Topeka State Hospital – An Abandoned Mental Institution

Topeka State Hospital

Topeka State Hospital, formerly the Topeka Insane Asylum, in Topeka, Kansas, USA was an institution for the mentally ill which opened in 1879. It was built in response to the overcrowding at Osawatomie State Hospital. Both buildings were designed by renowned architect John G Haskell. The facility remained open for over 100 years before finally being abandoned and then demolished.

The hospital was built using the Kirkbride Plan, similar to the Trenton State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital and the Danvers State Hospital. The Kirkbride Plan was  based on the theories of Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride who suggested that natural light and good air circulation could have a positive impact on the mentally ill.

A typical Kirkbride Plan hospital.

A typical Kirkbride Plan hospital.

Many horror stories exist about the facility including that of a journalist who visited and saw a patient who had been restrained so long that his skin had begun to grow around the restraints. There are reports of abuse, neglect and rape. Some patients were kept chained and naked.

A 1913 sterilization law was introduced and aimed at “habitual criminals, idiots, epileptics, imbeciles, and insane” and as a result, 54 people were sterilized in Topeka State Hospital before 1921. In the following years, the number increased dramatically but the practice was stopped in the 1950s. In 1951, the hospital was further criticised when it was discovered that a 59-year-old Danish immigrant called John Crabb had been wrongly incarcerated despite not being mentally ill.

Old picture of Topeka State Hospital

An older picture of the hospital. Note the wings present here and not in the image above.

In 1948 after a number of complaints, a panel was put in place to make changes to the facility and improvements were made. By the 1960s, it was of the top hospitals of its kind in the USA.

In 1992, the hospital was in the news when music and activity therapist Stephanie Uhlrig was murdered by patient Kenneth D. Waddell who was classed as a high risk patient. Uhlrig and another therapist took some of the patients out to watch a movie and once back in the hospital, Waddell killed Uhlrig. Her body was found in a bathroom. The state mental health administrators were cleared of reckless conduct by The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit in 1995.

Kenneth D. Waddell

Kenneth D. Waddell was charged with the murder of Stephanie Uhlrig.

In 1988, the Topeka State Hospital lost its accreditation but remained open until 1997 when it closed and was abandoned, much like many similar institutions of its type in the USA at that time. It has since been demolished.

A closer look at the central building at Topeka State Hospital.

A closer look at the central building at Topeka State Hospital.

The cemetery remains in the former grounds and is the final resting place of patients who died in Topeka State. Only 16 of the 1,157 graves have headstones. A memorial now also stands in honour of those who died there.

Location: Topeka, Kansas, USA 🇺🇸
Abandoned: 1997


9 thoughts on “Topeka State Hospital – An Abandoned Mental Institution”

  1. Was in this facility as a teenager for possibly 2 years.. up til the doors was closed around 1997 98.I was around 16yrs old.
    I feel it was the most disturbing place and moment in my life.. I thought I would never get out.Glad it’s gone. but the spirits I’m sure surface

  2. My Great-Great-Grandfather was admitted in 1886, he died there. His name is listed on the memorial. His name was Nelson Wells.

  3. I remember my days there in the female juvi ward, I was there from 1988 to 1990 (roughly). The staff consisted of Ms. Todd, Ms. Brown, Ms. Lague plus many more. One kind lady who was sponsoring a few if us who had very little contact with family is Ms. Dabney. Would be lovely to find my old ward mates. Sounds crazy (pun intended) but I think fondly of my stay

  4. In 1984 I was committed to Topeka State Hospital, and stayed for a year. I was treated fairly well even though the experience of being committed was traumatic. I am glad the old state hospitals have been torn down. I live in Georgia now, home of the oldest state hospital in the country in Milledgeville. I had a week-long mental health training there in 2010. Very eerie place. They even have a museum where the old restraint chairs and other devices are kept.

  5. I used to live there and it was pleasant at the time but I miss being there it was only place I felt like home I didn’t get abused I didn’t get raped I didn’t get hurt I thought it was pleasant and I wish I could go there again and my name is Jason Scott hey and I’m 37 years old.

  6. Worked at TSH from 1987 to 1992. Started off on Woodward then moved on to Boisen and then on to Jarrett West. For me those days were GREAT !! I did not see any staff to patient beatings during my tenure. Perhaps I was insulated, but when I circulated thru the other wards / units to relieve other staff I didn’t see anything atrocious there either. This included adults, AWL, juvy or pre-ad (bless their lil hearts). Everyone seemed to have their little niche. It wasn’t all tea and crumpets, but those years were a lot different than those of the 1800’s and the Wild West days of Asylum life in the early 1900’s. I am thankful for the staff that helped support the TSH patients, and the patients that I had the pleasure of dealing with and the life lessons I experienced from those times.

  7. I worked in the old Biddle building from 1988 through 1994. At that time, it housed administrative offices for such facilities as State Rehabilitation Services, Services for the Blind, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse. I was a contractor for Services for the Blind. I occupied two different offices in the building during my tenure there. The second one was on the second floor. My office was one of many that had, at one time, been a patient room. Walls and doors were quite thick. When one would shut their office door, it was very quiet, almost too much so to be a comfortable work environment. The offices were quite roomy though. I do not know how many patients there were per room, but the rooms were long and rather narrow, being anywhere from seven to ten feet wide, and anywhere from 15 to 22 feet in length. The view out my office window was quite nice, however. The grounds were well maintained, and there was lots of grass, trees, and other greenry. I then left for other jobs until 2004, when I got a job with the State working in the dormitory of the Kansas Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (KRCBVI). This program had operated for over 50 years in buildings that were near the corner of 6th and Mac Vicar. When this corner became of commercial interest in the late 1990s, the original buildings were demolished and a Kwik Shop and Wal Mart Neighborhood Market were built on that corner. The KRCBVI was moved to buildings that were gutted and repurposed for the program’s needs, and that were located at roughly 1st and Mac Vicar. These buildings had originally been a part of the Topeka State Hospital medical treatment unit. Even though they had been completely gutted with new insides built, they were very haunted. The ghosts were not inconvenienced at all by the remodeling. These two buildings, which were originally called Awl and Woodward, are still standing, and are used by educational administrators of some variety.

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