Central State Hospital opened in 1842 as a “lunatic, idiot, and epileptic asylum.” It’s become one of the creepiest places to visit as the buildings crumble.
Its first patient arrived tied to a horse and following on foot. During this time, people who were considered to be “different” were sent by their families to Central State, unsure of how to deal with them.
Central State Hospital’s Rise and Fall
After the devastation of the Civil War, people started arriving at the hospital with what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Most patients arrived by train, as it was the last stop on the line.
From the beginning, the standard of care was also nothing close to what we would experience today as back then little was known about mental illnesses.
After World War II, Central State was at its worst, with a population of 13,000 patients, with one doctor for every 100. This was due to government budget cuts. A Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé led to reforms.
A switch to medication and alternative treatments in the 1960s led to a smaller population at the hospital and as many as 12,000 patients were discharged under then-governor Jimmy Carter.
Life at the Mental Institution
Patients were kept in dorms according to their gender, race, and area of origin, not their condition. They also wore their own clothes rather than uniforms.
But there was more to life at Central State than the treatments. A patient newspaper, called The Builder, employed patients as writers. There was also a gardening program, sports, and even dances.
The hospital was also the main employer in Milledgeville, like a city unto itself. It had its own fire department, water treatment plant, greenhouse, and what was at one time the largest industrial kitchen in the world.
Beyond the main buildings of the campus, Central State Hospital has three cemeteries onsite. There was an African-American cemetery, a white cemetery called Jasmine Ridge, and one called Cedar Lane, another white cemetery.
Cedar Lane was being cared for by prison inmates in the 1970s who mistakenly removed the grave markers that featured the patients’ inmate numbers instead of names. Ten thousand were lost and there is now a massive unmarked plot.
Central State Hospital Today
The Bostick Building is for elderly or medically fragile incarcerated or paroled persons. The Peyton Cook Building handles people who have been determined to be unfit to stand trial or are not guilty by reason of insanity.
Some of the buildings on the campus have been left to crumble while others are being repurposed. One is being used by Georgia Military College while others are currently being redeveloped as offices.
Touring the Central State Hospital Campus
Tours of Central State Hospital started in 2020 and are available through the Milledgeville Visitor’s Center. They are held twice daily on two days per month. The tours last two hours and the tickets are $30. Masks are temperatures are taken.
Before you go, grab breakfast at Blackbird Coffee, a few blocks away from the visitors center. Also, take the opportunity to use the restroom as there are no stops.
If you visit on your own, there are brochures in the visitor’s center to go on a self-guided tour. This will give you the flexibility to snap photos at your leisure without having to lean out the trolley window. Keep in mind that security guards are on patrol so stay on the sidewalk.
Visit Milledgeville hosted me on this tour.