V. Furlough Agreements and Bonds, 1903-1911.
Box 110.

Contains groupings of furlough agreements for patients who were allowed to leave Central State Hospital, either permanently or temporarily. The agreements were usually signed by a friend or family member who promised to "exercise proper care, protection and restraint" over the patient while he or she was away from the hospital. In some cases, the family was required to offer bond in exchange for the patient's release. Furlough agreements and bonds that are less than 125 years old are closed.

Arranged chronologically.

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Series VI. Insurance Records, 1924-1958.
Box 110. Oversize Box 1. Map Case Map-Case: 9 Drawer: 1.

Contains aerial site plans of the Central State Hospital and Petersburg State Colony complexes, as well as a variety of insurance-related documents such as correspondence, building valuations, and fire and automobile insurance policies.

Arranged chronologically within in two groups: "Aerial Site Plans" and "Insurance Documents."

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Series VII. Minutes of the General Board of Directors, 1920-1936.
Box 111.

Contains minutes of the General Board of Directors of the State Hospitals and State Colony of Virginia (later known as the State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded). The meetings were held on a quarterly basis, with the location rotating between the hospitals. Representatives from each state hospital/colony attended the meetings and were responsible for reporting on the state of their respective institutions. Topics include position apppointments, legislative budget appropriations, patient care and costs, resolutions, and other issues of broad, statewide significance. The reports from each institution's Special Board can be found in Series VIII.

Arranged chronologically.

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Series VIII. Reports of the Special Boards, 1920-1936.
Boxes 112-113.

Contains quarterly reports of the Special Boards of each of Virginia's mental health institutions as presented at the meetings of the General Board of Directors of State Hospitals and Colony. The institutions represented here are Eastern State Hospital, Southwestern State Hospital, Virginia State Epileptic Colony, and Western State Hospital. The reports given by the representatives of Central State Hospital are not included in this series. The reports contain information on finances, patient population and movements, and a variety of internal operations and items of note. The minutes of the meetings during which these reports were presented can be found in Series VII.

Arranged chronologically, and then alphabetically by institution within.

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