In 1858, plans to build the Trans-Allegheny Asylum for the Insane started in Weston, Virginia (and later to become West Virginia). With a claim to be the largest hand-cut stone building in North America, the hospital was designed consistent with that of Dr. Thomas Kirkbride’s architectural model.
When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, construction stopped. It resumed in July 1863, now in the new state of West Virginia. West Virginia quickly renamed the facility the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, and a year later the hospital’s patient wing opened.
Finally in 1880, the main part of the hospital opened. The $725,000 price tag not only included the main building, but also fifteen miles of steam pipe and twenty miles of telephone wire. Although the hospital was designed to house 250 patients, the facility’s census in its early days exceeded 700.
In 1913, the facility was renamed to Weston State Hospital. The main part of the hospital had two double-sectioned wings with an administration building in between. A clock tower 200 feet high was the center attraction in the main building. The walls were made of solid sandstone. The main facility included 921 windows and 906 doors, as well as third floor ballroom.
On October 3, 1935, a fire destroyed parts of the hospital, although it was later rebuilt through the Workers Progress Administration (at a cost of $115,000). At the time, the hospital expanded over 488 acres, serving the mentally ill as was as “epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts, and non-educable mental defectives.”
The patient numbers eventually exceeded 1661 total (940 men and 721 women). Unfortunately, the hospital faced challenges in accommodating so many patients. Weston State Hospital lacked enough beds, the rooms had started to deteriorate, and modern updates were necessary throughout.
The hospital was described in a 1949 report that its 1,800 patients were crammed into “long, dreary dormitories” in “miserable, depreciated quarters which could never pass minimum inspection standards for domestic animals.”
The disparity between the part of the hospital rebuilt after the fire and that left untouched by fire or upgrades was profound. In one area the conditions were decrepit, complete with splintered and rotting floors, a dearth of tables and chairs, and poor lighting. The other section contained deep carpet, modern chairs and tables, as well as curtains.
Even as renovations were made, the patient census continued to swell, reaching as many as 2,400 in the 1950s.
In February 1986, Governor Arch Moore announced the state’s plans to convert the facility into a prison. After legal challenges and other obstacles, a 150 bed acute psychiatric facility (William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital) eventually opened in 1994 on a small portion of the original hospital campus.